Slayyyter’s Normcore Hyperpop
Hyperpop used to sound so weird. This was presumably part of its appeal for fans of the style, that sense of transgressing the average listener’s comfort zone. Even before the terminology developed, the microgenre now known as hyperpop presented an extreme take on pop music that sometimes blurred the lines between humans and their machines. Early PC Music singles like Hannah Diamond’s “Attachment” had me wincing the way you might upon encountering an extremely lifelike android. Charli XCX’s most aggressive collaborations with SOPHIE and A. G. Cook were like listening in on broadcasts from an unsettling future. The rapid spread of glitchy, distorted, perennially revved-up duo 100 gecs two years ago largely amounted to people playing their songs for friends and — with some combination of excitement, bemusement, and horror — essentially saying, “Can you believe they are seriously making music like this?”
Yet hyperpop is a marketable phenomenon now, a buzzword with its own Spotify playlist and a rapidly expanding audience on TikTok and beyond. So it’s unsurprising that less pioneering artists are gravitating toward those sounds as with any other trend, incorporating them into the framework of more basic pop music. Such is the case with Slayyyter, aka 24-year-old St. Louis native Catherine Slater. On her debut album Troubled Paradise, released last week via the FADER label, the singer embraces camp and excess with the bravado of early Kesha and a genre-jumping aughts infatuation to rival Rina Sawayama. Throughout the album Slayyyter and a wide range of producers weave in bits of hip-hop, club music, pop-punk, and more, often seasoned with hyperpop elements like heavily processed pitch-shifted vocals and aggressive blasts of digital noise. The results are solid and occasionally transcendent. But rarely if ever does Troubled Paradise sound as forward-thinking as hyperpop listeners have come to expect.
This speaks in part to the way hyperpop’s tics have been normalized through repeat exposure and widespread proliferation. Any revolutionary sound will cease to sound revolutionary after a certain point; fresh and jarring new movements will inevitably be smoothed out into a more digestible alternative to the alternative. The kurtains and glaive songs sandwiching Slayyyter on Spotify’s playlist right now suggest this process is well underway within hyperpop. Slayyyter’s album is more out-there than the latest from mainstream megastars like Olivia Rodrigo, Demi Lovato, and Justin Bieber, but it’s not exactly pushing sonic boundaries. Rather, with Troubled Paradise, she is dragging the sound of hyperpop back out of the uncanny valley, for better or worse.
Slayyyter emerged out of St. Louis two years ago, when she was still working as a receptionist at a hair salon. In a new MTV feature she talks about studying Max Martin’s songwriting workshops on YouTube rather than attending class during her brief tenure at Mizzou and discusses the genesis of her “blonde bimbo Barbie” persona. “I got really into Y2K culture,” Slayyter says in the interview, noting the influence of Lindsay Lohan and the aughts-centric blog Pop Culture Died In 2009. “I wanted to create my own identity of being a pop star from that era.” As such, her earliest singles, like the sugary house-pop banger “Mine” and the bass-blasted slow-creep “Daddy AF,” found her pushing the bold provocations of mid-career Britney Spears to more explicit extremes. By the time Slayyyter’s self-titled mixtape dropped in September 2019, tracks like “BFF” and “E-Boy” were incorporating the tweaked vocals and hyperactive carbonated dance-pop production native to hyperpop — a natural next step for an already maximalist style, with an assist from the now-inactive hyperpop producer Ayesha Erotica. Before long Slayyyter had to apologize for old tweets using the N-word back when she was running a Fifth Harmony stan account as a teenager in the early 2010s; you don’t have to listen to her music long before her history as a stan and an edgelord start to make perfect sense.
Last Friday, after a lengthy rollout spanning six singles and nearly eight months, Slayyyter dropped Troubled Paradise. The album continues to dabble in hyperpop signifiers but ultimately focuses more on music’s past than its future. A vast array of 21st century pop comes into play, often via chaotic production and pointedly outrageous lyrics. The album begins with “Self Destruct,” one of its harshest tracks, which finds her rapping about drug-fueled misbehavior over Wuki’s clattering trap beat: “Reverse cowgirl, tie him with the lasso/ Take all of his money, run away to El Paso.” Next comes “Venom,” perhaps Slayyyter’s purest distillation of hyperpop aesthetics, which leaves lots of space within its busily caroming uptempo beat for Slayyyter to proclaim, “All these vegan bitches want beef.” The skittering rhythms, metallic blasts, and mega-processed vocals continue on “Throatzillaaa,” with boasts along the lines of “He call me throatzilla, I suck dick so killer.” Those with a taste for the unrepentantly extra will surely be entertained, while the more squeamish among us will flinch.
