Slayyyter Talks ‘Troubled Paradise’ and Reimagining Y2K Pop Beyond the Twittersphere
At any given time, we can assume that the aesthetics of approximately twenty years ago will be seeing a resurgence. The form may be far removed from the original inspiration, often a caricature of an era’s most striking signifiers, reimagined and recontextualized. Nevertheless, the market for nostalgia is always open, and the sounds and sights from previous ages resurface as soon as enough time has passed to render them distinct from the designs of today. As more and more of life as we know it shifts online, with social media steadily supplanting social life, there is prime nostalgic value in the pop culture of the moment before the internet fully took over — Y2K. St. Louis artist Slayyyter strikes at the optimal moment, offering up the escapism of early aughts pop in a time of relative uncertainty. She resides in a world where Britney Spears still reigns supreme on the charts, along with Timbaland and the Neptunes. Her window of influence extends liberally through the aughts, spanning through the emergence of Lady Gaga. With these reference points, she has sketched a sound, and allowed it take shape in the no man’s land of internet subcultures. The hyperpop stylings pioneered by PC Music, which imagine an ultra-processed concept of pop surpassing this realm, provide an effective conveyance for Slayyyter’s retro amusements. In such packaging, early aughts pop is reimagined more poppy than it ever was, presented in zaps and flashes, with a punch and edge all its own. And as a sound has taken shape, so has an entity behind it — an unapologetically trashy, hypersexual, outspoken persona, evolving from a cryptic online presence to a commanding pop sensation.
Slayyyer started her career on Soundcloud and quickly scored a hit with her 2019 single “Mine.” She released a self-titled mixtape that year and became a phenomenon on Stan Twitter, by the grace of which she joined forces with frequent collaborator Ayesha Erotica and soon amassed a committed fanbase. Leave it to the internet for things to get weird, and Slayyyter has turned from something of a meme into something of a superstar. Fortunately, her debut album, “Troubled Paradise,” proves well worth the hype. Slayyyter fashions pop chops from the cusp of the millennium into instant bangers with cutting edge production. Her voice is camp, frivolous, and riotously bold, fitting her hyperactive, instantaneous sound. She is quick to talk trash, and quicker yet to mobilize listeners with infectious hooks. Her new record is full of lighthearted but hard-hitting pop songs with trademark dramatic flair, outlandish humor, and plenty of fireworks. Slayyyter spoke with Entertainment Voice about her inspirations and aesthetics, her new songs, and her artistic evolution.
The “hyperpop” label seems to suit you particularly well because your music tends to be both hyperactive and poppy to the extreme. To what extent do you consider yourself part of the hyperpop scene, and in what ways do you distinguish yourself from it?
I can understand it’s definitely more experimental, I think, than just cookie-cutter pop songs, but also, part of me feels like I’m a pop traditionalist in a way, where the songs have a certain structure, and really timeless-sounding melodies. Anytime someone puts me in a scene, I always feel kind of like an outsider, where I don’t really fit into it that well, so with hyperpop, it’s kind of the same thing, I feel like my music is a bit more pop-leaning than experimental, but I can see the more partier tracks have a twinge of PC Music influence. My music is just a little more traditional, in a sense. There are definitely people that go a lot harder with the extreme hyperpop and the experimentation, but I just try and make music that emulates what inspired me when I was younger — which is artists like Fergie and Gwen Stefani, Neptunes-style production and things like that.
While you do have quite timeless pop instincts, it seems that you draw especially from sounds of the “Y2K” era. Tell us a little about this influence.
