Want to find out about pop music? Pay extra consideration to the songs that bubble as much as the plenty, like gases desperately searching for escape, than to marquee artists’ occasion releases.
Take, for instance, the story of “Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head).” Powfu, a 21-year-old rapper from Vancouver, initially discovered its beat on-line — it was by Otterpop, a little-known producer — when he was in search of lo-fi hip-hop to rap over. The instrumental had a loop sampled from “Coffee,” a 2017 music by Beabadoobee, a British singer who’d already had a bit of success making candy indie pop. Powfu accomplished the music and posted it on-line early final 12 months, by no means having cleared the unique pattern.
The web, although, doesn’t decelerate for copyright legislation, and early this 12 months, “Death Bed” grew to become the soundtrack for 1000’s of TikTok movies, many involving younger individuals filming themselves as they tried to kiss their greatest buddy on whom that they had a secret crush. (Results, unsurprisingly, diverse.)
Before lengthy, Powfu had signed a serious label deal. The music’s paperwork was sorted out, turning the illicit pattern into an official collaboration. This summer season, “Death Bed” peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. And the refrain — which references making espresso — was repurposed as soon as extra, in a Dunkin’ commercial.
All of which is to say that an effective pop song — and “Death Bed” is one of the best of this year (or last year, depending how you’re thinking about it) — can triumph over an obscure, afterthought initial release, a not-quite-authorized production, and a selective edit on an app devoted to viral video.
“Death Bed” is sturdy — an nth-wave blend of emo and hip-hop that also underscores how the post-Drake singing-rapping paradigm has trickled into pure pop. This approach powers Powfu’s impressive major label debut, the “Poems of the Past” EP, which is just one drop in the glut of music he has released in the last two years, much of it excellent.
Mostly he writes about fractured relationships, or ones that get fractured before they can even form. He has said “A World of Chaos” is based on his parents’ relationship struggles, and the desire to persevere through challenges. (In one interview, he said he watches Nicholas Sparks movies for inspiration.) There are echoes of the early years of Slug, of the foundational emo-rap outfit Atmosphere, and maybe even more directly, a piercing, sighing vocal tone that recalls Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba and Saves the Day’s Chris Conley.
That’s especially true on “Im Used to It,” which begins with a harmony of coos and oohs and zzzzs, and unfolds into a lovelorn tale about not feeling good enough about yourself except for when one special person pays attention. “I didn’t want to ask you out, ’cause I’m not who you talk about,” Powfu raps just before the chorus, at which point he turns to pained nasal singing: “Your boyfriend’s a douche that thinks he’s cool/And doesn’t deserve a girl like you.”
That dynamic also shapes “Popular Girl, Typical Boy,” which is a “You Belong With Me” for socially reluctant e-boys. The song begins with an off-kilter ukulele-esque figure that’s slow and wobbly, adding to the awkward tentativeness with which Powfu talk-raps his anxieties: “Quiet kid but when I see you do my best to misbehave/Yeah, because I saw once in a movie/These hot girls thought the mean guys were groovy.”
And then there’s “Death Bed,” a seamless blend of melancholy and certainty. What’s most absorbing is how the verses and choruses function in tension with each other — singing the hook, Beabadoobee (the Dido to his Eminem here) sounds reluctant and a little distant, but the lyrics teem with sweetness.
Rapping the verses, Powfu is confident and steady, but his lyrics are somewhere beyond worrisome, as if he’s rapping to his love from death’s doorstep: “I hope I go to heaven so I see you once again/My life was kinda short, but I got so many blessings/Happy you were mine, it sucks that it’s all ending.”
The result is a hopeful song that’s utterly broken at the core, a modern concoction that has the feel of a private diary. It’s exactly the sort of pop song that feels so specifically interior that it could only grow to what it’s become, one broken soul at a time.
“Poems of the Past”