The PinkPantheress Debates Have Already Begun

Jesse Crankson

The PinkPantheress Debates Have Already Begun

Jesse Crankson

There may be no more definitively 2021 musical artist than PinkPantheress. Huge on TikTok, just barely past her teens, drenched in nostalgia for Y2K-era dance music, founded on overt sampling, intersecting with prevailing movements like bedroom pop and hyperpop and the pop-punk revival — this still mostly anonymous 20-year-old university student from South London could not be more zeitgeisty if she tried. And with the release of her debut mixtape to hell with it this Friday, she becomes the latest organic viral sensation to be swept up into the major-label machine.

Although the oldest post on PinkPantheress’ TikTok account dates back to last Christmas, it’s the second video — the one posted Jan. 29, captioned “day 11 of posting a song every day bc i have nothing else to do” — that marks the proper beginning of her story. The 12-second clip found her with her face obscured singing over a sample of “Flowers,” UK garage duo Sweet Female Attitude’s Erik Satie-inspired classic from 2000 (the year before PinkPantheress was born in Bath). “It’s 8 o’clock in the morning, now I’m entering my bed/ Had a few dreams about you, I can’t tell you what we did,” she sang, before collapsing into playful “la la las” that belied the heartache and longing on display in the lyrics. From its woozy, almost vaporwave-like keyboard loop to its airy singsong vocal, the track resembled Clairo’s bedroom-pop staple “Pretty Girl” reborn for the dance floor. “Pain” quickly took off on the platform, and with that, the PinkPantheress hype train had left the station.

Within days she had shared another song built on an instantly recognizable UK garage sample: “Attracted To You” flipped Just Jack’s ska-infused 2007 smash “Starz In Their Eyes” into dreamy dance music that could almost slot into the Avalanches’ Since I Left You without missing a beat. More sample-based tracks ensued. “Break It Off” deployed Adam F’s drum ‘n’ bass classic “Circles” as the canvas for a playfully flirtatious melodic flutter. “Last Valentines” turned a churning, translucent break from the early Linkin Park deep cut “Forgotten” into breathy, spidery dance-tinged rock.

Soon she was singing over original production that continued to evoke classic drum ‘n’ bass and garage sounds. Those frenetic digital drums coursed through “Noticed I Cried,” produced by indie striver turned studio mainstay Oscar Scheller. Helmed by IZCO and Jkarri, “Passion” laced similar beats with soft acoustic guitars out of a pop-R&B ballad from the same era. Produced by Mura Masa, “Just For Me” topped off further acoustic textures with an android-like hyperpop vocal; it’s my favorite PinkPantheress track to date, one that most clearly affirms her potential to be a paradigm-shifting figure.

By spring “Pain” was on Spotify and rapidly climbing various viral charts. By summer the first round of interviews was popping up, with PinkPantheress repeatedly describing her sound as “new nostalgic” and citing the influence of Lily Allen and Hayley Williams. Just as quickly backlash arose, mostly from listeners old enough to recognize the source material. Critics have derided PinkPantheress for defiling the classics, reignited debates about obvious samples that date back to the height of No Way Out and Big Willie Style. I’ve seen questions about whether anyone beyond Gen Z is too old to listen to PinkPantheress (echoing similar ridiculous discourse about Olivia Rodrigo this year) and speculation about when Drake will inevitably jump on one of her tracks. She has become a controversial figure before ever dropping an album.

Not that she’s really releasing an album this week either. Out Friday on Parlophone, to hell with it compiles most of PinkPantheress’ early hits into a breezy 18-minute introductory statement. As a mixtape it’s kind of slight, which is in keeping with its TikTok origins and far preferable to a bloated tracklist full of cool-hunting guest-star interlopers. This is a collection you might find yourself running back from the top several times over. And anyhow, 10 quick tracks is more than enough to establish PinkPantheress’ talent for breathy, fragile, tender-but-chilly topline melodies. On tracks like “Nineteen” she reminds me quite a bit of Grimes, her predecessor in polarizing hyper-online pop stardom, with a coy British accent and none of the transhumanist sci-fi tendencies. It’s a compelling voice, and the samples and originals behind it cohere into a distinct and pleasing sonic template that tweaks those retro dance styles just enough to make them feel hypermodern. PinkPantheress may not have pioneered this aesthetic, but for better or worse it belongs to her now. I’m excited to see where she takes it.