The Y2K influence — I’m very influenced by sounds from that era, but what I mean by timeless is you can listen to “Promiscuous” today, and it sounds like it could have been put out yesterday. I feel like all the songs from that time were so polished and such clean, pop structures — everything TImbaland would produce and all the Max Martin songs that were on the charts. I’m inspired by that era of pop, all the pop that was on the charts when I was a younger kid. It’s crazy to see the trends I go through. With Y2K, it makes me feel so old because I was kind of a little kid and could experience it. There are Gen Z kids who were born in 2004, and you’re like, “Oh my god, I feel so old.” It’s become a nostalgia, kind of like when my generation used to be like, “Oh, we love the ‘80s,” but we weren’t actually from the ‘80s. I feel like there’s a timeless feel to the early aughts music, even up to 2008. I feel like Katy Perry debuted and all of that really influenced the music I make. In a long time, I would hope that my album isn’t so experimental that people can listen to it and be like, “Oh, these songs hold up.” This wasn’t like “of it’s time.” This can, kind of, last for a while because it’s not so crazy experimental and too in the hyperpop space.
“Cowboys” employs a Wild West, devil-may-care imagery and attitude to a feisty, acerbic sizing-up of a romantic partner. How did you come up with the idea of utilizing the country-western aesthetic to such ends, and also presenting it in such a striking, campy music video?
Honestly, that was a song that I wrote during quarantine, and I got the beat from Micah Jasper, and it was not that Western or country-leaning, but the guitar riff, to me, sounded so country pop. I remember thinking of the idea. I’m a very thematic person — I love a good theme, I love a good theme party, I love costumes. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I should write a song called ‘Cowboys.’” I came up with the title and started throwing in all these funny references and winks to Wild West movies and things like that. We just went in with that mindset and started tweaking it to be a lot more country. I would stutter during the bridge parts that are softer, acoustic. I would do the vocal stutter, kind of like Roy Orbison. I really wanted to go full, dramatic, kind of country ballad for this part, and then it became like country rock during the chorus, and there’s a little bit of a breakbeat element. I feel like everything came together pretty fast. I’m super obsessed with Wild West-themed things. I love Clint Eastwood movies, and Ennio Morricone movie scores that Quentin Tarantino would put in stuff like “Kill Bill.” I love that whole culture and scene, so I wanted to really go above and beyond, overdoing it with every single reference and gunshot sounds and everything.
You’ve spoken of how you took style inspiration from figures such as Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton, and were attracted to what you’ve called the “town tramp” aesthetic, particularly because it was frowned on or forbidden. Tell us a little about the role of subversion in your music and persona.
There’s a great quote from Dolly Parton about how she formed her whole image — about being like the town tramp and being like a bimbo. When I was little, my mom would not let me and my sister listen to Britney Spears because she had her belly out. She was like, “I don’t want you girls listening to this and dancing like her,” and “She’s not a role model, blah blah blah.” And it made me love Britney Spears so much more because I was like, “Oh, she’s so cool. My mom says this is bad, so that means that it’s cool.” I feel like from a young age, just hearing the adults around me speak in a bad way about Paris Hilton or Pamela Anderson and all of those characters made me want to become that so much more, just because it was kind of forbidden and felt rebellious, in a way. I went to Catholic school and came from a very modest upbringing. I think in pop culture, it’s always people who are kind of sexually liberated who have such an impact on music — like Madonna and Britney Spears. It made more sense for me to be that than to try and fight it.
Your creative persona is partly rooted in a meme culture, as you initially developed the Slayyyter image as NF e-girl entity, and soon amassed hordes of Twitter Stans. This type of internet-based identity has a disclaiming effect that justifies any artistic move by placing it in the virtual sphere, removed from regular criticism. Meanwhile, it can limit your consideration as a proper artist. What are some pros and cons you have experienced?
Music critics don’t even bother sometimes reviewing my music because I come across as more of a Twitter meme, almost. My biggest song on Spotify is “Daddy AF,” which is such an absurd, kind of jokey song that I feel became big with Stan Twitter. And I feel like it has its ups and downs. In the space that my music lives in, my fans go so, so hard for me. I’m lucky to be able to sell out of merch and sell out shows, and I feel like they’re very loyal and dedicated, as fans. But there’s also the other end, where, as a Stan kind of Twitter person, maybe people don’t take me as seriously, or they’re just like, “Oh, she’s like the Stan Twitter favorite, she’s not a real artist.” But I think at the end of the day, people are fans of music because it resonates with them in a certain way, so I feel like even if I make jokes in a Stan format on Twitter, being funny one day, it doesn’t mean that I can’t write a good, thoughtful song. I’ve honestly merged the two. A lot of my lyrics are jokes and memes within Stan Twitter, just because I think it’s funny to include little snapshots of pop culture in that way.
