A “Fae” patch from Cowgirl Clue’s online merchandise store iconic of her signature ethereal style evoking a fairy-like and fanciful essence. (Dylan Robinson/Lariat)
Conjuring fantastically hyper drumlines and eclectic synth beats, Cowgirl Clue summons electronica heaven through her unique blend of dance delicacies. Ashley Rose Calhoun lends her auto-tuned voice to tracks layered with bumping instrumentals encompassing playful ebbs and flows of synth.
Hailing from Texas, Clue primarily performs in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas through DJ sets with other similar artists occupying the hyperpop sphere. Hyperpop is a genre of music hitting its stride in recent years with the rise of artists like SOPHIE and Hannah Diamond who push the envelope of pop to its outer limits.
Hyperpop encompasses pop-theming and a general “happy-go-lucky” cadence, yet extends beyond the usual framework of contemporaries like Katy Perry and Billie Eilish to the point of excessiveness and parody.
PC Music is both a London record label and another name for this genre, but as more artists descended from the hyperpop cotton candy clouds above the genre’s definition had to be widened to account for the likes of Kero Kero Bonito, Dorian Electra and most importantly Cowgirl Clue.
Reddit user ItsJustSoWrong defines the genre well in their post “Can we agree on a ‘hyperpop.’” to r/PCMusic by stating hyperpop as “experimental music that pushes pop themes and tropes to parody, with some dance/electronic undertones.”
Hyperpop has even trickled into the mainstream a bit with Charli XCX in her 2019 album “Charli” receiving widespread critical acclaim upon release and breaking high (Top 100s) into the charts of the US, New Zealand and Australia to name a few. This album showcased collaborations with other prolific modern pop artists such as Lizzo, Troye Sivan and Clairo showing that the reach of hyperpop is vast and expansive.
Now, where does Cowgirl Clue fit into all this? Thanks to the proliferation of hyperpop, Clue has moved away from her old Wu-Wu moniker and is described as living the “Vada Vada” life in her music as coined by her boyfriend, Wyatt Shears and his brother Fletcher in their Orange County band, The Garden.
“Vada Vada,” as taken from their website’s description, is “a term that represents total freedom of expression without boundaries or guidelines of any sort.” Seeing how this takes shape in Clue’s music is a joy as no expectations can fully encapsulate what to look towards upon hearing a new Cowgirl Clue jam, resistance to wander is futile.
Similar to California itself, Clue’s music takes on an “anything goes” approach characteristic of her DJ background where she draws heavy influence from R&B artists of old and seeking nostalgic vibes of Y2K pop music. This structuring of her production provides such a wide array of airy and high tempo tunes that go beyond any prenotion of what you might expect from common pop trappings.
Take “Confessions of a Genie” for example and see how the instrumental is comprised of very lulling R&B inspired beats with lyrics focusing on how a genie never truly gets to live outside the confines of their cave having to sit back and let life pass them by. A bit melancholic, yes, but evoking of nostalgic and wistful days this song has plenty of.
Cowgirl Clue, through her releases of the 2015 “Limelite EP” and most recently the LP “Icebreaker” hitting in 2019, proves that hyperpop is here to stay and well, sometimes it might not even be hyperpop.
The ever mystifying mixture Clue presents through her music would lead you to believe you are trapped within the bounds of a Sega Dreamcast as they never bore even on repeat listens as each track is carefully crafted and imbued with magic you’d swear was captured from the aforementioned genie.
Hyperpop cannot truly contain the essence of Clue’s tracks as they bounce all over from trap snares indicative of modern rap on “An Accessory” to the hilariously named “Clue Core” hearkening to the muddled genre naming conventions of other “core” music groupings such as metalcore, grindcore and mathcore.
This is to say this track is a 49-second instrumental palette cleanser about halfway through the album and nothing more, perhaps conveying that genre is pointless when analyzing Clue’s eccentric variety of ripples in the pop sphere.
“Hella Faerie” in particular reminds me of a “Super Monkey Ball” track from the Nintendo Gamecube in 2001 laden with concussive drums and a stretchy tempo. As goofy as it sounds, the song is a relatable tale of how far Clue has come since her early DJ days at 17 years-old noting how her own potential failure at realizing the dream she’s living now would have been at her own “mistake.”
That’s where the heart of Clue’s music resides in how she is able to feel completely personal and relatable over seemingly abstract and disparate accompanying instrumentals. It’s a hyper reality that materializes in the form of dancey electro dynamics allowing for the generation that grew up in the early 2000’s to take solace in and feel at home with.
The dawn of the modern century may not be that far back in retrospect as we’re only 20 years in after all, but Cowgirl Clue reminds us to glance through the rear-view mirror tenderly, gripping onto an era we all lived through. An era with irrevocable impact on our modern world through fashion, music taste and cultural zeitgeist with how we consume media of the time through memes and thinking about whatever went so wrong with MTV.
Cowgirl Clue has no California shows announced as of now, but The Garden is going on tour to celebrate their new album “Kiss My Super Bowl Ring” releasing on March 13th with the first show hitting the Santa Ana Observatory on March 26th.
Whenever listening to Cowgirl Clue, be sure to lie back on “Cloud Nine” and frolic through your thoughts as if viewing upon an old, nostalgic photograph. Hyperpop, or whatever you want to call it, demands so.