It all started with Sirius XM, which means my 2021 actually began in 2020, which makes sense since in many ways my 2021 was simply an extension of 2020 with its pandemic and the quarrantine and my need to fill huge chunks of time with some kind of stability. So when Sirius XM offered a $4 month introductory rate or some such shit, I figured we could listen to their morning Beatles show during our family breakfast since our kid was, at the time, a rabid Beatles fan desperate for any kind of entertainment. Now this post is not a commercial for Sirius XM, or even an endorsement, but in the browsing of their 700+ channels I came across two that didn’t sound tame, predictable and dedicated to the narrowest possible definition of genre-based algorithmic death. One was called “88rising,” which featured artists from across the Asian disapora (and let’s just agree to sidestep the 1000+ words necessary to unpack that defintion with the necessary amounts of sensitivity and caveats). I heard this song on 88rising in the spring of 2021, and it was an absolute delight. A calming song to sing in my head as I dodged the coughing maskless husks of humanity here in the deep US South.
The whole Chai album (released on, uh, Sub Pop) is excellent. It’s got bouncing melodic brainy bliss in all the right places, and even a few not-right places as well.
But the other Sirius station I stumbled across was called Hyperpop, and this was the thing that rearranged my musical world. Having spent 2017 through 2019 deeply immersed in a book project, I was only vaguely aware of the genre (‘like the PC Music stuff, right?’) but having used the term hypermodern to describe Sleigh Bells all the way back in 2013 and having tried to articulate some kind of theory of the hypermodern back in 2017, the term got my attention in a big way. Then I heard this song and that scream and I just had to listen to it over and over again.
I forced myself to keep from knowing too much. I wanted to hold onto the mystery for as long as I could and just let the music be what it was. At the end of 2020, Brigette and I had listened to the Sirius XMU indie rock top 40 of the year countdown and nearly wept at the tedious boredom of the whole thing–just dull breathy meanderings through the ennui of the terminally rich over and over again. No anger, no humor, no emotions at all except for the emotion of languid regret. It was like being trapped in a Jane Austen novel. 20 year olds who sounded they were 50, who sounded like their parents.
They stuff I was hearing on the Hyperpop station didn’t sound like that at all. It was obnoxious. It was funny. It was willfully stupid and childish. It was obscene. But most importantly, it sounded like people having fun at the end of the world.
It reminded me of the unrulier side of punk, the incoherent glee of trying to be obnoxious. I looked up articles about the genre and found critics nervously hedging their bets, striking these tones of paternal condescension. Which also reminded me of punk.
And then this fall I got a part-time job at this store here in town. I guess you’d call it a sex shop, but you can’t actually buy sex there–only every imagniable accessory that goes with it (and very likely a few accessories you haven’t imagined). We can listen to whatever music we want while we’re working, and one of my co-workers–an extremely sweet person who just turned 20–was very excited, and also a little confused, to learn that I was really into 100 gecs these days. It only took a few weeks at the store before I decided to reactivate my Spotify account and start adding all these 2021 songs to a playllist. And yes Spotify is the devil and Bandcamp is the most ethical music consumption choice (and I buy plenty of Bandcamp too, okay) but the Spotify algorithm, combined with a handful of weekly updated playlists I subscribe to, turned me on to more exciting muisc this year than my weekly perusals of The Guardian, P4K, Bandcamp Daily, etc. combined. Which isn’t meant as any kind of praise at all for Spotify so much as an indictment of the professional music media class and their academic-like fixation on serious art that has quality or whatever.
Because from my window, from my screen, 2021 was a hot fucking mess of nihilism and death. The year where you were confronted with the knowledge on a daily/hourly basis that most of the people in your neighborhood would rather see you die than wear a piece of cloth over their face, or get a shot containing a medical miracle. Hell, they would rather see thier loved ones die, or even die themselves. And yes, we should take a moment to reflect on the media outlets that put those ideas in their heads, but it’s impossible to look at the United States of America in 2021 and not conclude that we are witnessing the old Freuidan Death Drive playing itself out on a grand scale. Over 800,000 Americans have died from Covid so far, and based on what I see out in public spaces, and the people coming into my work, your typical Georgia resident seems intent on trying to see just how high that number can go like the Bulldogs running up the score on East Appalachian Tech. So forgive me if I had trouble relating to the placid comforts of Japanese Breakfast, Olivia Rodrigo, Mitski, et al, and just wanted to hear music that was distrubed, unhinged, raunchy and most importantly, fun.
I could go on and on. There are 78 songs on the playlist at the bottom of this post, and probably a bunch more I could drag over from Bandcamp. It isn’t all hyperpop, or even hyperpop adjacent. And I’m not so much of a snob that I can’t enjoy Wet Leg (a song that after you hear it the 25th time you’ll never want to hear it again and I guess Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are cool again?) and Caroline Polachek. But I ask what kind of pop universe we live in where a song like this goes more or less completely ignored in a year of collective nervous breakdowns. I submit that 2021 was the year of watching people not give a fucking flying fuckity-fuck about anything or anyone. And unlike the scowling unmasked guy with the goatee I keep seeing everywhere I go, at least these people seemed to be enjoying themselves.
One more before we get to the embedded playlist. Here’s some swirling hamonic psychedlia bliss that came out this year, because I still like that stuff too. I heard it on a college radio station in Cleveland. Well technically, I heard it on my phone on the Radio Garden app, but you know what I mean. It has yearning and prettiness, and mark my words someone soon is going to take the aestheticsof hyperpop (basically Aqua’s Barbie Girl meets Aphex Twin) and put some sincerity into it and the whole thing is going to blow up in a way that Wet Leg and their publicists can only dream about.