Posted inCultures

Hyperpop: the renaissance of Trash, ft. Rebecca Black and Charli XCX

You may not care to admit it, but, at some point during the early 2010s, you probably enjoyed a song by Nicki Minaj, Flo Rida or even Ke$ha. There’s no shame in it; many of us still choose to frequent the notorious Park End Cheese Floor in order to relive this golden age of Trash. Early-2010s pop music was characterised by audibly auto-tuned vocals, generic electronic instrumentals, and a purposefully artificial and often consumerist aesthetic – a perfect cocktail for trashy pop. Anyone who has listened to Usher’s OMG or Katy Perry’s California Gurls will recognise this description with a wince; this music was not only suited to its time, but particularly to the young people of its time: us. The young adults of today (myself included, of course) were children and teenagers during this period: just old enough to be aware of pop music, but not yet mature enough to discern between the good and the woeful. This demographic provided a loyal fanbase for artists such as LMFAO and David Guetta, lapping up even the most naff releases.

The peak of early-2010s Trash was, undoubtedly, Rebecca Black’s 2011 work Friday. Friday took the obnoxiously fun bubblegum pop, which already pervaded the charts at that time, to its critical mass. The song is the musical equivalent of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room: a masterpiece of bad taste. Friday achieved an impressive combination of generic sound and spectacularly banal lyrics, a level of Trash that even the likes of Jason Derulo could only aspire towards. Most early-2010s Trash toed the line between fun and annoying, or was a mixture of the two; Friday is perhaps the best example of Trash taken too far, a song that is memorable for all the wrong reasons. It is not surprising that, shortly after its release, Friday became the most disliked song in the history of YouTube at the time.

Now 23 years old, Black could be forgiven for wanting to move on from the mistakes of her 13-year-old self. She could have opted for the Bieber approach, rehabilitating her reputation by becoming a ‘serious’ musician. Alternatively, she could have retreated from the public eye entirely. Black, who clearly loves a challenge, chose neither of these options, and instead, to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Friday’s fateful release, uploaded a new ‘remixed’ version of the song. That she even chose to revisit the song is surprising, but it is nothing compared to the surprise – among a host of other emotions – one experiences when listening to the remix itself. This new version takes the original song, turns the bass up to 100, and auto-tunes the vocals beyond recognition, taking them to a pitch and tempo high enough to sound like a regular voice played at six-times speed. Not only that, but the song includes a number of features from artists who bring the song to an almost surreal level of electronic sound, including veterans of Trash 3OH!3, who in the early 2010s blessed us with such pieces as Starstrukk and My Dick. The remix is best described as the same as the original, except saturated in every way.

If the original was bad – and it was – then this remix should, by all accounts, be in another world. ‘Trash’ would not even cover this version, which identified the facets of the original that made it so annoying and took them to their extremes. And yet – and yet – the 2021 edition of Friday is somehow rather good, at least in the eyes of many. In contrast to the original’s widespread condemnation from critics, NME gave the remix four out of five stars. While it has a measly 2.4 million views on YouTube compared to the original’s 151 million, the remix has three times as many likes as dislikes, whereas the original has three times as many dislikes as likes. This may leave you asking one question: how? How did Rebecca Black take a universally unpopular song, accentuate its most irritating features, and produce something that defies logic by not being terrible?

The answer to this question is that the remix was part of a bizarre new genre called hyperpop, which celebrates Trash and turns it into an art form, albeit one that is at times hard to listen to. Many who were influenced by Trash during their formative years have now grown up to become musicians, and have developed Trash by taking its most distinctive elements as far as they can be taken. Hyperpop is characterised by its heavy and intense bubblegum bass, extremely auto-tuned and often very high-pitched vocals, uniquely electronic instrumentals, and saturated or ultra-consumerist aesthetic. It is telling that the remix of Friday was produced by Dylan Brady, a member of 100 Gecs, one of hyperpop’s most prominent and divisive artists. Their music has developed a cult following, and is loved by many, but is described as ‘excruciating’ and ‘like Nyan Cat’ by its many critics (both of those are actual descriptions given by friends of mine after I had subjected them to 100 Gecs’ magnum opus Stupid Horse).

Divisiveness is a running theme when it comes to hyperpop. While the genre has a substantial, and growing, fanbase (aided by the recent trend of mainstream artists venturing into hyperpop, including Mura Masa, Madonna and most notably Charli XCX, who has become the poster girl of the hyperpop movement), it tends not to leave too many on the fence. Those who do not take to hyperpop’s unique sound usually find it insufferable, and struggle to believe that anyone can unironically enjoy it. That the genre is not ironic is repeatedly stressed by its proponents; they are keen to emphasise that this is a genuine homage to the early-2010s pop music that I have affectionately labelled ‘Trash’.

This, perhaps, explains hyperpop’s popularity, as well as its unpopularity. Most people now aged 18-30 were heavily exposed to Trash during the early 2010s, but our reactions to it differ widely. Some of us (those who will be found on the Park End Cheese Floor as soon as lockdown ends) yearn for the days of Trash, and seek refuge in hyperpop as a new and improved incarnation thereof. Others see hyperpop as a step back to the dark ages of Trash (ironically, since ‘dark’ is the last word that could be used to describe hyperpop). I will not say that either group is right, but I will say this: you’ll know where to find me on the 21st of June.

Anyone bold enough to want to try listening to some hyperpop should begin with Spotify’s Hyperpop playlist.