One of many nice guarantees of synthetic intelligence is that it’s going to open new frontiers of artistic expression—however to date, it’s most well-known for impersonating the artists we have already got. In music, machine studying has made headlines for replicating Drake—our most algorithmic star already—and for plopping John Lennon into an overproduced fashionable rock track. None of those efforts has sounded precisely proper, precisely un-creepy. They’re shut sufficient to “correct” to startle, but far sufficient away to recommend what could be misplaced had been AI to render the human voice out of date.
One other development has felt like a response: As machines have come nearer to sounding like us, we now have come nearer to sounding like them. Musicians have costumed themselves into robots for a very long time—first as a sci-fi lark, with the vocoder within the Seventies, after which for all kinds of expressive chaos, with Auto-Tune within the twenty first century. The brand new album by PinkPantheress, one in all Gen Z’s most fun new stars, encapsulates one other, and ascendant, aesthetic of clever artificiality: clean cheer. It’s the sound of a deeply feeling individual coveting the callousness of a pc.
A 22-year-old Brit who has up to now stored her identify non-public, PinkPantheress blinked into public consciousness in early 2021, when so many people felt that our brains had been trapped in digital ether. The songs she posted to SoundCloud and TikTok used sampled loops of storage in addition to drum and bass, frenzied types of dance music that peaked within the ’90s and early 2000s. However although the tempo of her music was quick, the vibe was placid. PinkPantheress sang in a candy, absent-minded vocal tone that, to my ear, recalled text-to-speech know-how. When you had been feeling anxious or twitchy, she was like a helper bot, matching your pulse whereas calming your neurons.
Earlier this yr, she landed a No. 3 hit on the Billboard Sizzling 100, referred to as “Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2.” The monitor featured one other sizzling newcomer, the Bronx rapper Ice Spice, and their team-up appeared to substantiate that PinkPantheress’s sound match a broader cultural temper. Exemplifying a method of hip-hop referred to as drill, Ice Spice’s songs pair earthquaking beats together with her cool, monotonous move. “Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2” additionally drew from one other buzzy rap subgenre, Jersey membership, whose rhythms each pulsate and glide, Energizer Bunny–type.
PinkPantheress’s debut album, Heaven Is aware of, is a set-it-and-forget-it expertise, filling the air with prettiness and repressed craving. Using major-label sources—the producer Greg Kurstin, an ally of Adele and Kelly Clarkson, labored on a number of tracks—PinkPantheress brings in bursts of heavy steel (a guitar solo on the opener, “One other Life”), ’60s pop (“True Romance”), and Timbaland-style R&B (“Emotions”). However for essentially the most half, these new substances act like colours in a tie-dye machine, enriching a predictable swirl. PinkPantheress’s voice, flat and sort, laminates all it touches.
Oddly sufficient, that voice largely sings about demise. The album’s opening stanza addresses a dull lover: “Are you able to please get up, babe? / Now you’re scaring me … Guess you died at the moment?” Her supply provides no indication of her misery, and the refrain is an aural shrug (“Guess I’ll see you in one other life”). On one other monitor, “Ophelia,” she’s the one who’s assembly her demise, to cutesy harp choosing. Different songs appear to be about having a crush, however her lyrics recommend stalkerish depth and debilitating heartbreak. “I primarily based my life in your face, your the whole lot,” she sings on “Blue,” as digital manipulation turns the sting of her syllables glitchy and lumpen.
These gothic themes assist clarify what PinkPantheress’s artwork is actually as much as. Like numerous members of her technology, she grew up listening to emo bands corresponding to My Chemical Romance, which sang of disappointment and anger in grand, dramatic type. But additionally like numerous members of her technology, she’s fascinated by mainstream kitsch of the early 2000s: mall fashions, formulaic pop. In a latest TikTok, she joked about how she’d undergone a makeover from emo to fundamental. Her music suits that concept—she’s disguising, disassociating from, ache. The temper is mild, however the poignance is heavy: She will be able to’t escape from having a soul.
Comparable impulses appear to be enjoying out throughout tradition currently. The hyperpop pioneer Hannah Diamond simply put out an extremely catchy album, Excellent Image, whose songs are stiff in a self-aware approach; Diamond pines to be a pixel on a display screen, or a poster on the wall. A 2023 single by Grimes, a transparent predecessor of PinkPantheress, is self-explanatorily referred to as “I Wanna Be Software program.” Then there’s Barbie, whose soundtrack options the beautiful PinkPantheress track “Angel.” The film is about objects craving to be human, however the cultural phenomenon it sparked is about people craving to be objects. As artificial forces proceed to compete with the dwelling, plastic fantasies will provide solely extra consolation.