- In 2020, Quinn, 16, became the young face of the emergent music genre hyperpop.
- Quinn’s genre-defying debut album “drive-by lullabies” shows her grappling with anxiety.
- She told Insider she was inspired by internet culture and Baltimore.
Quinn became the face of a music genre before she was old enough to get a driver’s license. Last year, the high school junior went viral on SoundCloud and YouTube as a hyperpop prodigy, working in an emergent style of pop music that mixes futuristic vocals with chaotic synths and hard-hitting drums. She sang sincerely about personal humiliations (like feeling left out of a friend group) in a high-pitched voice or rapped over beats that oscillated between manic and melancholic.
Releasing music under pseudonyms like “cat mother” and “osquinn,” the artist has never revealed her full name due to privacy concerns, she told Insider over a call.
In 2020, The New York Times, Vice, and Complex wrote about Quinn, and Spotify used her image as the cover for its popular “hyperpop” playlist (240,916 likes), which is the internet music scene’s version of having your face plastered on a billboard in Times Square.
But in March, half a year after Quinn’s peak of fame, the 16-year-old deleted all of the hyperpop songs from her SoundCloud page, stopped collaborating with other artists, and opted instead to make foreboding ambient and video game-themed jungle music featuring no vocals or lyrics.
She told Insider she was tired of feeling pressured to please her fans and would rather just “make silly little songs” in her bedroom.
Quinn comes off as ambivalent about celebrity. Despite claiming that she doesn’t want fame and attention, she griped that numerous former hyperpop friends copied her emo-pop style and went viral without crediting her.
“I’m very envious, it feels like I’ve been robbed,” she said, adding that it felt like artists “took my influence and ran with it.”
Still, she’s decided to make her name (and voice) known again.
On September 17, Quinn, who has over 50 million plays on Spotify, self-released her debut album, “drive-by lullabies.” Quinn said she’s prouder of these 14 songs than any other music she’s made. Fans and critics agree: the music website Pitchfork gave the record a rave review and many listeners online have called it her best release to date.
Quinn took cues from internet culture
Quinn represents a new breed of self-conscious, experimental internet musicians who catapulted to viral fame during the early days of the pandemic and are now grappling with the perils of young stardom.
She blew up in the summer of 2020 with “i don’t want that many friends in the first place.” The angsty loner anthem full of snarled vocals and speaker-rattling bass exploded on TikTok and YouTube. Around the same time, in July 2020, The Fader crowned her hyperpop’s “once and future queen.”
Growing up on the internet has heavily influenced her music style, the artist said. Her hobbies include trawling through obscure YouTube channels to find long-forgotten rap and electronic mixtapes for inspiration and taking shots of “liminal spaces,” or eerie hallways and other in-between areas, a photography trend popular on TikTok. She also conducts live Q&A sessions with fans on Twitter.
Collaborating with people online is a core feature of Quinn’s music. She used to work with loads of other teenage artists before she stopped producing hyperpop songs. She was also a member of several internet-based “collectives,” which are music-making communities that function like different friend groups in a virtual high school that spans the planet. Many hyperpop collectives have their own Discord channels, in which young people from all over the world work together on songs long-distance.
“Without Discord, I wouldn’t have met the [friends] that I know now,” she said. “So I think it impacted my music trajectory pretty heavily.”
Although she had no formal music training, Quinn said she taught herself to make hip-hop when she was 9 using an iPad and GarageBand. She experimented first with trap and cloud rap, then switched to trap metal, a darker, more menacing sound, she said.
Around late 2019, she started making hyperpop music. The genre, which is sometimes called “digicore,” had already existed in various forms since off-kilter pop pioneers such as Uffie and the PC Music label, but it didn’t become a fully-fledged movement until the late 2010s, when artists like Quinn joined the scene.
Her physical environment of Baltimore, Maryland inspired her as well. The city is one of several places she landed in while bouncing around with her military family as a kid, along with Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Virginia, where she’s lived for the last few years.
“People think Baltimore is ugly, mainly because it’s not modern and it’s rundown, everything is breaking,” Quinn said, referencing common stereotypes about the industrial city. “But people are still able to make communities and beauty out of it, which is what I like most about the city… I want to provide people the same comforting feeling [with my music] that Baltimore provided me.”
‘Drive-by lullabies’ encapsulates Quinn’s real-life experiences
“Drive-by lullabies” evokes Quinn’s nomadic childhood through a dizzying tour of genres, vocal techniques, and emotions. There’s industrial bass music, glitched-out rap, even dreamy noise-pop. Many songs feature found sounds that she sampled and recorded at random points during the last few months: a water tap dripping, birds chirping, insects buzzing, a vehicle burning rubber.
Quinn said this chaotic mixture of harsh and soft noises inspired the album’s title, which calls to mind images of both violence and tenderness.
“You got a combination, a beautiful disaster,” she explained.
Quinn, who is transgender, said she raised the pitch of her voice on almost every track on the album. “My voice is sort of deep,” she said in a tweet in June. “I’m sure you don’t want to hear fucking Morgan Freeman sing to you about dysphoria.”
She manipulated her voice with other effects, too, like bleeping it out with deafening and dissonant sounds (“coping mechanism”), layering several recordings at once so the words appear to trip over each other (“silly”), and adding cuts and breaks that shatter her sentences into fragmented syllables (“i’m here for a good time”).
Paranoia and anxiety riddle the record
Quinn said many of the song themes concern personal anxieties like dealing with enemies online or her constant paranoia about the world ending.
“Birthday girl” is about the time she ran away from home on her 16th birthday last December after conflict with her parents became too much to handle, she said.
The song features a sampled audio of a man yelling at someone else. At certain points, the second person screams back in a hoarse, terrified voice. These voices represent Quinn’s parents arguing over why she left, she said.
“I jumped out the second story window and sprinted to the woods and called an Uber,” she recalled, adding that she ended up spending the night in the guest room at a fellow internet musician’s place.
Although she said she has since reunited with her parents and her family stress has subsided, Quinn pointed to other sources of anxiety, including the transphobia and harassment she regularly experiences on social media.
“I’ll be real, man, there are a lot of people out there who don’t want me breathing,” she said.
Hyperpop was once defined by its community spirit and collaborative ethos, but as a result of in-fighting and the biggest artists signing to major labels while leaving others behind, the scene has “kind of crumbled,” Quinn said.
Although Quinn said she feels like “an outsider” nowadays, she retains over 74,000 Instagram followers and 600,000 monthly Spotify listeners. Her unapologetically earnest antics and experimental impulses have earned her a fanbase that sees her as a multidimensional innovator.
An artist caught between wanting it all and wanting to disappear, Quinn is nevertheless proud of what she’s achieved and built from the ground up as a young Black trans musician.
“I don’t need to get signed,” she said adamantly. “I prefer to keep to myself, to be more of a side character type of person.”