Elliott Platt found a sanctuary making subversive pop music as ElyOtto – and then TikTok accidentally made the talented trans artist accidentally famous with one of the platform’s most viral songs so far.
It’s 7am in Calgary, Canada and in a few hours, 17-year-old Elliot Platt will be going – either in body or in pixelated, online spirit – to his first class of the day. His eyes are glazed over with familiar school morning delirium. But for now, the Elliott who still dutifully tries to get good grades for his mom despite the creeping feeling of futility, the Elliot who does his homework, washes the dishes and catches the school bus every morning, has been put to one side. For the next hour, here is ElyOtto: the architect behind the TikTok earworm “SugarCrash!”, who generated hundreds of millions of streams completely by accident.
Yet, as unwittingly as Platt stumbled upon this meteoric success that saw him remix the track with pop titans Kim Petras and Curtis Waters, in many ways, “SugarCrash!” felt almost precision-engineered to be gorged on over and over again. It seemed to be built so that you could form a toxic soul bond with the repeat button. It’s the perfect crystallisation of hyperpop, the genre of the moment, with its pitch-fried vocals and infectious melodies, climbing the walls like a kid hopped up on E-numbers for a sharp shock of a minute-and-a-bit. It moves so fast you’re left wanting more. But right now, Platt is at some remove from his reputation as hyperpop’s battery-licking leading light. “My thoughts are a bit scattered,” he rubs his eyes. “I haven’t taken my meds yet. I woke up literally five minutes ago.”
Platt shows a self-belief that is arresting for his age, and yet, rather than shrugging it off in a skin-deep display of humility, he’s unafraid to say he likes what he likes – even if that’s his own music. “I really liked the sound of ‘SugarCrash!’”, he admits. “Like, I know people are sick of it – I sort of am, too – but I find myself still listening to it.” While ‘SugarCrash!’ was just an experiment, the scratching of a hyperpop itch after getting sucked into the vortex of 100 gecs, it’s a sound he plans to carry forwards on his upcoming EP, the next move he’s waiting to make.
“I’m also going to be doing something different with the songs I’ve got lined up,” shares Platt. “I don’t know if people are gonna like that or not, so I’m a little bit freaked out about it.” There’s an irony to the fact that he is worried about a listener’s reaction when he throws in the organic elements from older genres, like punk and folk, into his sound, when surely hyperpop – unpalatable by design – is the riskiest choice of all. “I mean, you’re right, actually,” he says. “I just want to make internet culture music, basically.”
‘Internet culture music’ is the perfect term for what hyperpop really is: a patchwork genre made from an internet’s worth of influences, mashed up and stretched to their furthest logical endpoint. “All these kids are out here making subcultures and they all have their own music and style. I’ve just, like, stolen all of that from all corners and blended it together into the music,” he says. While more seasoned listeners criticise “SugarCrash!” as being a perfect reflection of the style of hyperpop progenitors 100 gecs, it seems like that was the point all along: to hold up a mirror to the online culture Platt was folded into and cast its true reflection right back at it.
With the tsunami of success Platt found with “SugarCrash!”, the whispers of ‘one-hit wonder’ soon followed him. “I get called that a lot on social media,” he says. “Just because I’ve released three songs on Spotify, of course there’s gonna be one that’s bigger than the others, but honestly, that fear is sort of evaporating the more ‘SugarCrash!’ calms down and things go back to the way they were before.” There’s a twinge of naivete, if not blind optimism, to that statement. Nothing can be quite the same: not with an all-encompassing TikTok hit and a major-label signing behind him.
“I was hoping my view on music wouldn’t change,” Platt confesses, “but I mean, it inevitably has. It started off as a hobby and something that I didn’t really share with people, but now, when I making music, I do – well, I try not to – but I find myself taking into consideration: ‘Is this a TikTok-friendly song? Can people use this for their videos? Are the lyrics too vulgar for the radio?’ I don’t like thinking like that. I don’t feel like I should be putting my creative energy into a box to conform to what the internet is craving right now.”
While in hindsight, he wishes he could numb the impulse to feed into the internet’s appetite, he admits that with “SugarCrash!”, that was exactly the intention behind it. “Not for anyone else, though – but for me,” he’s careful to insist. “I was amazed by the emergence of the hyperpop genre, and I just thought, ‘I need to expand on this. I need to see if I can do this.’”
It may seem like Platt stumbled upon music in a fit of lockdown-induced boredom and just so happened to strike gold, but the truth is, he’s been uploading music to SoundCloud since 2017. “I mean, of course, they’re all deleted now, because it’s embarrassing,” he says, “but I used to experiment with a lot of different genres, like folk, punk and lo-fi hip-hop. Hyperpop was just my next thing.” And of course, it worked.
His earliest guerrilla attempts at music were made for his ears only. “They sound kind of weird,” he admits. “The mixing isn’t exactly good. The lyrics are sort of abstract and personal.” But after the unexpected success of ‘SugarCrash!’, he felt he had a momentum to maintain, dropping “LET GO ☹” and “TEETH!”, which, Platt admits, has meant there has been “uniformity” to his music ever since. When I ask if he wishes he could go back to a time where he could make music without having to give his audience, streaming numbers and major label obligations a second thought, he nods enthusiastically before I can finish the question. “Yes, yes I do,” he says. “I certainly don’t mind the fans, because obviously they give me a lot of love and motivation, but I also kinda wish that it was still a bedroom thing, you know?”
