Mel 4Ever didn’t wake up one day and decide to become a pop star. The 28-year-old Alabama-born artist just had a lot of feelings she needed to excavate. On her latest EP, She Culture.1, armed with gnarled, glitched synths and gutting lyrics, Mel doesn’t just excavate, but disfigures and curbstomps those feelings into glorious hyperpunk oblivion.
“It’s all so contingent on my transition and gender,” Mel 4Ever tells NYLON of the new EP. “I did not purposefully do that. I wasn't like, I'm going to do a bunch of music that's centered around my gender and socio economic positioning… I'm a triple Capricorn, so obviously [when] I start something, not only do I need to finish it, but I have to dominate it.”
Mel hit the Brooklyn music scene in 2021 with her single “Big Tits (whoopsie)” an earworm bop about the anxiety and horror of gender dysphoria. Soon after came her EP Tranic Attack, which was born from a period of intense anxiety that Mel coped with by writing down all her “panic attack thoughts” on paper. Eventually, those thoughts started to take the form of songs. She became one of Brooklyn’s most electrifying live acts, performing at local festivals like Bushwig and Wynwood Pride, and opening for acts like Slayyyter.
Now, on She Culture.1, Mel is making music born from settling into her transition, post facial feminization surgery. Its seven songs were inspired by everything from Kesha to Owl City to Eastern European house music to Britney Spears’ unbridled moments of lashing out at paparazzi.
“It changed the course of my life, I no longer was so obviously trans,” Mel says of undergoing the procedure. “But the transphobia that I started to receive felt a little more insidious rather than blatant because I suddenly was a little more passing.”
The EP is born from that discomfort and from having what Mel says felt like violent reactions to external stimuli. Mel wants to capture it all: the discomfort, the anger, and mostly, the scintillating feeling of standing squarely in your power.
Along with the surgery came a slew of new experiences, not all of them good. For example, Mel hooked up with a man for the first time after her surgery and felt affirmed in her gender, but was “freaking out and I was trying to keep my cool,” she says, which is how “So Cool,” a buoyant, twinkly synth pop song, was born. She started hooking up with a guy who wanted to date her, but his friends didn’t know she was trans, which inspired “Go Bitch!” a relentless anthem that plays the fantasy of what she wanted the man to say: “This is my chick/ This the one I ride with/ This the girl I’ll die with.”
Though it may have vocal processing and glitchy synths, Mel doesn’t want She Culture.1 to be categorized as hyperpop, which has become a bit of a catchall label in recent years for any kind of pop music with a maximalist approach, such as exaggerated synthetic elements, including vocal distortion, which trans artists like SOPHIE popularized.
On the first track “J.K. Rowling,” Mel includes a distorted, robotic call to action against a dogged synth beat: “ATTENTION: this is not hyperpop… this is tr***y shit!” While many of Mel’s vocals are processed, she is more interested in discombobulating the genre, of asking what it really means to call something hyperpop.
“Are we all hyperpop artists just because we hate the sound of our own voice and we manipulate it to sound more feminine or in a higher octave,” she says, “Is it hyperpop? What if it was a slow song with the same kind of processing on your vocals? Is it still hyperpop?”
“I'm a triple Capricorn, so obviously I start something, not only do I need to finish it, but I have to dominate it.”
Mel is guided more by a punk sensibility, which is exemplified on the title track, “She Culture,” which Mel describes as “her thesis” and pulses with grinding synths to mimic the feeling of being slapped around by culture — until it resolves in a triumphant chorus that dares you to mess with her.
“The whole album feels so transgressive in a way that I don't even want to be taking on that role, but I don't feel like I have an option right now,” Mel says. “Because when you walk down the street in Brooklyn and you’re getting spat at and harassed and people are screaming at you, they can see your boobs and your bulge, it’s hard to take yourself out of that experience. I go through it rather than escaping it. I’m not living in the clouds. I need to face this head on.”
Despite an aversion to categorizing her music as hyperpop, Mel is, in fact, quite hyper, particularly when it comes to her high-wire live shows where she is known to get naked and spit blood on people. She sees touring She Culture.1 as an opportunity to exorcise some of the demons still lingering in her body: conjuring and releasing them for an audience. She references the ending of the 2015 horror film The Witch, when the witches strip naked and levitate.
“It’s exactly how I feel after I perform. I’ve exorcised it. There’s nothing left in my body,” Mel says. “I can finally float away. Of course I get brought back down to Earth really quickly after that, but that’s how it feels. It’s like church.”
With the release of She Culture.1 not only came the processing of some complex emotions, but a physical move. Mel relocated to Los Angeles after living in New York City for eight years. She’s ready for a change of scenery, and is curious to see how her new environment informs her creativity.
“Right now it's looking very dancey, horny and cute,” Mel says. “I am like, ‘wait, I'm cute!’ I'm not some gremlin on the JMZ train barking at you and holding a jar of mace. I’m like, wait, let me just chill for a second.”