PinkPantheress is the Future, Her Debut Mixtape Proves it10/19/2021
The 60-second earworm “Pain,” released by the producer and singer PinkPantheress on TikTok earlier this year, rides a moody flip of the early-2000s hit “Flowers,” by the U.K. group Sweet Female Attitude. In what is by now the defining story of our era, the single garnered the 20-year-old musician a record deal at Parlophone, as well as fans in stars like Clairo and Giveon. TikTok even named it the “breakout track of the summer.” It’s also a perfect example of Gen Z’s impulse towards Y2K nostalgia. But even so, PinkPantheress seems like a glitch in the Matrix. While undergirded by a bevy of iconic house and drum ‘n’ bass samples, her debut mixtape to hell with it, released last week, maps what feels like genuinely uncharted territory.
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Across a brief 19-minutes, PinkPantheress constructs, and untangles, webs of feeling. As a songwriter, she’s especially gifted in meeting themes of despair with unwavering grace. On “Last Valentines,” for example, she sings: “I crashed my car, right into a tree/I’d risk my life for a chance you’d come back to me,” before flipping the dramatic sentiment on its head. “You called 999, then left me to bleed/I know you’d never cause an accident for me.” The track unfurls over a Linkin Park sample, providing one of the better pop-punk crossover moments in the past year’s resurgence. Here, PinkPantheress finds an innate balance with the source material’s ethos.
Elsewhere, like on “I Must Apologize,” the singer constructs brief, dream-like vignettes. She’s self-reflective, questioning patterns of behavior in relationships. The track races to a stirring breakbeat, softened by the buoyant melody from Crystal Waters’ hit “Gypsy Woman.” PinkPantheress’ lush and subtle vocals offer a soft embrace, like a deep hug on the dancefloor. “I must apologize before I end the night,” she sings in the chorus.
On “Notice I Cried,” she floats over a quintessential drum ‘n’ bass break — stuttering and elastic drum sequencing replete with almost guttural texture. PinkPantheress’ voice proves an agile accompaniment. She melodically surfs over the high-octane beat. And the track, barely over a minute long, packs an entrancing emotional range. “You’re too cruel to be kind/and I know that from experience,” she sings. “I can hear your replies but it’s maybe that I’m hearing things.”
“Nineteen,” which will likely prove to be the most enduring song on the project, flutters with familiar adolescent anxieties, recast with delicate, searching, care. PinkPantheress sings about her favorite store closing, her friends not recognizing her, and the numb pain of heartache, musing, with a full display of her range as a vocalist, that she “wasn’t meant to be/this bored at 19.”
Album closer “Break it Off” employs a pitch-modified sample of drum ‘n’ bass pioneer Adam F’s “Circles” to guide an emotional reckoning. “But I’m so used to sayin’/I’m fine,” she sings. “And then something that you did to hurt me worse/It comes to me.” The sample in question garnered a brief moment of consternation across social media, with older fans of the genre crying foul. But, as with all of the source material on the record, PinkPantheress makes no claim of ownership. The mixtape’s liner notes are filled with writing and sample credits to a host of classic dance music acts. And, sonically, PinkPantheress achieves something masterful. Instead of cynically tapping into a burgeoning resurgence of early aughts dance music, the singer creates something wholly original. Her songwriting proves to be additive as opposed to reductive.
A perhaps intentional corollary might be Everything but the Girl, yet another British group from roughly the same era PinkPantheress is keying in on. On their 1996 album Walking Wounded, the duo infused atmospheric drum ‘n’ bass with wrenching vocals courtesy of singer Tracy Thorn, articulating the kind of euphoric introspection you might find alone at a rave. Except, the music on to hell with it is strikingly present. Rather than languishing in nostalgia for the past, PinkPantheress finds a way to pierce through the sorrow of the present.
“The thing that makes it hard to share music on things like SoundCloud or Spotify, initially, is that you need to be interested before you listen to the artist, you need to already know about the artist,” the singer told Rolling Stone in August. “Whereas on TikTok, you don’t need to know, you don’t even need to have followers.”
It’d be easy to catalog PinkPantheress alongside the now innumerable viral sensations our culture has produced, but a more fitting perspective comes from the eras she drew inspiration from. The rich, albeit brief, collection of songs on to hell with it feels like the kind of genuine and heartfelt openness that the internet once promised.
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