The eclectic iconography of hyperpop

Sunday, October 4, 2020 - 2:59pm

Cover art by Mikey Joyce and Dario Alva

Cover art by Mikey Joyce and Dario Alva Buy this photo
Courtesy of Bradley Bledsoe

This article is a part of the Arts b-side on Icons. For a full look at our b-side pieces exploring this theme, click this link.

For all of the playfulness and anarchy that characterize hyperpop music, we hardly ever talk about how its associated visual culture contributes to its allure. 

For hundreds of thousands of twenty-somethings barred from clubs this spring, Charli XCX’s How I’m Feeling Now, dropped on May 15, offered a reprieve. Its unabashed expressionism on songs like “pink diamond” and “anthems” injected life into the dull day-to-day of quarantine. In addition to all of its musical richness, every song on the album has a music video, introducing an equally decadent world of visuals that contributes just as much to the album’s effect.

Charli isn’t the only artist playing with audiovisual overload at the moment. 100 gecs have come into prominence in the last year off this same kind of maximalism, an artistic gesture that seems suited to the psyche of the six-hours-of-screen-time-a-day individual. 

Over the summer, hundreds of fans made pilgrimages to the site of the tree on the cover of 100 gecs’s debut album, 1000 gecs. In July, seemingly in response, gecs dropped a remix album, 1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues that featured the same tree surrounded by a diverse cast of characters from a broad range of lore. Looking for answers, The Michigan Daily reached out to 100 gecs PR to get a comment from the artist behind the cover, creative partner Mikey Joyce. Here’s how it went down:

TMD: What was the nexus of the idea? When was the moment you put two and two together to place these characters around the tree on the original album artwork? Was it after various fans’ pilgrimages to the tree to place artifacts of personal importance?

Mikey Joyce: The creatures inhabiting this space arrived via precise ritual; a glimpse of the light, a revelation; the manifestation of concentrated magic. Everything and nothing was considered. One might call this process fate or luck, but no mere word can capture the true meaning of what occurred. They were summoned to me—I was a vessel meant to recite their tale.

TMD: Who or what are these characters? The rat looks like Remy but the others appear to be originals made by you. If that’s the case, are any directly traceable to references? Maybe WoW or Runescape? Or is any one particular reference out the window?

MJ: I do not know these creatures. They have come and gone.

And that was that, the mystery only further compounded by any attempt to grasp at it. Laura Les and Dylan Brady, the two halves of 100 gecs, have been an enigma since their breakout song “money machine” dropped last year. But they’ve only swung further from center since meeting fellow agitator A.G. Cook. 

Their latest video, part of Cook’s “Live at Appleville” series, features some of their latest music dubbed over ten minutes of them holding up a Macbook playing Ratatouille. Well, if there is one clue for a reference, Remy from Ratatouille has appeared twice now. 

A.G. Cook, founder of PC Music and executive producer of XCX’s How I’m Feeling Now, just this week curated a featured playlist on Spotify entitled “hyperpop curated by A.G. Cook.” It features 114 songs that discriminate little between “old and new and hyper and pop.”

Cover art by garonganut

Cover art by garonganut Buy this photo
Courtesy of Himera

One lesser-known artist on the playlist who fits into Cook’s constructed world is Himera. Their latest album More Than Friends is a pleasant mix of “Fireflies”-esque synths, chimes and bells with scattered high-octane moments. 

A large part of the album’s nostalgic aesthetic comes from its front cover, which features a digitally-animated charm bracelet. In an interview with Paper Magazine this month, Himera broke down what each element meant to them. The moon and stars, for example, represent how they stayed up all night looking at the stars thinking about friends after playing a rave in Riga, Latvia. 

Cover art by Claire Barrow

Cover art by Claire Barrow Buy this photo
Courtesy of Bladee

Nostalgia has also been a theme in Stockholm-born rapper Bladee’s music for some time now. Though he raps, he also sings, and on his latest album 333, even androgynously so at times. This combined with inebriating instrumentals makes him hyperpop-adjacent. 

Though for years he photoshopped his own cover art, this time around he hired UK-based artist Claire Barrow to invent a small universe of characters surrounding a central-placed icon of himself in front of a halo.

Like for Charli XCX and 100 gecs, the maximalism of the cover befits the music. Each of the three covers on display have things in common — moons, butterflies, charms and keys, but they are all represented in different styles. You could cite Disney, Nintendo or Crayola, but the common thread here is really a dismantling of any sense of reference.

In hyperpop, the sensibilities of a generation are on display as the limit approaches infinity on what we can fill our brains with. In this way, the genre is trying less to assuage our mania but more to ramp it up even further, compiling a vast field of disparate meanings that spiral ever faster until they reach some semblance of accord. 

Daily Arts Writer Ben Vassar can be reached at benvas@umich.edu.

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