Steve Cannon

CHART WATCH

It’s a relatively slow week on the Billboard 200. In the wake of its release on vinyl and a limited edition signed CD promotion, Taylor Swift’s Fearless (Taylor’s Version) returns to #1 for a second nonconsecutive week. The album tallied 152,000 equivalent album units, 146,000 of them via actual sales. After Drake at #2 comes a #3 debut for Meek Mill’s Expensive Pain with 95,000 units and 10,000 in sales. It’s his seventh top-10 album.

After YoungBoy Never Broke Again at #4, Lil Nas X at #5, Olivia Rodrigo at #6, and Doja Cat at #7 comes a #8 debut for Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. The duo’s second collaborative album, Love For Sale, is a collection of songs written by Cole Porter. It starts with 41,000 units and 38,000 in sales — good for Bennett’s sixth top-10 album and Gaga’s tenth. Per Billboard, Bennett scored his first top-10 album 59 years ago with I Left My Heart In San Francisco, the second longest span between earliest and latest appearances in the top 10 behind Cole Porter’s 63-year gap. Morgan Wallen and Kanye West round out the top 10.

The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” is back at #1 on the Hot 100 for a seventh nonconsecutive week, followed by Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s “Industry Baby” at #2. Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like” climbs to a new #3 peak. Drake, Future, and Young Thug’s “Way 2 Sexy” is at #4, with Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” (#5) and Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” (#6) close behind. After Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More” (#7), Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” (#8), and Drake, 21 Savage, and Project Pat’s “Knife Talk” (#9) comes a new #10 peak for the Bieber-infused remix of WizKid and Tems’ Nigerian R&B smash “Essence.” It’s the second top-10 hit for WizKid following his turn on Drake’s chart-topping “One Dance” and the first for Tems. Bieber’s presence on the remix makes it 25 in the top 10 for that guy.

POP FIVE

Måneskin – “MAMMAMIA”
No comment.

Justin Bieber – “Red Eye” (Feat. TroyBoi)
Bieber should sing over quirky production like this more often. This electronic/hip-hop hybrid is the closest he’s come to the crystalline glide of his Purpose era in a while.

Demi Lovato – “Unforgettable (Tommy’s Song)”
A loose, loping 40-esque soul groove like this one plus Demi Lovato’s voice equals a good song, pretty much every time. Would like to hear a whole album like this from Demi.

Why Don’t We – “Love Back”
The boy band’s first single since detailing the abuse they suffered at the hands of their former managers is… pretty good! Huge, fizzy ’80s pop will never completely go out of style, certainly not when executed this well.

Lauren Jauregui – “Colors”
Not the most memorable ballad, but definitely engaging in the moment.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Surprising no one, Adele’s 30 collaborators include Max Martin, Shellback, Greg Kurstin, Inflo, Ludwig Göransson, and Tobias Jesso Jr. [Vogue]
  • In other Adele news, she’s reportedly shopping a Las Vegas residency. [Billboard]
  • The Weeknd said he’s completed his new album. [HNHH]
  • The Weeknd was also announced as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations World Food Programme. [NY Daily News]
  • Britney Spears says she’s writing a novel about a girl who was murdered. [Instagram]
  • Machine Gun Kelly discussed his next album on TODAY, saying “lyrically it definitely goes deeper.” [Today]
  • iHeartMedia’s ALTer EGO festival returns to LA in January with Coldplay, Twenty One Pilots, Imagine Dragons, Kings Of Leon, Willow, All Time Low, and more. [iHeart]
  • Here’s Coldplay and BTS doing their #1 hit “My Universe” acoustic at the Apollo Theater. [YouTube]
  • Drake and Chris Brown are being sued for allegedly ripping off “No Guidance.” [TMZ]
  • Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power film was released on HBO Max. [HBO Max]
  • At the Gracie Awards, Simone Biles presented Taylor Swift with an award for her Folklore: The Long Pond Sessions concert film. [iHeart]
  • Ariana Grande was issued a five-year restraining order against a man who showed up at her house with a knife. [OK]
  • Morgan Wallen was a surprise guest at Eric Church’s concert in Philadelphia. [TMZ]
  • Little Mix’s Jesy Nelson addressed accusations of blackfishing (that have been deleted from her Instagram comments): “I’m very aware that I’m a white British woman; I’ve never said that I wasn’t.” [Vulture]
  • Justin Bieber was fooled by a deepfake guitar-playing Tom Cruise on Instagram. [TMZ]
  • Demi Lovato on extra-terristrials: “We have to stop calling them aliens because aliens is a derogatory term for anything.” [Pedestrian]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

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