So goes a lesser-known stan Twitter proverb in the age of a rapidly democratizing playing field where practically anyone — no really, anyone — can find the music they produced in their bedroom on Spotify playlists alongside the big-budget artists who inspired their efforts. In many ways, this more leveled playing field can be exciting. One well-crafted TikTok joke launched the biggest song of all time, and major-label superstars seem to be struggling more every year to capture the zeitgeist in the face of online micro-celebs. Still, from a more cynical standpoint, it seems that anyone with a couple of thousand followers and some pocket cash to burn can feign a legitimate bid at a music career online.
Denver-based singer and rapper That Kid stands at the intersection of these two possibilities with Crush, his debut mixtape following a slew of hyper pop singles that have gone on to clock in hundreds of thousands of streams on Spotify. His monthly listener count currently stands at nearly 40,000 — outdoing his Twitter-based contemporaries by a landslide.
Much of this success can be attributed to his infectious first single “Dial Tone”, a bubbly ode to e-sex that played no small part in launching the star of Slayyyter, who donned a strikingly similar aesthetic across her meteoric rise that followed. Both artists married themselves to a very logged-on, candid sexuality, and their early cover art is practically indistinguishable. The song itself is worth its weight in gay club gold. Still, more crucially, it established essential proximity between That Kid and Ayesha Erotica, an online underground legend with a formidable back-catalog of pop-rap bangers indebted to the music of the mid-2000s.
Upon the release of “Dial Tone” and “BFF”, Ayesha’s other viral hit alongside Slayyyter, she found it incredibly difficult to keep a low profile: many of her unreleased demos quickly found TikTok infamy; her playfully hypersexual imagery led to a barrage of graphic unwanted DMs; and when Slayyyter grew popular enough to garnish Charli XCX comparisons, angry fans doxxed both Ayesha and members of her family.
The continuous breach of boundaries proved to be too much, and Ayesha withdrew from social media and quit making music under the alias formally. And yet, her distinctive sound continued cropping up in the music of a niche sect of online newcomers. Credited under the trollish nom de plume Ms. Cheeseburger, her production appears on several key tracks from Slayyyter’s debut project, seven of the nine tracks on Crush, and — much to the chagrin of those new industry cynics — a slew of amateurish, obvious, Auto-tuned hyper pop from faceless “Twitter gays”, leveraging their minor followings into an audience for music that, rather transparently, had little to do with their own artistry and more to do with Ayesha’s. The style quickly became a parody of itself, the McBling cultural references and cartoonish sexuality fumbled by performers who couldn’t sell it.
Crush is a more interesting case though, an immaculately produced piece of PC Music-adjacent pop — most of which are brand-new collaborative productions by Ayesha and That Kid. It boasts busy, spastic beats and impeccably blends vocoder R&B, Jersey club music, and teen pop to a consistently thrilling end. That Kid’s vocals are processed and contorted in surprising ways, consistently blown into the red, 100 gecs-style. It can be insanely catchy, too — the chorus on “Spells on U” reaches blissful heights while maintaining an icy subtlety, boosted by Mad Decent signee LIZ’s trademark girlish timbre. Moments like these catapult Crush into the league of experimental pop projects like Hannah Diamond’s Reflections and other PC provocateurs.
The vast bulk of the project is flirty and silly, and innuendo is rarely prioritized. High-energy opener “Go Fast” does away with the tradition of key-in-the-ignition car sex puns and goes for broke. “Push me up against the dash, fuck me hard and fuck me fast.” “7 Minutes in Heaven” makes its truly garish “made him cum like a faucet” line seem even more perverted by following it with a bizarre Eurodance hook. A semi-ironic Web 2.0 aesthetic looms large too: there’s a strobing cover of Soulja Boy Tell Em’s “Kiss Me Thru the Phone”, which stands out as a moment of transcendent genius.
Crush like much of the work of That Kid’s contemporaries, considers things that just happened worthy of nostalgic revisiting. It revels in being too online — specifically, too integrated in the sexed-up, psychotic corner of gay Twitter that often makes straight male celebs scratch their heads in those thirst tweet compilation videos. Even the slow-burning standout “Spectacular” has a grimy sheen. “You don’t care how many lines I do,” That Kid gushes with a syrupy delivery.
Some hooks are more effective than others. “Kiss & Tell” attempts to stuff too many bells and whistles into one chorus, and closer “Captain” suffers from a feeling of shapelessness following so many urgent, airtight cuts. But for a project that primarily concerns itself with jarringly graphic casual sex, and does so with a carefree, silly attitude typically only afforded to straight acts (unless specifically intended as a joke), Crush is stuffed full of danceable, memorable moments.
The flaw in the system presents itself on “Taco Bell”, the album’s centerpiece, which is likely the essential track on the project. It’s by far the catchiest song, and the most successful capture of subversive, self-aware parody and genuine, unflinching horniness. The chorus is worth quoting in full for its mind-bogglingly stupid genius: “Baby boy put down your iPhone 3 because I think that there’s a chance you wanna get with me / And boy those spicy nachos, they were hot as hell — just like you / I wanna fuck you in the Taco Bell.” It’s the kind of catchy insanity destined for viral fame, nevermind the bridge that likens one’s nether regions to a Tostada.
The issue is that “Taco Bell” was an infamous Ayesha Erotica demo, the beat, and verses of which made the rounds among frantic music forum stans for years. That Kid knows this, and like Slayyyter, who recorded another well-known Ayesha demo “Hello Kitty” as her career took off, he’s become a more marketable, or at least more willing mouthpiece for the sound and aesthetic that Ayesha pioneered. It’s impossible to know the degree of contribution that went into each song on Crush, but comparing the structure of “Taco Bell” to the rest of the tape, it’s difficult to posit that it was an act of grand vision on the part of That Kid himself.
There’s something to be said for the value of a project that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Crush certainly stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music. For those uninitiated in Ayesha Erotica’s gonzo style, it may serve as a fantastic entry point. But something is disappointing about the facelessness of the project. To associate hooks of this caliber with a more distinctive persona, or one that parts from the beaten Twitter-gay path, might mean the creation of a gay pop star that can sing candidly about sex without being a joke, or without collecting the ire of straight listeners. Pop with this kind of polish can transcend boundaries, but only in confident hands. Crush is promising enough to hold off cynics for the moment, but puts That Kid up to the task of being That Kid, or being just another Twitter gay with an Ayesha Erotica beat.