Alice Longyu Gao – High Dragon and Universe

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The first thing to consider about Alice Longyu Gao is the fact that she is injecting some much needed diversity into the hyperpop sphere. Like Namasenda, Gao is challenging what for the most part has been a white dominated space. The origins of the genre being accredited to PC Music confirms this; the collective at its inception and for a significant period of time were all white. Of course there’s Charli XCX, but that conversation is a whole other can of worms. Gao, like Rina Sawayama to some extent, is championing her Asian identity and immigrant status and challenging its otherness in hyperpop. Or, as she coined it all those years back, “experimental desktop music.” Take Underrated Popstar, the second track off her self-released debut EP High Dragon and Universe, where Gao expresses the anxiety of feeling irrelevant despite being one of the genre’s undeniable proginators. “Don’t call me underrated pop star / My saga is only getting start (Yeah) / Shut up, keep streaming my song / Making dope shit it takes long (Yeah)” she declares, juxtaposed with the fear of having to “make a dance on TikTok” or “fold tacky socks at the local Walmart” while “SoundCloud hoes try to guess [her] thought.” After all, Gao has been carving her own path for years, pushing the boundaries of downtown Manhattan with her futuristic mutant harajuku style and Dylan Brady pre-100 Gecs produced music. She’s been doing the work from the get-go, and that needs to be recognised. Her relevance should not have to rely on consistent exposure, because after all making dope shit takes long. 

Download and stream High Dragon & Universe here 

High Dragon and Universe features none of her previous singles. It’s an EP that runs through the range of influences she has displayed in her music up until this point, but also a sort of reclamation of the tropes that currently define hyperpop that should be linked back to her but often aren’t. As such, the music is particularly trope heavy at times. The 2000’s pop-punk energy of Never Coming Back may feel derivative of say, Dorian Electra or more closely 100 Gecs, but then Gao is reminding us that she was very much a part of the catalyst for 100 Gecs’s current reign. The trashy trap sound of 100 Boyfriends feels like playing catch up despite Gao’s reminder that “she’s the teacher” and everyone else is “suspended.” But beyond this first half, High Dragon and Universe really begins to show its strengths. The strongest moments on High Dragon and Universe are those that see Gao being unapologetically herself. Bleeding In The Studio is more Grimes than Grimes, phasing through from ominous nu-metal to thumping electroclash. Standout track Kanpai (“cheers” in Japanese) recalls the plasticity of Product era SOPHIE with its erratic, bouncing 8-bit progressions and thumping bass kicks before kicking into overdrive with sticky, saccharin synths that pop like bubblegum. DTM is similarly over the top with a buoyant, rubbery synthline that eats and spits itself back out as chaotic dubstep. 

Tracks like DTM also showcase what is arguably Gao’s greatest asset, the one thing that hyperpop as we know it has tried and failed to interpolate. She’s having fun. Her acrid irony and audaciously honest sense of humour is second to none. Who wouldn’t applaud her screeching “Ha, ha, Skrillex!” before DMT breaks down into kitschy dubstep? How can anyone not admire her to-the-tea declaration of “Pretty white boy, got hella issues / Super lonely at my party but he won’t make moves.” This quality has always made Gao’s music immediately accessible. Compared to some of the loftier, steelier hyperpop stars out there, she’s always felt grounded in a way that makes the music feel like it could be for people other than white Gen-Z. She’s taking herself seriously, but is completely aware of how so much of the genre relies on a level of parody. While High Dragon and Universe may risk feeling reductive in our current moment, it’s an essential reintroduction to an artist who in many ways, is to thank for the current moment. Though not perfect, the EP is a welcome reminder of Gao’s audacious and unparalleled point of view and a needed revitalisation of the satirical edge at the core of the hyperpop machine. 

See the music video for Kanpai from High Dragon and Universe below. 

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Alice Longyu Gao – High Dragon and Universe
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PLAYGROUND is part of the GROUND Music Group. Founded in 2008 the music group has branched out into international Music PR, Events, Record Label, Agency and Social Music Network.

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