When I started the first track from the first 100 guys album 1000 guys, I thought the whole group had to be kidding. The music was distorted to the point of destruction, and all vocals were automatically tuned to a near incomprehensibility. It was the most maximalist music I have ever heard, and I couldn’t believe anyone could find it, even moderately listenable. There was absolutely no way this album could be anything but satire. And yet, as I progressed from song to song, song transitions punctuated with howling sirens and static noises, I found myself strangely addicted to chaos. Even though I couldn’t figure out why, there was something oddly compelling about this ridiculous album; I found myself starting the album over at the end and then again after the second track. By the end of the third rehearsal, only about an hour of listening time in total, I felt like I had seen the future of music – and I was completely converted.
As I ended up learning, 100 gecs was just one of many groups to create hyperpop. Hyperpop is a loosely defined type of music, as much a movement as a genre, characterized by an extreme and maximalist approach to pop. A typical hyperpop song features vocals that are automatically tuned beyond human sounding point, unrecognizable distorted bass, and chaotically messy mirth. The sounds are very crisp and often off-putting. Mixed with a fast tempo, aggressively upbeat tunes, and a hook that’s just a little more catchy than it should be, it’s a genre unlike any other. It’s different from other music, and not always in a good way; most people hate hyperpop the first time they listen to it, characterizing it as “just noise” or “no real music, just loud noises”. To understand why hyperpop is so revolutionary, we must first look at the music itself.
What is music and why do we like it? It’s the subject of a lot of discussion, scientific and philosophical, and it’s a question I feel totally incompetent to answer. However, one specific aspect comes up in almost all discussions about music: tension and looseness. As a song plays over time, it sets up and resolves tension in a way that is particularly satisfying to our ears. There are three main dimensions of tension and release that music can incorporate: harmony, rhythm and timbre. A good song can build and release tensions with all three to create a multi-faceted experience for the ear, and how we define a genre has a lot to do with the balance it establishes between the three dimensions.
The first pillar of music is harmony, which is the melody of a song and its interaction with other notes. Layering individual notes into complex chords creates tension and looseness in the notes, often referred to as dissonance (a chord that seems unresolved) and consonance (a chord that seems resolved). When harmonies and their melodies play out over time, beautiful and complex songs can be created. Harmony is present in all music, but the genre that pushes it to the extreme is jazz. Jazz relies heavily on complex chords and detailed music theory to create extremely complicated harmonies that can often be hard on the ear, but can also evoke unique emotions.
The second pillar is rhythm. If the harmony is vertical, that is, the notes are stacked on top of each other, the rhythm is horizontal; it’s how those notes play against each other over time and how the song goes. When notes are played, how long they are held and how fast they move are all aspects of rhythm. Just as every song except a single drum solo has harmony, every sound except a single sustained tone has rhythm. Genres that take rhythm to its extreme include funk, R + B and, more recently, hip-hop and rap. All of these genres rely on syncope and strong rhythmic variations to move the song forward, creating and releasing percussive tension more than harmonic tension.
The third pillar is the stamp, also often referred to as texture, tone or color. It refers to the actual sound quality of the song; for example, an electric guitar solo and a flute solo may contain the same notes in the same rhythm, but they will sound completely different. As our musical abilities have developed, it is the timbre that has changed the most, from our humble origins singing and drumming around fireplaces to modern orchestras and rock bands. Jazz instrumentalists love wind instruments like saxophones and trumpets, while an a capella group that covers those same jazz songs doesn’t use any instruments at all. Over the past fifty years our ability to electronically synthesize music has exploded, resulting in dramatic developments in the spheres of pop, electronic music, and essentially every other genre. The vocal effects used by Daft Punk, the synthesizers used by The Weeknd and many other iconic sounds from the last decades of music would be impossible without our new technological capabilities.
If jazz is the extremization of harmony, and hip-hop and rap is the extremization of rhythm, what is the extremization of timbre? Our abilities grew so rapidly that whenever we seemed to be at the limit, we opened up new worlds, from the continuous invention of new instruments to digital sound synthesis techniques. These inventions have brought us multitrack songs, synthesized instruments, EDM, ASMR and much more. After years of breaking new frontiers in timbre, we’re finally reaching the limits, and the genre that takes timbre to its most recent extreme is hyperpop. The sounds he uses are the most exaggerated sounds we’re willing to accept as music, and he uses everything from light chimes to squeaky, distorted bass to create tension and simply break free from the texture of the note. .
The biggest way this extreme control manifests in hyperpop is the distortion typically present when a song is released. Often times when a hyperpop song builds up, the sound will be relatively clean or sound a bit distant to the point of feeling less energetic. As the tension builds and the song hits the chorus, the tonal tension is relieved by a huge distorted bass note. The sounds themselves build tension and release it, bringing the dimension of timbre to its limit.
Precise control of the sound of a song is also used in several ways. In some songs, the hyperpop creators retune real-life sound effects to act like instruments: a retuned police siren, for example, or a text tone altered to fit the song. The ability to retune is also personally important to the hyperpop community, which is largely made up of LGBTQ + creators. These creators often use autotune as a vehicle to experiment with the genre presentation of their voices. In short: hyperpop allows creators to reshape their songs to sound the way they want, without any limits, pushing the underused third dimension of music, timbre, to the limit.
And when something new happens in music, even if it doesn’t have immediate appeal to the masses, the effects will eventually reverberate. Many types of jazz have yet to enter the mainstream and may never make it, but the way jazz studied harmony was instrumental in the creation and development of rock. , pop, and basically every other genre that we listen to today. As hyperpop continues to push the tone to the breaking point, more and more mainstream music will incorporate its sound and turn it into something beautiful. Charli XCX (you may remember her from Arrow clap, her hit single from 2014, among a ton of other great music) has slowly turned her sound into hyperpop, and Phoebe Bridgers recently released some hyperpop remixes of her hit song Kyto. Five years from now, your favorite band might not be hyperpop, but your favorite band’s favorite band will be.
Want to participate in the future of music? There has never been a better time to jump into hyperpop. The genre is continually evolving and has so much more depth than I could ever describe in a single post. My favorite hyperpop album is 1000 guys, and the current state of the movement is generally fairly well described by Spotify’s “hyperpop” playlist, curated by some of the biggest artists on the scene. If you are looking for a slightly softer introduction, I gave you a relatively accessible little hyperpop playlist to get you started. Give a shot; after the initial shock passes, you might like what you find.
Sam Carpenter is a sophomore at Trinity. His column is generally broadcast every other Friday.
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