Songs like “Venom” and “Dog House” really play up a caricatural, bulletproof party girl posturing. On the other hand, a song like “Over This,” even though it literally declares you’re “over this,” reveals a certain vulnerability just from the choice of subject matter. How do emotions and the proud disavowal of emotions balance out in the lyrics and sounds that make up the album?
I feel like the whole album is kind of like two different sides of my personality. I feel like I have a very extreme personality, where one day I’m this fiery, evil, like bitch character, and the next day I’m really sad and emotional, or vulnerable and delicate about things. The different songs on the album either fall into me talking my shit or me pouring my heart out. I think the latter is really important to put out, and that gives people a better idea of who I am as a person, but I think it’s really fun to have a no-care, party attitude, and kind of leave feelings in the wind, and just go really hard, and be angsty and rude (laughs) on songs.
“Serial Killer” is a standout track that finds you wondering what a partner might be up to in secret in a way that’s hilarious, but can also be chilling. Where did the idea for this song come from?
I actually wrote this song when I was like nineteen years old, over this beat I found online. I was watching a bunch of serial killer documentaries. I remember finding one about Ted Bundy’s wife, and how she just thought it was her husband, but then you find out that he’s an extremely violent and horrible serial killer. I was like, “It would be funny to put that through a pop music lens, and kind of water it down.” I had this video idea in my head, a very campy almost Lady Gaga “Paparazzi”-type thing. The telephone vocal was doing like a confessional to police, like “I don’t want him to get lethal injection!” I just had this idea in my head of this “Gone Girl”-type thing. It’s one of the oldest songs I wrote on the album, but I also feel like it’s one of the most clever, in a way. It’s a song concept that I haven’t really heard before myself. That’s one of my favorites at least, for sure.
Expand on the dramatic storytelling bent that comes out in songs like this.
I love escapism, and I love fantasy. There are a million songs about getting cheated on, but it’s kind of interesting when you take a man cheating on a wife to a man killing women behind her back, and her finding out. It’s almost a metaphor for getting cheated on, that song. Or in “Cowboys,” where instead of talking about getting ghosted by a guy, we can turn it into a Wild West film and have it play out in your head, and be visually more interesting than the normal way to say things. I love to tell stories or write my songs in a way where it’s like a fairy tale, like a heightened version of my actual life.
The final track of the album, “Letters” is a notable stylistic departure, a bit more of a sincere love song than your typical fare, and musically delving into ballad terrain. It’s placement at the end feels a bit as if you’ve expelled all your angst and reverted to a certain normalcy or balance. Was this by design? And is this song an indication of future directions to be explored?
Oh, definitely, definitely. I feel like I’ve made that choice without even knowing what my next chapter of music or life would be. It just so happened that I ended up falling in love and having a really healthy, happy relationship after this album was finished. I expect the next chapter of music will be a bit more about love, a bit more about the ups and downs of an actual relationship, rather than an album about being angry and trying to chase one down that doesn’t love you back. I feel like “Letters” is kind of like a sendoff into my next mood of music, which is going to be a little sweeter, and a little more sincere about things like love.
I always am going to love party music and making party songs, so I’ll always be doing something of that nature, in some way, but I feel like the next project will be a little more heavy on a lighter, more loving vibe. I feel like this album was like half really angry, gritty, mean songs, and half kind of pop, dance music. I feel like for my next project, I want to lean a bit more into dance pop, because I feel like that’s more where my head is now. I feel a little less angry than I maybe was a couple years ago (laughs).
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m going on tour in 2022, and it’s going to be this really cool club experience, called “Club Paradise,” and I’m really excited for that. Hopefully, people will come out and get tickets, and see me in person to watch all of the songs unfold live.
“Troubled Paradise” releases June 11 on Apple Music.