POP NOTES PEN PALS #2 – JANUARY 2019
That Kid burst out of Soundcloud oblivion and into the hearts of discerning pop fans last September with his debut single, “Dial Tone.” The song was a frenetic electropunk banger made in collaboration with fellow subterranean superstars Slayyyter and Ayesha Nicole Smith (née Erotica). The single, with its Day-Glo glitchmood designed artwork, hyperkinetic hooks, and addictively plodding synth bassline, quickly became an underground hit.
“Dial Tone” was an absolute moment–lightning in a bottle. When the history books are written on bubblegum bass* (or whatever the kids end up calling this era), “Dial Tone” will be remembered amongst the critical releases that jump-started the movement. It didn’t just make the trio stars, but the song also defined the scene around it. This new wave of emergent, collaborative, alternative electronic pop music artists and fans that existed all over the world was suddenly united by this song.
Legend has it that everyone who saw the Sex Pistols’ iconic first UK show went on to start their own band. And just like other zeitgeist-inducing musical moments that came before it, everyone who heard “Dial Tone” immediately wanted to pick up a laptop and make a song like that of their own. This trio had made the impossible seem achievable: that every day, cool and creative people from literally anywhere and everywhere could come together in virtual space and make a motherfucking perfect pop record.
An online electropop revolution was suddenly underway, and these three artists were among its leaders. That Kid and his ultra cool BFFs suddenly became the popular clique in the pop cafeteria, the ones whose funky styles and trendsetting taste the other squads would now try their best to emulate.
Following the release of the song, Slayyyter began to gain traction in the media, while Ayesha Erotica would go on to literally die. But what about That Kid? Who exactly was he? Even though “Dial Tone” was his song, very little seemed to be known about the artist. The Fader described him as “a mysterious internet person,” but I had a feeling that they just weren’t doing their homework. On the single, That Kid sounded absolutely charming to me. I loved his bouncy flow as he breathlessly ticked through a list of telecommunication platforms by which his crush could reach him (virtual communication is a big part of the That Kid brand). There is an effervescent, relatable quality to That Kid’s voice on that record. In many ways, he seemed `to be the opposite of mysterious–he sounded cute and likable. That Kid’s charisma jumped out on “Dial Tone,” enticing the listener to want to hear more.
For a minute, “80 Mph” was the only other That Kid single. The single artwork for came with another brilliant glitchmood design, which continued to link That Kid to this loose network of new wave electropop artists who were taking the internet by storm. “80 Mph” is a lo-fi, synthy late night driving song–my all time favorite type of song! But it probably did more to reinforce the “mysterious” narrative around his persona. The low key late-night vibe, as well as the bright but relatively subdued melody, contributed to his enigmatic aura. The track opens with a vintage 2009esque synth melody that is so perfectly retro that I half expected Akon to yell “Konvict!” at the beginning. Something about the way he rhymed “nasty” and “fastly” was adorably intriguing, and yet there was still a great deal that we did not know about the artist behind these releases.
Gradually, we began to get to know That Kid as both an artist and online personality. Although he tends to maintain a low profile, That Kid comes across friendly and good natured with his mutuals and fans. We know That Kid is an extremely talented bedroom-studio recording artist. He is 20 years old and Denver-based–though his lyrical obsession with phones and virtual spaces seems to hint at a desire for escape. Like all underground pop stars, he has a day job–I would argue that this is a part of their appeal to fans, but he is also signed to a top modeling agency (one you’ve heard of). That Kid has a good sense of humor, displays excellent taste, and has a charming tendency to use lots of exclamation points in his tweets. Perhaps most interesting, That Kid is an unabashedly queer pop star, and the fact that he remains down to earth despite being poised to take over the world is adorably refreshing.
“Boyfriend,” (produced by Donatachi, another one of these fabulous but elusive online persons), was the single that truly established That Kid as an artist to watch. “Boyfriend” is a solid pop tune teeming with a sense of longing that is both expertly produced and performed. The fact that it is a song about one gay man yearning for another sounds absolutely revolutionary. It may be 2019, but hearing a male pop star sing candidly about queer love is still shocking and amazing, at least to old gay ears like mine.
