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Behind that text stands a man flexing a Sonic the Hedgehog backpack and holographic baseball cap, with a Louis Vuitton belt hanging out both ends of the hat. He looks like a swagged-out Club Penguin avatar, and dances like one too, swaying awkwardly to a smoothie of hazy drums, syrupy vocals, and sound effects. “Hyperplugg” is what he calls this sound—an alloy of hyperpop and plugg, a style of dreamy beat production that rose out of Atlanta in the early 2010s. Leveraging the idea that he invented this sound-hybrid, the SoundCloud artist Myspacemark has amassed tens of thousands of views on TikTok calling himself the “HYPERPLUGG CEO” and claiming he quit his job at Walmart and bought a Lamborghini after creating the style. It’s more meme than microgenre, but some of his fans have completely bought into the shtick.
Hyperplugg is just one of a handful of purported new subgenres occupying SoundCloud in 2022. Others: vamp drill, vamp plugg, maplekore, sigilkore, dutch sigilkore. The new gen of internet musicians is nickname-obsessed. They don’t just hashtag their tracks “trap” or “experimental hip-hop”—that’s too basic. Instead, it’s mutant slang like “robloxcore,” cryptic catchphrases like “slung,” “murder metal 2k13,” and “rocket tempo.” “SoundCloud rap” has always been a catch-all containing smaller sects—tread, trap metal, emo rap, phonk—but it feels like they are proliferating faster now. Plus, it’s less critics naming the micro-styles and handing them down from above, and more so the artists gleefully coining and repping them.
As the internet continues to decentralize culture, letting us choose which streaming services and video games and social media we want to base our lives around, some of the most intoxicating new music is coming from these tiny SoundCloud pockets, which you can only access if you already know to look there. This is music you won’t find in mainstream publications and algorithmically generated Spotify playlists, or talked about on Twitter, depending on who you follow.
But are these sounds, some sustained by only two or three artists, really worthy of being deemed genres? Or has the idea of “genre” lost its meaning entirely in the digital age, when anyone with FL Studio and a SoundCloud account can declare themselves a genre?
Genre “naming is not a neutral act of referring,” the late theorist Mark Fisher wrote in a 2004 blog post. “Naming produces surplus value, something that wasn’t already there in the first place.” A genre label has the potential to create an instant mythology for a sound, he argued, like with 90s jungle. “Jungle” underscored the sound’s density, and gave it a panoply of evocations (the concrete jungle, intensely rhythmic and percussive music, tribalism) along with an aura of mystery and menace. In a SoundCloud landscape teeming with off-the-wall musical experiments, it makes sense that artists are anointing themselves as genre-generators. It’s a way to compete in the attention economy, a tactic to distinguish your sound from what could otherwise be perceived as another set of weird noises in a sea of bizarre bleeps and bloops.
Some of these new forms feel sonically diverse and innovative enough to warrant a full-on genre designation. Take sigilkore, a demon-themed scene that’s garnered tens of millions of plays across Spotify and SoundCloud. There’s no official explanation behind the name (when I asked de facto leader Luci4 to define sigilkore early last year, he told me “it’s magick” and declined to comment further). It seems likely the term is a combo of “sigil”—symbols believed to have magic powers to make someone’s desired outcome come true, used for hexes and other uh-oh purposes—and a corruption of the suffix “core” that makes it appear more sinister. The music assaults your expectations and inundates your brain: jolts of low-end, an onslaught of glitches, and a pandora’s box of unsettling vocal methods including breathing, sibilating, and snarl-moaning. Listening to some of these tracks really feels like you’re eavesdropping on demons debating how to divvy up a charcuterie board of human entrails.
Other microscenes don’t feel expansive enough to be a full-scale genre. See the Parisian lungskull’s “slung” music, an aggressively distorted style that sounds tailor-made for teens looking to troll their substitute teachers by blasting bass thuds and shrieking synths from the back of the class, with little to differentiate it from other blown-out rap besides the artist’s mewling vocals.
Kaystrueno, the first rapper I’ve ever seen peddling beats for Animal Crossing currency, calls his sound “maplekore,” a tribute to the mid-aughts Korean MMORPG MapleStory. “I got the idea from listening to my melodies by themselves and just staring at the scenery in the game,” he told me. “The melodies fit so perfectly.” I haven’t played MapleStory in more than 10 years, but I see his vision—the beatific soundscapes on “HOMESiK” and collaborator lostrushi’s “SYXX STORY” tremble with synthetic flickers, like pixelated trees rustling in the wind.
Only two or three artists produce slung and maplekore, which would make it seem like they aren’t fully-fledged genres; consider them personal styles, maybe. They have distinctive quirks—lungskull’s seagull-high squeaks, kaystrueno’s impressionistic melodies–but it’s not at the same scope as something like sigilkore, which has an arsenal of vocal techniques and distorted production styles, along with cryptic paratext (occult song titles, cover art).
Yet, some fans are insistent on calling them genres. I’ve seen TikTok commenters and Twitter users arguing over whether lungskull’s music counts as slung or sigilkore, and if kaystrueno’s music counts as “evil plugg” or it’s solely maplekore. In the end, who decides what’s a genre?