Not everything on Troubled Paradise is so extreme. As the album rolls along, it settles into more straightforward strains of club (“Dog House”), techno (“Butterflies…”), and electro-pop (“Troubled Paradise”). The latter suggests Slayyyter is perfectly capable of making Gaga-inspired bangers that shoot directly down the middle like Ava Max or Dua Lipa if she so chooses. On the subsequent “Clouds” she even shows she can pull off subtlety too. “Serial Killer” is a fun-enough digression into spooky synth sounds, and closing track “Letters” impressively weaves the old Imogen Heap computerized choir trick into an acoustic ballad. My favorite sound on the album, though, may be the rock-infused bombast displayed on “Cowboys” and “Over This!” The former is like Sawayama’s “STFU” infused with hammy Western-themed one-liners like “This is not my first rodeo” and “Mess with the bull, you’re gonna get the horns.” The latter is like early Paramore blown out like peak Sleigh Bells.
None of this will surprise listeners of hyperpop-adjacent stars like Kim Petras or Charli XCX, a pair of artists Slayyyter once joined forces with on a remix. Rather than breaking new ground, Troubled Paradise surveys the state of extremely online, sex-positive pop today. She’s clearly a good student of the craft, and if her album’s appeal is mostly surface-level, it’s an extremely well-constructed artifice. Given her fascination with pop’s gaudy Paris Hilton era, the artifice may be an end unto itself; Troubled Paradise certainly succeeds as a monument to the proud tackiness of that moment. Still, it’s hard to work up too much enthusiasm about an album that trades out hyperpop’s old adventurous spirit for an over-the-top take on the basics. “I’m no villain, but you want me to be one,” Slayyyter sings near the end. Fair enough, but she’s still working toward a creative breakthrough that might render her a hero.
Lil Baby and Lil Durk’s collaborative album Voice Of The Heroes debuts at #1 on the Billboard 200 this week. Per Billboard, the album tallied 150,000 equivalent album units, almost entirely via streaming; only 4,000 of those units represent actual album sales. It’s Baby’s second #1 album following last year’s My Turn and Durk’s first.
After Olivia Rodrigo, Morgan Wallen, and J. Cole comes a #5 debut for K-pop group Tomorrow x Together’s The Chaos Chapter: Freeze, which sold 39,000 copies to account for most of their 43,000 units. It’s the quintet’s first top 10 album. The rest of the top 10 comprises Moneybagg Yo, Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift, the Weeknd, and Luke Combs.
Over on the Hot 100, BTS’ “Butter” holds on to #1 for a third straight week. The only new arrival in the top 10 is Bad Bunny’s “Yonaguni,” which debuts at #10 to become his fourth top 10 single and first with no other artists on the track. It finds him singing mostly in Spanish with a bit of Japanese mixed in. Between those two songs: “good 4 u,” “Levitating,” “Peaches,” “Leave The Door Open,” “Save Your Tears,” “Kiss Me More,” “Astronaut In The Ocean,” and “deja vu.”
Lorde – “Solar Power”
Like many, I was not feeling “Solar Power” on my first couple listens. As opening statements go it’s no match for the thrill of hearing “Green Light” for the first time, and I actually think the Primal Scream/George Michael breakdown at the end is the worst part of the song — it’s not really the sing-along moment you’d hope for there, and the lyrics get lost in the sun. But the low-key summer vibe and especially the lyrics are growing on me. Lorde’s line reading on the “Can I Kick It” reference is exquisite, even more so on the callback, “Can you reach me? No, you can’t.” The “prettier Jesus” bit is expertly provocative, the overall scene-setting sublime. Any song that inspires so much discourse is generally going down as a W for me. I am enjoying the subverted expectations and the batshit takes like “I think she’s revving up a kind of Influencer Ziggy Stardust thing?” It’s good that she’s keeping us guessing, though hopefully at least some of the album properly slaps.
Maroon 5 – “Remedy” (Feat. Stevie Nicks)
In which a rock legend relegates herself to Adam Levine backup singer for no apparent reason.
Doja Cat – “Need To Know”
Hard to notice anything beyond the “futuristic girls night featuring Grimes” video concept, which lets Doja Cat flex all of her superstar powers. The song is some decent hyper-sexualized trap&b, though.
SAINt JHN – “Just For Me” (Feat. SZA)
This is perfectly fine but it’s sad to see SZA limited to all these soundtrack duets and features on other artists’ big singles. “Good Days” was a smash and a masterpiece! Give us the album TDE!
Kelsea Ballerini & LANY – “I Quit Drinking”
Now here’s something subversive: a weepy pop-country ballad about a breakup so bad it drives you to give up alcohol.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Drake says his delayed Certified Lover Boy album will be out before the end of summer. [Instagram]
- He’s also partnering with Live Nation on a new 2,500-cap music venue in Toronto. [Billboard]
- Ed Sheeran’s first solo single in four years is coming in a few weeks. [Instagram]
- The MTV Video Music Awards will return to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in front of a live audience on 9/12. [NY Post]
- Willow Smith says Avril Lavigne will be on her new album. [V Magazine]
- Coldplay released a video for “Higher Power.” [YouTube]
- Teyana Taylor became the first Black woman to be named Maxim’s Sexiest Woman Alive. [Page Six]
- Here’s Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox in a red-band trailer for their thriller Midnight In The Switchgrass. [YouTube]
- Post Malone got $1.6M diamond fangs. [TMZ]