There are a number of ways to tell a breaking gen-Z pop artist these days. There’s the blatant disregard for the caps lock button, where names and song titles appear all in lower case. A TikTok following in the millions, of course. Hyper-specific songwriting that ekes out details about, say, what someone had for lunch, and a supermarket sweep approach to genre. Music composed on a laptop in your childhood bedroom. And an obsession with folk whisperer Bon Iver.
The 21-year-old Chinese American musician mxmtoon has ticked off the list and gone one step further, writing a song named after her beardy Wisconsin forebears in 2020. But this is old news. While she became known for clear-voiced acoustic ditties (on YouTube she posts ukulele tutorials, alongside vlogs exploring her mixed race identity) and songs that evoke the bookish high school experience (viral hit Prom Dress), mxmtoon is already on her second album.
Rising, out this month, colours in her coming-of-age yarns with a more expansive pop palette, deploying Robyn’s crying-on-the-dancefloor mode on Sad Disco and Dance, and even the perky reggae-pop of Lily Allen’s Smile on her knowingly titled Frown. It might seem hilarious for someone born in 2000 to sing about being a (recent single) Victim of Nostalgia, but mxmtoon’s storytelling is strikingly incisive. Phoebe Bridgers fans will surely appreciate her subtle wryness, which undercuts the sunniness, like the smart teen-movie soundtrack gen Z never had.