Viral Phenomenon Penelope Scott’s Songs Capture the S–tstorm of Internet Culture

“ OK. This is a tour of Internet polish, ” the eccentric singer/songwriter and TikTok sensation Penelope Scott says over the call from Oregon. “ Ahegao is, in my limited cognition, in the first place a japanese term that has to do with the art of the expression of a girl in a Hentai. It ’ s straight-up the O-face. ”

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She pauses and laughs, before continuing : “ But it gets snagged by western culture and pretty much made into a meme and posted all over the Internet as its own joke about. now there ’ randomness sweatshirts that have the classic Ahegao grimace on it. It ’ s taken on a bunch of unlike meanings. That ’ sulfur kind of why I put it in the sung. I thought it was a very concern way that it took as a meme. But it is lewd. There is an lewd origin to it. So I get why they might ’ ve banned that one. ”

She is discussing her hit song—sorry, one of her hit songs— “ Cigarette Ahegao ” and the direction it took off on TikTok just to get banned on the app. After she posted videos of herself make and playing the song, others shared the sound recording until it was removed from the app wholly ( the recorded sung itself, though, can still be used as a sound ). The genreless ballad reverberates with the disorienting energy of internet, and it ’ s compelling from the begin : “ So like, I guess they call it the sophomore slump/ Always clamant and always drunk. ” These lyrics shine as the centerpiece, though they ’ re surrounded by spurts of menacing laugh and weird voices in the background, including one that quips : “ Hey, incels/ Just have sex. ” Sonically, it ’ s like being inside of a videogame ; lyrically, it ’ s like scrolling a Tumblr meme page of an edgy adolescent girlfriend.

It ’ sulfur no surprise why TikTok users ate this up — and why TikTok admins took it down. The song captures the idyllic effigy of shoddiness that ’ s so frequently romanticized on-line : “ Get thin on smoke and coffee/ Get fat on pie and biscuits/ God bless this perfective shitstorm. ” It ’ s objectionable in its hedonism ; it ’ second casually selfish, coming from the position of that entail, but extremely cool girlfriend who acts like she ’ s the alone person in the world. It ’ s a picturesque estimate of obscenity that approaches the line that separates allow content from inappropriate — but it can still be difficult to know where that wrinkle actually lays from the guidelines for such clips on TikTok. ( Scott says she was not given a specific reason for the audio ’ randomness removal ; representatives from TikTok did not respond to repeat inquiries from Billboard regarding further explanation. )
Scott admits her kinship with the app, where she posts under the punny manage @ itsworsethanithot, is a complicate one, but remains by and large optimistic about the Gen Z hub. “ I decidedly think that it ’ s a very advanced platform, ” she says. “ It ’ sulfur done in truth concern things with how popularity seems to be allocated on it. And I ’ ve seen it launch a few artists into getting noticed which is cool. I think a fortune of people have issues with the censoring vibration on TikTok, but to me I ’ megabyte about surprised that it lets equally much stuff go as it does. When you look into what TikTok is, there ’ s no rationality this platform should have an allegiance to free actor’s line. ”

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Gen Z-ers on the app seem to largely adore Scott for her chaotic lyricality — not everyone can express these Internet ideas in art in a way that feels genuine and accurate. A bad part of why Scott can finesse this is probably because she ’ s a Gen Zer herself, a 21-year-old college student who gained grip through sharing songs that started off as fair part memos .
That ’ s how The Junkyard 2 came into fruition when it was released in May of last year, as an intimate collection of what she considered her best fabric. Scott has been taking piano lessons since she was eight years erstwhile growing up in California, and that implemental endowment is one of the most affect elements on the read. The songs reckoned with huffy subjects — aroused labor, insecurity, healthcare — with razor-sharp wag and worry. even if it was recorded ailing, the brilliance of the write and performance placid resonated. After that, she realized she had to do better, and so she unveiled Public Void in September. She ditched the piano, played with software, and gave her music a texture that was bold, weird, and attention-getting. together, the two projects and Scott ’ s other singles have combined to amass 87.8 million on-demand U.S. current, according to MRC data .
“ I absolutely did not expect The Junkyard 2 to take off like it did, particularly since it was not at all blend, ” she says with a laugh. “ I knew when I put these songs out there that they were gon sodium be impossible to listen to in the cable car in some cases. I just assumed that that would disqualify them from being well-liked, beyond merely the small group of people who would ask me to put them on Spotify. And then people however liked it. I was like, ‘ I actually need to start mixing these songs. ’ ”

Through school, she ’ mho been able to learn a distribute about mixing. She was previously in a music production class where they introduced different softwares to her, and making songs was her homework. “ I decided I actually in truth like it, ” she says about the software, “ and that ’ s where we got the back tracks for ‘ Cigarette Ahegao. ’ ” now, though, she ’ south in three philosophy classes and one calculator skill ethics class. It is no longer an academician enterprise for her to do music ; it is just… something she does .
“ There are parts of having a career that ’ s unlike anyone around you specially in college when most people have no mind what they want their career to be that is identical isolate, ” she says. “ Allocating homework time is difficult. There ’ south this very cool collaboration that I ’ megabyte excited about that ’ s literally with one of my darling artists from concluding summer. I can either do that, or I can write this paper. I have to make that decisiveness sometimes. And the wyrd thing is that sometimes I even pick the newspaper. ”
It ’ s a big come of province for person who just exited her adolescent years. There ’ second besides the fact that, in the context of the music diligence, Scott is more or less autonomous. She fair recently took offers from Zack Zarrillo of Alternate Side to be her coach and Greg Horbal of APA agency to be her booking agentive role. She uses DistroKid for distribution, a bum service used by many DIY artists. It lets her pick a name for a bogus label, so she chose “ Tesla ’ south Pigeon. ”

