Spaceboy Pop Is Blasting Off
The trending music genre, a new sci-fi-esque branch of pop music, is being ushered in from artists like Troye Sivan, Labrinth, and Travis Scott.
By Patrick Kho
not like other guys 👉👈 is a monthly musing on masculinity in the media and on the internet. Reading films, music, and online culture with a critical lens, this column is written for guys and non-guys alike, as well as for totally-unique, one-of-a-kind, ‘not like other guys’ guys!
Before the fall, I left America. My plane took off West on an August midnight, jetting away from the sunrise and from JFK Terminal 8, journeying back to a different continent. In the process, I waved friends, memories, and a home goodbye. Arriving back, I was welcomed by empty silence and the endless summer of Halfway Across the Globe. The many afternoons that followed were passed over on the living room couch, with long naps and longer aimless daydreaming. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was calling friends in the United States, delivering tell-alls over how much I missed my life in the U.S. Sedated, struggling to acknowledge where I now was, I didn’t feel anywhere. My body was here, but my mind felt far far away.
In the evenings, I’d play Troye Sivan’s “Angel Baby” (2021) on repeat from my laptop speakers. I’d lie again on the couch and close my eyes, and the song would open breathy and delicate: “I need a lover to keep me sane / Pull me from hell, bring me back again,” Troye would sing, his verse a hypnotic echo calling out to me from a distance. The synthesizer would hum warm and gentle. My ears would tingle, my body would vibrate, and I’d feel like I could float.
Leading to the chorus, melodies in B-major would echo dreamy in the background. Troye would softly plead, “I just wanna live in this moment forever,” and his voice would stretch out towards me. My mind was still far away, but his desperate cries could finally grasp it. Only, I’d drift further, beyond: I’d hear Troye confess “You’re my angel, baby,” and Cassiopeia and the North Star would smile at me. I’d dance with the dreamy melody along Saturn’s rings; I’d hop between asteroids and watch as Mars and Jupiter orbit. I’d play “Angel Baby” and relish in the infinite cosmos of my own mind. It’d be euphoric.
Reviews following the song’s release in 2021 describe “Angel Baby” as a “nostalgia-soaked love ballad” relishing in “cinematic 90s synth glory.” But I think there’s much more to say about doting pop ballads that use high-tech sounds. For one, synthesizers have always been the instrument of the futuristic since the 1950s. And when this fuses with dreamy melodies, hypnotic echoes, and Troye’s yearning questions about ‘forever,’ the song becomes uncannily sci-fi-esque. For me, I’d listen to “Angel Baby” and feel like I’m in outer space. And when Troye would whisper “Started giving up on the word forever,” I’d give up on grounding myself; I’d find beauty in being nowhere and I’d revel in feeling nothing at all.
Since “Angel Baby,” Troye Sivan’s discography has become increasingly synthwave, and so, has also become increasingly sci-fi-esque. October’s Something To Give Each Other, for example, features a sample from Bag Raiders’ “Shooting Stars”—harkening back to memes of people floating in outer space during the mid-2010s—in “Got Me Started.” In another song, “One Of Your Girls,” Troye sings the chorus fully in mechanistic vocoder, which (in his own words) is “creating this sort of sad robot desperate to connect.”
Troye Sivan’s 2023 releases are packed with “various Daft Punk-isms” (as critic Antony Fantano describes) and space nostalgia, the way a TRON-meets-Call Me By Your Name OST might be. But he isn’t alone in creating this effect. April saw Labrinth release Ends and Begins: “sci-fi love songs for my beloved,” as the artist describes the album in an Instagram post. Its opening track, “The Feels,” also features hypnotic echoes in its opening, and the upbeat, glistening melody of the chorus makes me feel like I’m on hyperdrive. Similarly, summer 2023’s UTOPIA centers Travis Scott’s constantly muffled vocals which, to me, sound ethereally alien. When I close my eyes listening to “TELEKINESIS,” I hear the same gentle synths. When they call out to me for longer, and my mind drifts further away into the depths of space, what do the notes and feelings amount to?
I’ll call it spaceboy pop: songs by male musicians that find the listener in between the corporeal and the immaterial, or in ‘outer space.’ Spaceboy pop is an unabashedly boyish romance of the future. Mellow synthesizers, hypnotic echoes, and dreamy melodies come together with a youthful obsession with love, and more importantly, a fixation on the interstellar, on what lies beyond now and beyond earth. “I don't even know if I'm here now,” confesses Labrinth in “The Feels”, “[But] now you got me intoxicated with your drug.” Travis Scott declares “I can see the future,” in “TELEKINESIS,” “It's lookin' like we level through the sky.”
Spaceboy pop is blasting off. And I’m all for doting, futuristic power ballads that artists in the sub-genre are releasing, in part because these songs represent a commitment to something new. Oftentimes, there isn’t a way to understand the absence of emotion, or to grapple with the holes that life leaves when a chapter closes and our surroundings change. But rather than filling this absence, I listen to songs like “Angel Baby” and revel in the beauty of my own vast emptiness, in the same way that we celebrate the emptiness of outer space.
Spaceboy pop savors the nowhere: it eclipses the earthly, floats to the beyond, and finds joy in the infinite cosmos of our own minds. Whenever I give it a listen, I’m blasting off too.