Hyperpop has a reputation for being extraordinarily divisive—you either love or hate the burgeoning electronic genre, with its layered and chaotic elements that pull from Y2K pop and Eurodisco, which places itself in the middle of meme culture with its terminally online references and album art. While the genre hinges on the slightly absurd, there’s an underlying truth in the narratives of these songs which closely aligns it to the history of American folk music, so much so that in a way hyperpop can be seen as an extension of it.
Born out of rural minority communities dating back to the 19th century, folk music was originally an inherently oral tradition passed down through families and social groups. Generally, it was learned through listening, meaning that no formal training was needed to create the music, and instruments were often made from household materials. This DIY aspect contributed to the nature of the lyrics of folk songs.
During the 20th century, as the U.S. faced economic, political, and civil turmoil, folk music started to gain popularity in the mainstream. In the 1960s, artists like Arlo Guthrie, James Taylor, and Carole King advocated for social reform and personal accountability with their lyrics. Backed against minimalist accompaniments, the lyrics were able to take center stage and carry the movement’s anti-pop expression. Thematically, these artists sang about unionizing, romantic love and separation, labor and political stress, and the stories of the working class. Folk was a grassroots operation, focusing on the average person and telling overlooked stories. It created space for the marginalized to express themselves and sing about the experiences of those most affected by the wealth gaps and socioeconomic fallout, including the draft and other war-induced anxieties.
Fast-forward to the 21st century where we’re amid a resurgence of many of these sentiments in the unlikely form of hyperpop—a genre built on DIY and community ethics, anti-pop sentiment, and progressive politics. This new sound was cementing itself as the hallmark of the new decade, arguably first introduced to a wide audience in 2020 when 100 gecs was soundtracking the first wave of COVID concerns. However, hyperpop has been around in some form since the early 2000s, with some citing Britney Spears as one of the genre’s originators. The genre quickly gained notoriety through its cult-like fanbase popular with mostly young PoC and LGBTQA+ audiences, providing a safe space for these groups to coexist and create their own musical ecosystem.
Much like how traditional folk music was passed down through the oral tradition, hyperpop has taken the same path and uses an elementary show-and-tell method to teach the craft.
Christened with the genre tag by Spotify editor Lizzy Szabo, hyperpop has risen through the ranks as the unique voice of a new generation unintentionally defining the first few years of the decade, its rise in popularity due in part to the convenience and accessibility of technology allowing for beats to be created with any simple DAW program and passion. When Moog and KORG made free apps to keep those of us in quarantine busy in early 2020, people began taking to Reddit to discuss how to use them while sharing what they’d produced. Although widespread usage of the apps was brief, it opened up new doors to production and coincided with the explosion of TikTok. This convergence also led to how-to videos on YouTube aiming to help those interested in creating. Much like how traditional folk music was passed down through the oral tradition, hyperpop has taken the same path and uses an elementary show-and-tell method to teach the craft.
Hyperpop’s calling card is more than just Auto-Tune—it’s an amalgamation of glitches, drops, and pseudo-industrial sounds that together create a sonic assault. But it’s often the writing that makes hyperpop shine. The lyrics on these tracks are mostly personal, continuing the narrative of folk artists from the past. From Rina Sawayama’s anthem about gender equality “Comme De Garçons (Like the Boys)” to Dorian Electra’s nu-age nine-to-five ballad “Career Boy,” the themes recirculate for a new audience, retold with new voices and ideas. Hyperpop provides a society for the listeners and creators that highlights the unique struggles of today’s youth, in particular. While the tracks highlight excess, they often satirize modern ideas of success and social media fixation. Taking aim at these contemporary lifestyles and late-stage capitalism more broadly, hyperpop takes on the vital task of critiquing the system we live in.
In the era of John Denver, another focus of these songs was the simple “country boy” lifestyle, which often involved wallowing in the past and occasionally expressing fear of modernity. Hyperpop takes a similar stance: For instance, Charli XCX’s single with Troye Sivan, “1999,” is three minutes of nostalgia for the end of the analog years. While some say hyperpop is already dead and gone, Charli is keeping it alive with her new album Crash, inspired by the 1996 David Cronenberg film of the same name and its subject of sexual freedom and exploration. A tweet reposted by a Charli fan account speculates that Cronenberg directly influenced her aesthetic for the next era of her music and fashion.
Meanwhile, newcomer Raveena Aurora recently released her second album, Asha’s Awakening, which focused on the intersection of South Asian and Western culture. Using Bollywood and Hindi cinema as a reference point, Aurora’s storytelling creates a cohesive chronicle of navigating one’s identity. This exploration is a perfect example of folk tradition, as Aurora uses the poetic writing of these two cinematic histories to amplify the idea of traditional storytelling practices.
Because hyperpop is mainly confined to the internet, there’s an aspect of isolation to the genre, as the artists are often outliers to the more prominent pop genres they find inspiration in. That said, there’s an ongoing pursuit of maintaining a sense of connection through shared knowledge, discussion, and, of course, music—as the description of the hyperpop playlist on Spotify reads, “Hyperpop is a community.” While the phenomenon of its sudden and meteoric rise has all but faded, there are dedicated fans who continue to keep the fire burning. It’s become a trend that’s uniquely captured a chaotic time that can’t be replicated, its internet-based origins and attention to social issues worthy of continued cultural examination. FL