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Courtesy of Dorian Electra

September 21, 2020

KUDVA DRISKELL | Hyperpop’s Redefinition of Gender

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When I first started listening to hyperpop, I couldn’t figure out what to make of the genre. At the time, I was deep into my second High Fidelity rewatch — TV show, not the movie — and my Spotify was subsequently dominated by Minnie Riperton and Frank Zappa. So you can understand how the sheer mania of 100 gecs’ ska-infused “stupid horse” threw me for a bit of a loop.

When I first started listening to more hyperpop, my thought process was something along the lines of “this sucks, but I kinda love it.” But as time went on and I dove deeper into this absurd rabbithole of internet culture, I found myself appreciating the genre in an increasingly nuanced way. There was something about the exuberant chipmunk vocals, open embrace of internet culture and pointedly cursed album art that just drew me in. Yeah, it was all a bit ridiculous, but it legitimately seemed as though the artists were enjoying themselves.

One of my favorite moments of this deepdive was when I was watching a Genius Verified interview with Laura Les and Dylan Brady of 100 gecs. When asked about the iconic opening to their single, “money machine,” Les responded: “I thought that piss baby was like a phrase that people said online, like, I don’t know, shitlord or something? Like, just an innocuous insult, I guess, which I guess was not the case.” In summary, one of their most well known lyrics came out of an intended reference of internet culture which didn’t even exist, which is absolutely hilarious.

There’s something to be said for hyperpop’s open embrace of cringe culture. After Dorian Electra released their two most recent singles, “Gentleman” and “M’Lady,” they created their own version of an incel meme and posted it on their Instagram. The accompanying music videos are similarly referential — Electra first poses in a fedora and cargo shorts as they guzzle Mountain Dew and Doritos (Gentleman), and later as an elfen anime girl complete with knee high socks and elf ears (M’Lady). Like much of Dorian Electra’s other work, both songs offer an apt commentary on gender politics in an internet age. However, it’s still clear that Dorian is having a good time. The video and lyrics are playful nods to the weirder corners of the internet, revelling in a culture that’s still mostly confined to subreddits and Tumblr blogs.

Dorian Electra’s music provides a convenient segway into what I find to be one of the other more interesting aspects of the hyperpop genre, in that hyperpop is a space dominated by LGBTQ+ artists, specifically trans women. In an article for Ringtone, Nic Johnson writes:

“It’s (hyperpop’s) one of the only genres that doesn’t shut trans musicians out, other them, and turn them into novelties. Instead, it welcomes queer and trans people with open arms. Trans artists figure prominently among hyperpop’s elite, defining its sound and acting as the faces of the genre.”  

Johnson goes on to point out that one of the reasons that queer artists are able to carve out their own space within the genre is because, just as hyperpop is built on pushing standard pop to their logical extreme, hyperpop artists can also push the boundaries of gender expression in the aesthetics of their music and artistic personas.

Consider one of the hallmarks of hyperpop: insanely distorted vocals. As a 2018 Pitchfork article explores, vocal modulation allows for trans artists to free themselves from the dysphoria inducing nature of their singing voice. Laura Les addressed a similar idea when asked about her penchant for nightcore-style vocals in an article for them, saying “It’s the only way that I can record, I can’t listen to my regular voice, usually … From the first time I tried it, it sounded amazing to me. I was like, ‘I’m never doing anything else.”

So, while it may seem as though hyperpop is some sort of fleeting, ridiculous musical genre, closer examination reveals that what may be perceived as an internet superficiality is actually a window into the ever changing landscape of gender politics. Certainly, meme culture references and bold aesthetic choices are, at their core, meant to be entertaining, but the reality that hyperpop presents is, in fact, these artists’ reality. SOPHIE points at this most directly in her song “Faceshopping:” “I’m real when I shop my face.” Hyperpop, rather than going for shock value, is simply presenting a different way of being.
Mira Kudva Driskell is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. Portrait of a Gen Z on Fire runs alternate Mondays this semester. She can be reached at mdriskell@cornellsun.com.