That Kid’s “DRY2WET” Makes Hyperpop Feel Brand New Again

If it’s become harder to hear hyperpop without all the accompanying baggage of context, That Kid reminds us why this music felt so potent in the first place.
By    August 11, 2022

Image via Christopher Vu/ Alternate Press Photos

Show your support for truly independent journalism by subscribing to Passion of the Weiss on Patreon.

Don’t miss Pranav Trewn‘s latest deep dive for POW: an interview with Rexx Life Raj.

Is hyperpop dead? Charli XCX, one of the godmothers of the genre, posited as much while teasing her latest album Crash, on which she largely ditched the futuristic rush of forward-thinking releases like Pop 2 for more straight-laced Y2K throwbacks – the kind of jams hyperpop was born seeking to upgrade. Her remark may have been tongue-in-cheek, but Charli wouldn’t be the only prominent artist to take issue with their “hyperpop” designitation; breakout stars like midwxst and glaive have made a point of chasing new directions to avoid being boxed into a label they no longer feel an affinity with.

Despite the defectors, the hyperpop takeoff is clearly just getting started. 100 gecs have given the scene its highest profile yet, earning the kinds of festival placements and pop culture recognizability that has evaded most internet-fueled microgenres of this century. Progenitors like A.G. Cook and Danny L Harle have now established themselves as critic bait that work with megastars like Flume, Hikaru Utada, and most recently Beyonce. You can hear their signatures in everything from the mutated strains of SoundCloud rap to the outer edges (and climbing) of the Billboard charts. Most significantly, an entire wave of DJs and dancefloors more inclusive to non-heteronormative sensibilities continues to surge from the seed planted by PC Music.

While in the midst of this mainstream breakthrough, what even constitutes hyperpop has become increasingly blurry. That PC Music sound – at the intersection of happy hardcore, chiptune, and cloud rap, mixed into whatever else producers found lying around the Internet at any given moment – has largely fractured into a loose umbrella of disciplines, from brash electro rappers like quinn to noisy digicore outfits like Jane Remover. Its signatures have become less closely tied to a mission statement than simply an aesthetic. As it continues to splinter into new offshoots and fusions, I hear in the glossy club anthems of Denver-based singer-producer That Kid a purity of hyperpop’s original promise to remake pop culture in its blown out and sexually liberated ideals.

The young upstart born Spencer Joseph is largely picking up where Charli left off with the genre, blending our collective nostalgia for the early 2000s with Sophie-inspired sound design. The result is hot-pink and hard-as-nails, full of refractive percussion and bubblegum-popping top lines. Every track on That Kid’s new mixtape SUPERSTAR, which comes out this September, sounds like it belongs on an alternate timeline of the Top 40 – a world in which Charli’s Number 1 Angel was as popular as Adele’s 21 and Britney’s “How I Roll” was the biggest hit of her career.

Compared to charming prototypical singles like “7 Minutes to Heaven”, you can hear That Kid’s execution meeting his ambition on SUPERSTAR. “4EVER” is Eurovision-by-way-of-Harlecore, as unabashed as the former and ferociously euphoric as the latter. On “Down for Whatever”, he approaches the mic with both the libidinal fervor of CupcakKe and the carefree airs of Kim Petras. His music is as sticky and irreverent as his peers without resorting to any of the TikTok-baiting gimmicks that have come to define recent hits.

Best of all might be That Kid’s latest single “DRY2WET”, which feels like the purest distillation of his style in its exacting rhythms, carbonated melodies, and confident provocation. Over a prismatic rave-ready amalgam of stadium synths and radioactively decaying bass, Joseph tosses out filthy come-ons so blunt they belie the metaphors. “Wanna bang me like a hard kick drum?,” he purrs, later adding, “Top my chart like you’re number 1/ Just a little throat to make you cum.” When he momentarily tones it down, you can appreciate the subversive double entendres of lines like, “Independent, we don’t need labels.”

Contemporary pop increasingly resembles the maximalism hyperpop once predicted, and it won’t be long before a trend-magnet like Lizzo will inevitably recruit That Kid while attempting to belatedly chase the zeitgeist. The speed in which the Internet moves makes vintage hyperpop feel as retro as Aaliyah or ‘N Sync. Within a song as expertly engineered as “DRY2WET”, you might no longer hear the future, but recall your first time throwing on “Hey QT” or “Beautiful”, back when these sounds once felt radical. As with Timbaland’s transformation of R&B in the late 90s or The Matrix’s punk makeover of teen pop, what was once ahead of its time eventually comes to be dated, and then sold back to us as nostalgia. But if it’s become harder to hear hyperpop without all the accompanying baggage of context, artists like That Kid reminds us why this music felt so potent in the first place.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!