Frank talk about queer romance just doesn’t happen in pop music as often as it should (though that is rapidly changing), and so hearing That Kid sing “Do you wanna be my boyfriend, for the night?” feels downright radical. Representation matters in pop music just as much as it matters on screen, and I couldn’t help but want to enthusiastically support That Kid. The fact that he’s also a person of color on top of that can make it just that much more difficult to get attention from the white-skewing alternative pop audience, despite his talents as a vocalist and songwriter. And that just means we have to stan twice as hard!
That Kid’s queer-positive messages have extended to his features. He appears on Kyunchi’s excellent bop “Regina George,” which flips the Mean Girls narrative into a tale of an unrequited gay crush. He also features on Jake Germain’s “Cavity,” a deceptively sweet song about a specific sex act co-written by That Kid. These features have helped to increase That Kid’s profile as an up and coming talent who is at the forefront of this emerging queer electropop scene.
That Kid’s first 2019 release was “Take It Off,” a technopop tour de force and perhaps my favorite single yet. The erotically charged banger quickly builds in tension until the chorus hits your brain like a rush of poppers. “Take It Off” is a lyrical striptease laced with a libidinous bassline. Its shrieking synth lines are like aural pelvic thrusts to the mind as That Kid and producer Ayesha Nicole Smith deliver the listener a thorough eargasm. This song is pure bliss, a quick and dirty pop romp as satisfying as a dance floor handjob and equally as messy. “Take It Off” pulsates. It is a delectable record and stands out as an exemplary release amongst the many thrilling works coming out of the modern pop underground.
Like many artists who initially find their footing online, That Kid has had to deal with his fair share of trolls and haters who get their kicks by acting like complete assholes on the internet. These sad social dregs are desperate to get a reaction of any kind out of the artist and their supporters–you know the type. They do it to make themselves feel better because they are jealous of the artist’s success or are still mad about their parents getting a divorce or whatever. It’s my personal mission to change that energy in 2019, because it’s bullshit and their behavior is totally transparent, and we marginalized people (weird pop fans) don’t have time to be spreading negativity to one another in these dark times. Fortunately for That Kid, he is a talented, dynamic individual, and can confidently rely on his skills as an artist to carry him into the next phase of his career. He’s got his own sparkly vibe going on, and the fact that he’s part of this loose collective of buzzworthy independent artists doesn’t hurt his chances of leveling up the pop ladder in due time.
Dial Up Diaries is the planned title of That Kid’s debut LP, due out later this year, and I think that title sounds perfectly iconic! This will be a huge and exciting moment in That Kid’s career, and will likely raise his profile as his fanbase continues to grow. I think That Kid is a very exciting new artist who is coming out of this equally exciting movement, and I am thrilled and kind of touched to get to watch this scene unfold and see artists like him have their debut pop moment. It really brings out the Kris Jenner in me! And so in the spirit of the camcorder mom, I am pleased to present this opportunity for you to get to know That Kid in the interview below. Please check it out, stream his singles, and stay tuned for much more from one of the most interesting stars in the pop underground!
POP NOTES: Where is That Kid based? How does your hometown influence your style?
That Kid: I’m currently based in Denver. It’s kind of boring here honestly! I’m not very social and spend most of my time at home so I don’t think I’ve ever drawn any kind of inspiration from here.
POP NOTES: Have you always been involved in music? Tell us That Kid’s origin story.
That Kid: I wasn’t very musical as a child. I was into art though. Around 14 I got really bored with art. I was just so uninspired and didn’t have an interest in it anymore. I needed a way to stay creative so I started to mess around with music. I would record these demos in my closet using a broken gaming headset over these random beats I would find online. A lot of it was really bad but I was just glad to have an outlet.
POP NOTES: How would you describe your musical style?
That Kid: electropop is probably the best term. It’s really interesting to hear how other people describe it though.
POP NOTES: Can you describe your songwriting process a little bit? Does it change from song to song or is a similar process each time?
That Kid: It’s a pretty similar process each time! I usually get sent a beat first and if it inspires me I can write most of the song in about 2 hours. I’ve been writing a lot with another artist called Wifi Baby recently. We’ve known each other for years and she’s just an incredible co-writer. When it comes to recording my setup isn’t the best to be honest. I have a very simple set up of an audio interface, a dynamic mic, and a laptop. I record all of my vocals in my closet or in one of the spare bedrooms in the house.
