Review Summary: We're finally here/and shit yeah, it's coolTo hell with it
is the first project from PinkPantheress, a burgeoning London-based pop artist whose early singles blew up on TikTok. I’m legally obligated to say that because this mixtape hasn’t been discussed enough on this site to impute that knowledge onto the reader. But does it really matter? Critics seem to love writing about PP (many personal details including her real name are currently unknown, and while I respect that, I’m just not gonna write out “PinkPantheress'' every time- so PP it is, lol) because it gives them a jumping point to write about the influence of TikTok on music and youth culture on the whole. Basically, PP gets to stand in for the new, increasingly algorithmically driven ways in which Gen Z is consuming music (this is bolstered by the length of her songs, almost all of which are under 2 minutes), and because her early work contains a notable drum-and-bass/UK Garage influence, there can also be some supposedly novel Gen Z nostalgia for the 2000s imputed onto her popularity. Oh, and since music criticism is still in the height of unabashed poptimism as a corrective for its earlier sins, PP is also a genius who is leveraging all of these things on purpose.
I consider myself more of an agnostic when it comes to considering matters of form in popular music. I think these topics of discussion are mostly fodder for the literati and later, hack screenwriters as they craft musician biopics (I can picture some vaguely anti-semetic caricature of a manager, probably played by Marc Maron, now: “The kids love it on this Tik Tok… they can’t stop dancing!”). If tracing the history of Hyperpop and Soundcloud Rap and earlier, PBR&B have taught us anything, these kinds of classifications are at best useful for identifying early trends that eventually get folded into the whole of mass popular culture and are then mostly disregarded. Somewhat relatedly, I’m also a little dubious of the role 2K nostalgia is playing as it pertains to PinkPantheress’s popularity- maybe it factors into her choice of influences (although, in my mind, is it really that different than a millennial act reaching back to the 80s?), but it doesn’t explain why someone like my non-Pitchfork reading, New Jersey-raised 19 year old sister whose knowledge of any dance music from across the pond probably begins at Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch” listens to her.
I suppose all of this is a long way around to my own personal topline on PinkPantheress and To hell with it
on the whole: this is the emergence of a truly great pop songwriter, bar none. Her bread and butter is taking the bones of some old UK garage hit and subtly twisting it to match her introspective, breathy style (as any review will mention, she gives the “slowed and reverb” treatment to Sweet Female Attitude’s “Flowers'' on breakout single “Pain”). But she shows deftness in a host of other areas across the tape’s brisk 18.5 minute runtime. “Last valentines'' gestures at emo-rap with its surprisingly low-key Linkin Park sample and suprisingly visceral rendering of post-heartbreak anger, and “Just for me” finds PP delivering an understated but deeply burrowing hook over midi-acoustic guitar strums.
The influence of Rap and modern R&B on To hell with it
is undeniable, and, in what I promise is my last bit of complaining about other writers, has been weirdly minimized in reviews in favor of harping on the 2000s electronic stuff. PP weaves serotonin-boosting, reverb soaked adlibs into many of her tracks, and “All my friends know” swerves straight into dancehall-adjacent Drake territory- frankly doing it better than he has in recent memory. Her lyrics also recall peak-Drake’s ability to blend insta caption fodder (“Did you ever want me/no worries if not”) with fairly novel characterizations of her generation’s views on depression and dating. They're as simple and plaintive as “I’m obsessed with you in a way I can’t believe” and as vivid and sarcastic as “I wrote this letter to remind myself the reasons I’m alive/I got to reason number five”.
Listening to the short songs here, I found myself weirdly thinking about Guided by Voices- the Alien Lanes
version of “Game of Pricks” is one of my favorite songs ever written and it clocks in at 1:33. It makes me wonder about economy in songwriting generally, which, for the best of ‘em, isn’t driven by formal nor technical considerations. I reckon it comes from simply knowing how much you want to say and saying no more than what’s necessary. Pinkpantheress probably will have more to say. But even if she didn’t, To hell with it would be one hell of a statement.