While Platt was chopping up sounds and throwing them into a blender in his room on GarageBand (which he still uses, by the way) music was “a bit of an afterthought – something that I might show my mom while we’re driving home from McDonald’s, or whatever,” he shrugs. “I used to be a lot more school-focused. When I made “SugarCrash!”, I kind of started giving up before I realised that I can’t learn online. There was all this frustration towards the pandemic and loneliness, and also this fixation of having fun because fun felt so impossible especially during the early part of the pandemic. All of that just built up, and I had to release it.” And all that frustration and loneliness was channelled through the word vomit of having no cash, laying in bed, not taking his meds and feeling so pissed off he wants to cut his brain in half. While the lyrics are blown-out teenage melodrama, Platt’s 100-second vent made us realise that yeah, we all felt a bit like that, too.
Though the pandemic was a global disaster, for hyperpop and digicore musicians, it was the flame to the lighter fluid that they’d been waiting for. These teenagers, internet natives who have singlehandedly built online empires from their bedrooms, had been shaping up their whole lives for a moment where reality wasn’t an option. Without the pandemic, would there be an ElyOtto? “I don’t think so,” he admits, “which is kind of scary and weird. Without it, I would have never felt the need to express myself in the way that turned out to be ‘SugarCrash!’, so I would’ve probably not released songs for a really long time and I don’t think that would have been good for anyone – for me, or, like, my five fans.”
But his passion for music has never wavered – in fact, Platt doesn’t even remember a time before it. His mom is a folk artist and his dad showed him the ropes with the guitar. “I mean, they’re supportive when it doesn’t affect my schoolwork, right?” he laughs. “Like, my mom nags me a lot to get off my computer, stop making music and do my homework, but apart from that, they’ve been very supportive of me for my whole life.” Raised on a diet on straight-up roots music, Platt was dragged to festivals and gigs to hear his parents play which meant that he was immersed in the folk scene since he was a child. “I mean, I make folk music, too,” he claims. “I just translated it onto the page as hyperpop, you know?”
Platt sees unlikely reflections of folk sensibilities in his own music, just as clearly as his audience sees the parallels between his sound and 100 gecs. “I think melodically it’s definitely a big thing,” he says. “Like, you hear a lot of underlying melodies in my music, and folk lyrics are sort of poetic and abstract and a bit sad kind of like mine. It’s hard to describe,” he sighs, “because up until recently, I was, like, completely musically illiterate.”
“A lot of hyperpop is a perversion of mainstream pop… we’re making fun of them – not really, but kind of.”
The success of “SugarCrash!” has changed his life irrevocably, and yet, the world he moves through everyday remains the same. Everyday feels dissonant, for Platt: he’s caught in a purgatory of the extraordinary and painfully ordinary at once. Paying attention at school has been impossible. “Yeah, it’s sucky,” he says. “I’m trying not to leave and give up, because I’m not that kind of person. But I’ve already got my life set out in front of me, so why even bother?”
The way his classmates have responded to the viral hyperpop star sat two desks down has also changed – and Platt is keeping tabs. “A lot of people that were whispering transphobic things behind my back beforehand are now like, ‘Yo, you made ‘SugarCrash!’? What’s up, homie!’ And it’s like, ‘Who are you, man? Don’t talk to me.’ I think a lot of people have jumped in and tried to become my friend to chase the clout.” Even if his friends are fans of his music, he prefers it when they don’t bring it up: “I sort of prefer it when people keep ‘SugarCrash!’ and that whole aspect of my life out of my head when I’m, like, on the bus or something. I don’t like being called out very much unless it’s by a complete stranger.”
His relationship with the IRL world isn’t the only thing that has shifted: with online virality comes great responsibility, after all. Platt found himself thrust into the social media limelight as people started to discover that kid who made that song they can’t get out of their heads. “Oh my god,” he sighs, “Well, before – I mean, I still am very much addicted to social media to an unhealthy extent… like, it’s a big problem for me – but since I’ve faced so much hate along with all of the support, I’ve faced a lot of death threats and transphobia. It’s inevitable. So I think it has sort of helped me, in a way, to learn to take a step back from social media. I’m able to delete apps and just redownload them later if they’re distracting me, which was something I was completely unable to do before.”
Social media stardom also breeds ignorance among its followers; people so often forget the humanity behind the person they place on a pedestal. But what Platt wishes people would understand, more than anything, is: “I can’t sing ‘SugarCrash!’ without autotune.” As ridiculous as it may sound, it’s a source of frustration for Platt which strikes at his credibility as an artist. “It simply wasn’t designed to be sang without massive amounts of autotune,” he explains. “The jumps are just too much for my voice, especially now that I’m on testosterone I’m mostly singing from my chest. I wish people would know that I’m totally capable of singing. I love glitchy effects and autotune, but that’s not where my voice is limited to.”
Autotune is an essential hyperpop weapon: it allows artists to transcend their own identities and shape-shift to the sound they’d always envisioned. The hyperpop community has become a sanctuary for trans musicians in particular because its rule-burning ethos means that they can manipulate the music to define themselves on their own terms. “The way that the queer community and people of colour tie into hyperpop and internet culture is a perpetuation of the beginning of the internet where, behind the screen, no one can judge you or tell you who you are. Also, a lot of hyperpop is a perversion of mainstream pop,” Platt says. “Like, we’re making fun of them – not really, but kind of. We’re making fun of the huge autotune trope and the fact that it’s not very detectable in modern pop. We’re making it detectable and being very unapologetic about it.”
For that reason, Platt is proud to call himself a hyperpop artist, while the term itself is much-maligned by artists who feel confined by its tick-box parameters. “A lot of people are like, ‘Hyperpop doesn’t exist’, but I’m personally fine with the label – but hell,” he insists, “I’m going to start injecting ideas from other genres in there and making whatever trashy sort of edgy garbage that I think sounds good. This might not be a thing – this is just something off the top of my head – but I hope it will be like a garnish you can put on top of other songs. I don’t even think of it as a genre: I just make it up as I go along.”