POP NOTES: How did you come to work with producer Ayesha Erotica (RIP)?
That Kid: I’ve been a fan of Ayesha for so long. I remember hearing her track Yummy and losing my shit. I ended up shooting her a message on Soundcloud telling her that I love her work ages before we really started talking and collaborating. I reached out to her months later on Twitter asking her if she would be down to work on something and ever since then we’ve been collaborating. Working with her has made me an even bigger fan. She’s honestly a genius.
POP NOTES: Your single “Dial Tone” got a bit of attention from some very cool magazines! Have you taken a moment to let that sink in? How does it feel to be on the verge of fame?!
That Kid: It’s really surreal. I honestly thought the song would get 1,000 plays max. It’s crazy how well it’s done. This whole music thing really started out as a hobby for me. I didn’t expect the reaction it got at all. I’m so glad people love the song. It really means the world to me when people tell me they like my music.
POP NOTES: All of your singles contain artwork designed by glitchmood. Can you tell us just a little about how that collaboration works?
That Kid: When I work with Josh I usually have some kind of idea in mind. For example with Boyfriend, I knew that I wanted it to have the Mars symbol on it and for the symbols to look kind of like promise rings. He was really able to bring that idea to life and really add his own touch to it. He’s an incredible artist and I’m very grateful to have met him.
POP NOTES: You recently had your first live show supporting Superbody. Can you tell me what that was like? Are there any more live shows planned?
That Kid: It was a lot of fun! It went way better than expected. I played some unreleased tracks just to kind see what reaction they would get and everything was really well received! I definitely looked kind of stupid dancing but hopefully, it was less cringe and more endearing.
POP NOTES: You have a song called “Dial Tone,” and you’ve said your album is tentatively titled Dial Up Diaries. What’s up with your obsession with telecommunications??
That Kid: I have at least 8 songs about talking on the phone, it’s kind of ridiculous! I just think the idea of falling in love with someone online and having intimate calls late at night can be really endearing. I’m also just really addicted to technology.
POP NOTES: What should we be streaming, where can we find you online, and what is coming next?
That Kid: You can keep up with me @itisthatkid on Twitter and Instagram. I’m gonna put out a couple more singles but for now stream Dial Tone, 80 Mph, Boyfriend, and Take It Off! Hopefully, I’ll have the album out before summer.
POP NOTES: Who is your dream collaborator?
That Kid: I really want to do a track with Kitty! I’ve been a fan of her since I was 12. She’s one of my biggest musical influences. She recently followed me on Twitter so maybe someday it could happen.
POP NOTES: Is there anything you’d really like the public to know about That Kid?
That Kid: For some reason, people think I’m short, but I’d just like the general public to know that I’m actually 6’.
POP NOTES: Wow, your DMs are about to blow up in that case. Okay, finally, how about a message for the haters?
That Kid: Stream Take It Off!
Photo credits: That Kid
Album artwork: glitchmood
** A NOTE ON GENRE: Bubblegum bass, bedroom bop, Soundcloud synth, indie electro, etc. are various names being applied to this movement. I tend to avoid using fixed labels, and instead, use my own weird descriptive terms to talk about the songs and artists on their own individual stylistic basis. I would argue that this emerging movement is more defined in broader terms such as taste and aesthetic and ideas and connectivity rather than specific styles and genre. It’s also way funnier for me if I make up a new name for the genre in every column lol. That said, bubblegum bass, a term dating back to at least 2015 and used to describe PC Music and other alternative pop, seems to be one of the more popular terms as of this writing. And honestly, it would be a GREAT name for an indie electro record label, if anyone reading this has rich parents and wants to start one please hmu!!
POP NOTES PEN PALS is a series exploring the emerging futuristic universe of underground electronic pop music. Rather than try to name this musical ecosystem or define what it means in terms of genre or substance, Pop Notes will be profiling the many art stars that make up the vanguard of this exciting new wave of pop, in order to render a picture of this digital movement in its own terms. Like punk, rave, electroclash, and bloghouse before them, this is a scene bursting at the seams with a reality-warping diy energy that is undeniable, addictive, and seemingly poised for world dominance(??). Stay tuned for more profiles of exciting artists emanating from the online pop scene!
Pop Notes is produced by @petebeat for