Hybrid Rose’s Hyperpop Fantasy

Madeleine Crutchley interviews Te Whanganui-a-Tara based musician, Hybrid Rose, on her latest album, and the pop songs and divas that have influenced the hot new sound of HyperKunt.

“I’m taking the ideas that I've had, and expanding on them and building a world; a galaxy.”

It’s not often that Sharpay Evans, Redfoo, Paris Dupree, Frida Kahlo and Paris Hilton are imagined within the same realm. Te Whanganui-a-Tara-based artist Hybrid Rose manages to bring together these figures with style on her new album HyperKunt,materialising her own unique, hyperpop vision. With no compromises on a sense of fun, she succeeds in creating an intensely danceable, hot new sound.

The portmanteau title HyperKunt, Rose explains, encapsulates the genre, influences and tone of the album into a single word.

HyperKunt is a compound word that I made, combining the genre hyperpop and the word ‘kunt’. Kunt, with a K, is basically a Queer term that was popularised during the ballroom, vogue scene in the 80s… it basically describes, like, being fabulous and cool and lovely, all those fun words. I felt like naming the album after what the album is giving you.”

Hyperpop, a burgeoning genre popularised in 2019, tends to pull from a wide range of influences. It celebrates bubblegum pop in excess, while also bringing in aspects of trance, hip hop, dance and, perhaps most commonly, electronic. The genre is also firmly linked to and pioneered within LGBTQIA+ online communities, with Queer aesthetics and references central to the genre’s sound and look. Lyrically, it’s cheeky, ironic and highly referential of pop culture, borderline cartoonish in its depictions. Primarily, it amplifies a sense of fun and rebellion. If there’s a sound that captures the fast-paced, exceedingly digitised, pandemic times, it’s piping-hot hyperpop.

Album artwork, courtesy of Hybrid Rose

Rose’s previous album, Shapeshifter, certainly carries notes of this hyperpop sound, but is more clearly based in electronic synth-pop. She explains that this new genre has been an attractive prospect, saying, “I've always been a fan of [hyperpop], it's always been something that I'd flirted with in the past.”

Collaborators she worked with on HyperKunt have encouraged Rose to fulfil these creative cravings, boosting her confidence in singing on her own tracks. She says this community has also taught her the value of sticking to her guns. “I just prioritise the things that make me feel the most in tune with myself, because that's always been in me.”

The super catchy single ‘Fantasy’ epitomises Rose’s approach to the album. She writes from the perspective of a spambot girlfriend, exploring blurred lines of digital spaces with wit. The entity of the woman in a pop-up ad is taken seriously, as Rose imagines how this character might be embodied with comedic tone.

I could be cute, I could be soft

I could be nothing, I could be a lot

You could turn me on, you could turn me off

But I won’t self-destruct

Cause I’m a microchip in a machine

I can transform into what you want me to be

A psychokinetic entity

The distinct pop/electronic sound, the glitchy visual effects, the highly referential lyrics that deconstruct cultural objects – ‘Fantasy’ is the perfect introduction to both hyperpop and HyperKunt.

The shifting lens of authorship found on ‘Fantasy’ is a recurring songwriting technique throughout the album. Rose says that this allows her to be herself: “I'm all over the place, and it's ugly, but it's beautiful… To me, it just feels natural to write from these different angles, because that's just how I am.”

In ‘I Want It All’ Rose assumes a mish-mashed figure of Paris Hilton and Sharpay Evans, referencing Juicy Couture sweats and remixing High School Musical lyrics. Rose affirms that this is “one of the more chaotic tracks” and recalls the joy that the campy, silly lyrics brought her during recording. “I was just laughing at how insane I am in the song and how stupid the lyrics are, but it was fun and it was very riveting… so I just decided that this was what I was going to do."

‘Take Me Out’ sees another shift, as Rose co-writes with Ryan The God about partying with Redfoo, swallowing diamonds, and shower sex. She explains that the sense of fun was paramount in this recording too, saying the two of them thought, “we are going to write the most absurd lyrics we can think of.”

The referential nature of the hyperpop genre is clear on HyperKunt, both lyrically and sonically. Throughout our conversation, Rose mentions a long list of other artists, including SOPHIE, Gaga, Charli XCX, Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, Crystal Waters, Diana Ross, Y2K pop stars, you know, “all those divas.”

Another major influence on the album is ballroom culture and vogueing. Rose mentions To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and thedocumentaryParis Is Burningas two sources of inspiration. ‘Paris’ captures this inspiration most clearly, written by Jeivenchy, who also sings lead vocals on the song. A vogue chant is laid over the top of a 90s house track produced by Rose, and the pairing makes for an intensely danceable three minutes. Rose says,

“I just really wanted to represent [ballroom], because being introduced to that sort of culture is how I came across my family of Queer friends, sisters, brothers and relationships and all that stuff, and it's really special.”

The process of making this album, which has such a clear and consistent sound, was a moment of focus for Rose. Unlike previous albums, which have taken at least ten months to produce, HyperKunt came together really quickly. “It was like a two-and-a-half-month process of pure adrenaline.” She also gives credit to the other artists she worked with to bring her vision to life. “They’ve become my family, they’ve become my creative team. They’ve become all of these wonderful things that I'm still just really excited to have in my life.”

Part of the creative process, Rose says, includes moments of ‘striking gold’ when aspects seem to naturally fall into place. “When I reflect on it I’m like, how the fuck did I come up with that? Where did that come from? How did I do it? And there's no real conscious memory of that happening.”

The closing track on the album seems to capture this process. In ‘Star of the Sea’ Rose sings as a siren; the slower, sweeter song detailing a mermaid’s calming swim through the ocean. While there are familiar techno beats throughout the track, it is a moment of relative peace on the dance album. Lyrically, the song describes not only the flow state of creation, but also the sense of confidence that Rose has found working on the album.

Shine with me, and I’ll show thee

Like a current, I am always in a flow

Wherever it will take me, I will go

Away all my weakness leaves me with confidence

On HyperKunt Hybrid Rose chases down fun, and revels in an exciting process of collaboration. She playfully celebrates self-belief, and explores the excitement in the shifting lenses of semi-fictional characters. At one point during our interview, she contemplates getting more sentimental in her work. Ultimately, she giggles, “I would just get bored. It’s easier to laugh at myself and have fun in the process.”


This piece is featured as part of Issue 06: Vibe Shift, guest-edited by Tayi Tibble. Click here to read more essays in the series.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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