Hyperpop: from nightcore to now

“Hyperpop”. The word doesn’t really capture what it is. Because what it is, is quite weird. The niche, internet micro culture surrounding hyperpop is one that has fascinated me for years, and is the only thing I find myself consistently listening to.

It boasts some pretty big names that you may have heard of, including Charlie XCX, Rico Nasty, or perhaps you stumbled upon it listening to an A. G. Cook remix. You’ve probably accidentally heard it through cultural osmosis, as the genre has invaded Tiktok—most recently with Siouxxie’s Masquerade—as the genre matches the platform’s content in being digitised, bitesize, and above all, concentrated.

The Origins of Hyperpop:

People in the scene like to joke that it all begun with nightcore remixes of popular songs found on Soundcloud, and that it hasn’t really developed from that; the more old-school crowd will listen to Hyperpop and remember the Happy Hardcore they were listening to in the 90’s.

While nightcore might be considered a pre-historic precursor to hyperpop, most claim A.G Cook’s founding of PC Music as the platform which accumulated the culture forming into what we now consider hyperpop.

The first artists to join the label were Hannah Diamond, GFOTY, and hyperpop legend Sophie. While this might be the first “mainstream” effort from the genre, some of the best work is still forming from its roots in Soundcloud, and while all the big names regularly collab, the genre is pretty decentralised.

The Sound:

Whether it’s blending digicore, postmodern experimental, chiptune, or Eurohouse dance, there is definitely a digitised techno sound inextricably bound to the internet culture the genre has habituated. Despite being discovered in the magical corners of the internet, hyperpop—musically—is not a genre that can be put into a box; a quality that lies at its core.

For pre-listening, the best example would be 100 gecs album 1000 gecs, as most sects of the genre will agree that 1000 gecs put hyperpop on the map, even if it was for your friends to jokingly listen to. Created by the duo Dylan Brady and Laura Les—two great artists in their own right—it captures the intense, playful, and twisted ‘post-pop’ parodic tone that underlies hyperpop’s core.

Your first impression may be that this is some sort of Alvin and the Chipmunks inspired cover album — but wait! I implore you to explore the genre and find the subculture that appeals to you, as 1000 gecs really is just the tip of the Hyperpop iceberg.

As you will hear in 1000 gecs, the genre is not one kind of music, as the album fuses hip-hop, Eurobeat, and even ska, to not necessarily transcend musical boundaries—or any lofty concept like that—but just to make something that sounds good and is built to blast dopamine receptors.

It is a beautiful amalgamation of many “mainstream” sounds ciphered and essentialised through a handful of more cryptic musical genres that have previously been on the periphery, such as progressive rock, post-hardcore, even attracting support and attention from Drain Gang.

Drawing from genres you will be familiar with, such as pop (duh), hip-hop, and punk, it distils the essence of these genres and exaggerates it. The ear-worm melodies of pop-hits, the hard-hitting bass rhythms you might find in hip-hop, and the rough-hewn discordance alongside musical rule-breaking associated with punk can all be found in hyperpop, creating a cacophonous harmony of familiar and bizarre sounds.

Part of what makes hyperpop so unique—without sounding like a pompous hipster—is how “raw” it is. There are elements where you question whether you yourself could have made this in your room with the demo version of FL Studio, as it draws upon a lot of stock sounds, with basic snares, and tinny hi-hats. However, it takes these very basic elements and layers them into an interweaving discord of infectious rhythms.

Through layering musical elements, a balance is tempered between chaotic and simple, giving you something you can hang onto, but also something you can go back to and listen out for. This layering usually creates a punchy dance-like sound made to be blasted over speakers but might be more academically appraised as a kind of musical “maximalism”.

The Cultural Significance:

Due to its subversive nature, the genre has been a welcoming home for identities heretofore pushed to the fringe of society. A good majority of the genre’s most successful artists are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and the songs broach these issues of identity, most recently celebrated by the community in Ecco2k and Bladee’s “Amygdala”. It is a collective of artists that have been pushed into the digital cyberspace and are now owning it.

The ability to go beyond boundaries is hyperpop’s most dazzling brilliance. Its power lies in being a subculture that can nonchalantly stride betwixt a plethora of musical worlds, capturing the most serotonin-generating parts, and then bringing them back into its own to meld into some sort of beautiful musical monstrosity. It is the unabashed essence of popular song, without any pretence, or any apprehension of shame. It is what those in the business call “going hard”.

People like to proclaim hyperpop as “the future of pop”, but this is a bit too optimistic. Most people will be affronted by its raucous sound, easily mistaken for voice-changers and DAW stock sounds assaulting your ears, because that is an inextricable part of it. Most of the hits you hear today are not pure unadulterated songs, they are fine-tuned by studios with autotune and mixing technology. Somehow, through ridiculous hyper-artificiality, hyperpop has created something much more real.

For this reason, it might better described as “post-pop”, as to cater for mainstream pop audience would betray its fundamental quality of being outside genre.

The genre flourished during the pandemic, with Subculture Party holding Zoom raves bringing in the scene’s big names who I haven’t been able to mention. As more people are pushed into the online space, those who are disaffected with mainstream sound will be welcomed into the realm of hyperpop.