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Horbal was sent The Junkyard 2 by person on the tour crowd for one of his artists. He thought it was “ amazing, ” and then was even more print with Public Void. “ I was absolutely floored by it. It was one of the more bracing albums that I ’ vitamin d hear in a very long prison term, ” he tells Billboard. “ Both records are raw in very different ways. I think that it ’ randomness amazing watching the arch of her songwriting and production ability between them. ”

When it comes to Scott ’ s growing fame, he ’ s not surprised her numbers are doing so well. “ To me justly now, you get more out of having a song go viral on TikTok than you do from having a sung survive on the radio, ” he says. “ TikTok is the newly way to break a single ultimately. ”
One of the reasons her music fits TikTok probably has to do with the room it flirts with hyperpop, the Internet-influenced, maximalist writing style that catapulted 100 gecs into fame. It can ’ t necessarily be placed within that category, but it surely serves as an charm for Scott. “ I think it ’ s completely fair to say that it has elements of hyperpop although I besides have been waiting for anyone to come up with an accurate description of what my music genre is, ” she says with a laugh. “ I have never heard one that fits. ”

“ Rät ” is the enigmatic hit that actually attracted people, and just broke 40 million streams on Spotify. It became known as the love sung for Elon Musk — the title coming from an old Tumblr post Scott saw that joke “ Elon Musk ” is short for “ Elongated Muskrat. ” “ It ’ s about the larger systems of office that find in engineering and in places that actually worship engineering and initiation, ” she explains. “ I merely picked him as an arbitrary, easily nameable symbol for the things I was trying to talk about. ”
In over 50 thousand TikToks, the birdcall is used for countless different kinds of videos, including ones that involve cosplay, art, and makeup. The pulse beat makes it perfect for a backdrop, and the lyrics grab anyone ’ south attention. “ I think there are parts of it that decidedly hit on something that a bunch of people have not been sure how to discuss, ” she says, ruminating on the song. “ particularly the latent hostility between skill and technology being a estimable thing, and besides the fact that how it ’ second done is truly authoritative and determines whether or not it in truth is good for the public. besides, I think that the element to it of having a belief system that is absolutely rocked at some point in your biography is something everyone can relate to — particularly young people nowadays. ”
It ’ randomness relatable in that manner, but in other, less dramatic ways besides. even if it ’ randomness rooted in this incredibly specific theme ( “ I come from scientists and atheists and flannel men who kill God/ They make engineering gamey quality building complex physiologic / Experiments and profanation in the name of public good ” ), the chorus radiates the general energy of a collapse romance : “ I loved you, it ’ south true/ I wanted to be you and do what you do/ I lived here, I loved hera, I thought it was true I feel so stupid and so used. ” There ’ s space for interpretation ; it can be perceived as a song about unanswered love through the lens of science and politics .
Because Scott reckons with such huffy subjects, she sometimes worries about the subsequent reaction people will have to it — particularly with her single “ Born2Run, ” released in July of 2020, in which she sings : “ And when thots and animals storm the Capitol/ You ’ ll watch C-span for fun. ” obviously when the actual storm of the Capitol took place in January, the song ’ s meaning seemed to drift into troublesome district. The song, though, is clearly from a leftist position, lamenting the current state of healthcare, gun control, and Congress .

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“ It was meant to represent a soar of interest in politics, ” she explains. “ now that the idiom ‘ storm the Capitol ’ has been associated with ferocity, it ’ s not therefore cunning. I had a distribute of people contacting me saying, ‘ Did you predict this ? ’ and ‘ What does this hateful ? ’ It doesn ’ triiodothyronine mean anything. It means I used an action phrase, and the news likes natural process phrases. ”

It ’ s not that the song predicted anything ; it ’ mho just another example of how inform Scott ’ sulfur lyrics are by current polish, particularly the increasingly acute sociopolitical climate. “ I was struck, and inactive am, by the originality of the composition and Penelope ’ s perplex lyrics, ” director Zarrillo says. He ’ five hundred first heard “ Sweet Hibiscus Tea ” last summer and, like Horbal, was amply pulled in by Public Void. “ [ She ] balances intrigue, honesty, and fun very well throughout all her songs. I don ’ t think there are many artists that sound like Penelope, particularly in their early 20s. The lyrics are stream and the soundtrack sticks out. I think for TikTok, it ’ s a perfect match. ”
Though Scott is on the resurrect and can build a wholly team around her, she doesn ’ metric ton want to commit to doing then barely yet. “ For the time being, I ’ molarity pretty glad with the independence that I have, ” she says. “ It ’ south complicated. I decidedly enjoy when I ’ m contacted by people with opportunities for collaboration. But to me that ’ s a identical different proposition than signing full moon on to a team. ”

And, for the moment at least, it doesn ’ triiodothyronine seem like she truly needs more than what she has. Her TikTok fans are loyal, and her popularity continues to spill into streaming services. Horbal is confident about that : “ If whoever ’ second listen to those viral singles find everything else, you ’ re in a big topographic point, ” he says .
The landscape of TikTok is cluttered, and hits are ephemeron, but Scott ’ s strike a unique chord and her image is constantly growing. When asked if she considers that music will be her entire clock time job, she pauses, reluctant to think excessively far ahead. “ I think, for the near future, yes, ” she ultimately answers. “ I ’ molarity decidedly not leaving college for it. But the future couple of years are locked in. ”

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