Born out of the nature of the internet is a generation of omnivorous listeners not bound to the limitations of genre; it was only a matter of time that hyperpop would explode onto the scene. Frenetic and sickeningly sweet, the genre has spawned countless artists intrigued by its accessibility, much like the previous wave of bedroom pop. Alt-pop breakout star RYL0 is taking all of these things and making them her own.
Taking a detour from her explosive, off-kilter hyperpop bangers opens a new path for the young artist, armed with the skills learned from being an independent artist that has collaborated and shared the stage with everyone from Fraxiom to Arca. "Thru My Chest," her latest single, hints at this new era. Harps drenched in reverb lead into deep kick drums with the dark urgency of drum-and-bass, setting the perfect backdrop for RYL0's stunning vocal performance that goes in and out of autotune.
RYL0 is ready to see what 2023 can bring, and that means reflecting on her journey thus far to inform her songwriting process. With some of pop's most prominent producers ready to work with the rising star, she's ready to expand the vast, colorful world that she's built.
Read on for PAPER's conversation with RYL0.
“Thru My Chest” is such a brilliant track and is very different from a lot of your poppier, mile-a-minute songs from your EP. What did that process of shifting gears look like for you?
The process has been pretty long actually! We got together for the “Thru My Chest” session late last spring, around the same time I was preparing to release my last mixtape, I’m the Worst!! So there’s been a lot of overlap.
I came up with the concept of I'm the Worst!! back in 2020 and it didn’t come out until May 2022, so I’ve been playing the long game for a while and a lot can change in that window. Once that project came out, I was already mentally onto the next thing since I was doing tons of different sessions in the middle of its rollout. I had spent a few years operating in the hyperpop world, was ready for a change, and started exploring new styles of pop music.
Leading up to the release of this track, I knew I also wanted to change up my look. I like to challenge myself since I get bored easily, and decided to transition from the DIY internet music aesthetic that I had embraced the past couple years to something that was more glossy. I’ve been talking about this “rebrand’ for months, and that’s not something that just happens overnight. I really wanted to take my time and make sure everything would be aligned with this new direction before rushing to put the track out. I needed new assets, so I made new logos, updated my website, created a Discord server, made a Tumblr, etc. Now that everything’s all set and the presentation’s there, I feel really confident about finally shifting gears and reinventing myself again.
I browsed your Soundcloud and was taken by your older work characterized by eerie synths and minimal voice production, and I see glimpses of it in this track. How did you find your way back without letting go of your passion for pop music?
I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately, and it really does feel like a full-circle moment. Up until late 2020, my biggest musical inspirations were Kelsey Lu, Grimes, FKA twigs and Purity Ring so I was incorporating a lot of dark electronic elements that were often categorized as “experimental” into my music. I was producing everything myself using GarageBand while I was also trying to figure out what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it as an artist. I wasn’t concerned with anything technical because I found it boring, and I never used a proper microphone because it was more convenient to just sing straight into my laptop. Obviously, I didn’t take myself too seriously but I also knew I hated being called experimental because it still felt disingenuous to what I was actually aiming for.
Releasing "Thru My Chest" of course marks the beginning of a new era in my career, but it also feels like a nod back to some of my earliest releases in a lot of ways. While this was never the intention when creating this track with my collaborators Dave Burris and Christina Galligan, I think that ultimately proves the point I’ve been trying to make for years up until now… I’ve always been a pop-oriented artist. I’ve definitely gotten better at making that more obvious in my music over the years, but the pop sentiment has always been there for sure.
You are a former screenwriting student. Do you envision ‘Thru My Chest’ being part of a larger story in the future, and does envisioning your music in this way help your creative process?
I started writing songs around the same time I studied screenwriting in college, and I think that significantly impacted the way I tell stories in my music. I love building narratives in general, but with this song in particular– the narrative is pretty fairly self-contained.
The song itself might not be my most intense or meaningful, but it’s still very honest to how I was feeling on the day we had the session. I remember really struggling to wrap my head around my own emotions, feeling really vulnerable, and trying to parse through them in real time as we were coming up with the lyrics. I think working with another writer definitely made it easier to detach myself from the context, and keep it concise while also prioritizing the song’s pop appeal.
With that being said, this track does communicate really well with a few other songs I’ve made over the past several months, but that wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t until I looked back on the demos that came out of a lot of these sessions I had back to back last year that I realized there was a consistent through line at all. Usually when I come up with a concept for a project, I form a loose narrative early on in the process and try to create songs that fit within that overarching story. There’s a lot of value in that approach and I’ve learned so much about world building that way, but I didn’t do that with this song. I’ve been trying to just let stories form organically based on what I’m actively feeling inspired by in my life and let the larger story speak for itself.
You’ve worked both solo and alongside a talented array of producers and fellow artists throughout your career. What has been the most rewarding and most challenging parts of going from making music independently to opening yourself up to the world of collaboration?
Working with a team of people and considering other tastes, styles, opinions, and timelines can definitely have its challenging moments, but I love collaborating and it has always been a huge part of my life as a creative. Before music, I was heavily involved in pursuing both musical theater and a career in film production – both highly collaborative practices. The only real reason why I worked so independently for the first few years of my music career was because I didn’t have many other options when I first started out. I started learning more about production as a hobby while still in film school so I wasn’t really surrounding myself with people I could ask for help. I didn’t have any kind of musical network and it felt both extremely isolating and freeing since I only had my intuition and my own ears to rely on.
At a certain point though during the pandemic, it was becoming harder to operate by myself on my little island because I was struggling to find new ways to grow and challenge myself. I was getting bored of operating within my limitations, so that’s when I got online and started building a community for myself and hitting up literally anyone. I was so bold about reaching out and DMing as many people as possible, and that process was extremely rewarding and changed my life. I’ve made some of my favorite songs with the help of people I’ve met online, and that gave me a lot of confidence to start collaborating in person… sometimes in really intimidating environments. I truly collaborate all the time at this point in my career and I’m a much better artist for it. Plus things get done a lot faster which is a bonus!
Check out the PAPER premiere of RYL0's "Thru My Chest" below.
Photos courtesy of RYL0