You'll instantly recognize the melody underneath twst's new single, "Sugared Up." The rising Welsh artist took "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" — from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's famous 1892 ballet, The Nutracker — and gave it a glossy hyperpop finish for 2021. As a song that addresses toxic masculinity in the modern-day music industry, it's hardly the transformation that Tchaikovsky would've ever imagined his composition seeing centuries down the line — but twst really delivers on their clubby, queer update.
The follow-up to "Chandeliers, Bullets and Guns," twst's latest release is sticky-sweet and sly, using the power of pop to comment on more serious societal issues. "Sing my own shit, til I get rich," they boast, acknowledging the constant scrutiny femme musicians face from a world that doubts their abilities. ("Who's the producer though? Who wrote this really?") Her satiric, tongue-in-cheek approach is packaged with co-production from Ashnikko collaborator Slinger, who managed to make such a warm jingle sound sinister. (Somebody please mix this with Gwen Stefani's "Yummy.")
As we enter twst's next musical chapter, PAPER caught up with them to talk about all things "Sugared Up" and how an autocorrect of "twat" helped her arrive at this stage name.
Is there a story behind the creation of your stage name?
I wanted to call myself "twat," but for some reason it autocorrected to "twst," and I was like, "Fair."
Your Instagram bio reads, "Hikikomori Baby." What does that mean?
"Hikikomori" is the Japanese word to describe social withdrawal or isolation. I was drawn to it phonetically and also there is no such word that meets this description in the English language. I was also very inspired by the Kawaii aesthetic at the time, as seen in "Girl On Your TV" video.
But ultimately, I named the label, "Hikikomori Baby," as a reference to the time where I lived quite reclusively after leaving school and home when I was really young. I started to build my own way of seeing the world, which without much rules and guidance, I found was quite hyper reality-esque. The concepts that I've been writing about are also heavily based off the isolation, loneliness and my connection to technology during this period.
"There's this assumption that a male writer or producer is needed and I've always tried to challenge those structures."
In what ways do you view this song as commentary on toxic masculinity, especially within the music industry?
In the lyrics, "They try to send me to guys, improve my writing," I'm commenting on the fact that there are these structures in place in the music industry — especially in pop — where young women are expected to relentlessly work with these middle-aged white men, who they probably have little in common with. There's this assumption that a male writer or producer is needed and I've always tried to challenge those structures.
I touch on this again in the lyrics, "Who's the producer though? And who wrote this really?" I've had so many comments in the past where people are like, "Oh sick, who else produced or wrote this with you?" as if that's something I couldn't have done alone. It's very jarring.
How'd you land on the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" melody? Was that something you wrote to, or did it get added in later in the production process?
I had been wanting to write something over a melody that was deeply embedded into the human consciousness [laughs], cause I thought it'd be funny and also just a capitalist move, for our capitalist society. But what I found interesting about "Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" is that it's a piece of music with so much history and has so many cultural and seasonal ties like halloween, xmas and, of course, ballet, but also is just a great piece of music.
There's something sinister about the familiar, childlike melody juxtaposed against this larger, meaningful message. How do you think that impacts the song? Was it intentional?
I very much wanted to juxtapose the critical tone and awareness in the lyric with other lyrics that sounded almost infantilized and babyish, and likening my needs to wanting "sugar" and "getting high on jelly beans." I wanted this to feel reductive to mirror my experience of being reduced and patronized as a young she/ they in the music industry.
How does this song speak to where you're at as an artist, right now, and how is it a reflection of this next "musical chapter"?
This song shows my ambition and there's a lot more of that energy to come.
"I am first and foremost a songwriter."
Who'd you collaborate with on this single and what was that process like for you?
I wrote "Sugared Up" with my bestie, Eden, who I pretty much only write with. Our brains work very differently, so there is so much that we individually bring to the table. She is my fucking fave. I worked on the production, and then me and Slinger worked more on the production. His sounds and input on this record aligned perfectly with what I was trying to achieve.
There's a lot of noise in the pop market, especially in hyperpop. How do you think your perspective is breaking up the conversation?
I'm so inspired by where pop is going and how hyperpop has influenced that. I think conceptually and lyrically is where I'm trying to push boundaries and break up the conversation. That comes from the fact that I am first and foremost a songwriter. I really want to capture my experiences and portray them in the rawest way possible, but over beautiful and catchy melodies.
Photography: Ryan Jafarzadeh