The ghost of pop music past has returned, and she wants even. The spectral presence can be felt everywhere. Pop’s fiercest experimenters have repurposed the sonic palates of its last commercial peak – Gaga’s “weird” years, Katy Perry’s bubblegum chart domination, the wide crop of failed pop careers helmed by mid-aughts reality stars- to create projects that infuse the glossy and controlled with foreign textures. Charli XCX’s robotic, rap-inflected swagger is anchored by its bratty Spice Girls energy. Billie Eilish’s twisted take on teen angst shamelessly leans on the visual tactics of Avril Lavigne in her heyday. Kim Petras’s discography is a well-studied anthology of pop touchstones, finding equal value in homage to Madonna and Paris Hilton. Perhaps more than anything, this female pop renaissance is dedicated to letting its stars in on the jokes often targeted at the genre, allowing for playful use of its tropes. The ditz, the materialist, and the dewy-eyed heartbroken damsel are all poised for fresh interpretation by the groups of the women charged with embodying them.
St. Louis native Slayyyter (a name inspired by Dazed and Confused‘s Ron Slater, not an old stan Twitter adage) may represent the final frontier for this practice of subversion. She’s an Internet-bred platinum blonde who built her fanbase off the back of her participation in rabid pop music fandom on Twitter. Her pop icons are decidedly less sympathetic than those of her contemporaries. She waxes poetic about the short-lived music careers of Lindsay Lohan and The Hills’ Heidi Montag. But Slayyyter also commits herself to the aesthetics of non-musical mid-2000s public figures: Holly and Kendra, Anna Nicole, women who shatter cup size records with breast implants on TLC.
Her work is in open dialogue with the “flops”, the industry plants, and the supposedly disingenuous motivations for making music that might be described as silly or frivolous. Framed alongside her often brazenly feminist female contemporaries, Slayyyter’s debut self-titled mixtape suggests not only nostalgia for, but an intrinsic value in, a long-dead version of celebrity in which artists needn’t make statements to achieve icon status. In Slayyyter’s world, cheeky frivolity and a pre-social-media air of mystery reign supreme. In the face of limp empowerment jams, a (sort of) democratized playing field for unsigned artists, and weak political baiting, Slayyyter goes for cynic-proof.
The pop specter that most often follows Slayyyter is Blackout-era Britney Spears, a particularly lucky curse. Early single “Candy”, produced by Ayesha Erotica (an underground legend in her own right), flips a Clipse sample into a positively filthy oral sex anthem, its earworm synth line blown into the red. Where Britney might’ve approached the instrumental with flirty innuendo, Slayyyter knows no such subtlety: “My pussy tastes sweet like candy.” It’s catchy and nasty, delivered with trademark Spearsian sex appeal, and gleeful in its willingness to imagine a parallel universe in which Britney might’ve come right out and sang something that bold.
This approach is employed elsewhere on “Daddy AF”, a song whose dubious concept (feeling, well, “daddy as fuck”) is gloriously saved by Slayyyter’s kinetic on-mic energy. The song is an electronic symphony in three movements that features a chant-along chorus suitable for the late crowd at a male strip club, an excessively horny rap verse, and a breakdown that boasts speaker-blowing bass. Through an undying commitment to making music that’s just plain fun, Slayyyter becomes free to indulge her more cartoonish influences and tendencies.
Graciously, Slayyyter’s idea of an idyllic pop album isn’t all sex and partying-by-numbers. “Alone”, one of the mixtape’s clear highlights, is “Stronger” meets “Piece of Me“, a busy, rattling kiss-off that builds its chaotic chorus around booming orchestra hits and surprisingly intense, sinister synths- the impassioned vocal run over the sugar rush of a final chorus doesn’t hurt either. Sharp piano stings and a convincing Timbaland impression by Robokid and AOBeats land “Ur Man” somewhere between P!nk’s “There You Go” and Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills”. Meanwhile, “Celebrity” is a different kind of confounding nostalgia trip, walking the line between lampoon and celebration of the mid-aughts supposed worst excesses over siren synths reminiscent of “Just Dance”. “They play me on the radio, the paparazzi follows me wherever I go / I think I need a TV show, I’m blowing all my money right up my nose.”
This dichotomy is the crux of nearly all of Slayyyter‘s 14 tracks: half twisted send-up, a half honest salute to the mocked women of recent pop culture history. That can make it difficult to discern when Slayyyter is actually going deep, or simply creating a respectful pastiche of the emotional ballads often regarded as filler on the blockbuster records of yesteryear. That is especially the case on album closer “Ghosttt”- its lyrics reveal a problem area for Slayyyter’s artistry as a whole. While it functions as a sparkly homage to teen pop heartbreak anthems, it scans as either lyrically weak (“Baby, you really hurt me / Made me cry so much”) or so unwaveringly committed to irony trolling and hero worship that it keeps listeners away from Slayyyter’s artistic essence.
Occasionally rough mixing and mastering work across the tape raises further question marks on intention. Is an abnormally chintzy synth or a literally phoned-in vocal the whole point of the song? These questions are typically laid to rest in the moments when Slayyyter manages to peek out from behind her highly disciplined concept, funny and uniquely irreverent but married to her influences. “Go fuck your boring girls / Because you can’t handle me / Don’t sext another word.” Lines like these are rare and rewarding on an album that finds its truest metaphor for love in VH1’s Bret Michaels: Rock of Love.
Slayyyter can be redundant and hamfisted as a lyricist, very rarely extending herself for a metaphor or suggesting an image beyond bedazzled McBling fantasies. But as an effort to create a world where Juicy Couture lockets are prized amulets and the Playboy mansion grotto is a historic mecca, Slayyyter is a highly successful, succinct debut. Possessed by the spirits of Britney, Christina, and Lady Gaga (and Atomic Kitten, Ashley Tisdale, and anyone who’s ever owned a Hello Kitty lip gloss), Slayyyter positions herself as pop music’s first great spiritual medium – resurrecting the damned pop sounds of yore, back with a vengeance. When she drones “I’m a celebrity, I’m a celebrity” like a ventriloquist dummy in a glitter bodysuit, with glowing eyes and a headset mic, it’s hard not to believe her.