Before 2019, Alice Longyu Gao was known in downtown Manhattan clubs for her Harajuku-inspired fashion sense, energetic DJ sets, and, occasionally, releasing music that sought to translate her jester-like personality into well-written pop songs. Then, her song “Rich Bitch Juice,” produced by 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady, raised the stakes. Its menacing synths sounded like a demented nursery toy. Gao’s delivery, like an irritated heiress—“Some people say I look very sad/I’m just having my resting bitch face”—was comically relatable. Most importantly, its chanted hook was hypnotically catchy.
Suddenly, Gao’s absurdist take on pop music was in line with a freshly popular hyperpop scene, characterized by heavily autotuned vocals, trap beats, mechanical clanks, and an electro-maximalist production. But after the initial sugar rush, things quickly became more angsty, and the next generation of artists like Glaive and ericdoa doubled down on moody subject matter and emotive singing, far from the campy rapping and simple melodic hooks of Gao’s early material. Her first standalone EP, High Dragon and Universe, including none of her early singles, reintroduces Gao as a chaotic party starter. In a scene mostly built by teenagers holed up in bedroom studios, she made her name yelling on top of the DJ booth in an assless rococo dress, which is the same attitude she brings to her music. It is exhilarating and unabashedly silly. Highlights like “DTM” and “Bleeding in the Studio”—the latter co-produced by Gao, who normally outsources beats—smooth out her rougher edges without sacrificing her eccentric personality.
“Kanpai,” which means cheers in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, is her strongest song yet. Sugary to the point of being grating, its childlike chorus brings to mind SOPHIE’s “Bipp.” But “Kanpai” sets a benchmark the rest of the release can’t live up to. For the first time, Gao sounds like she is glomming onto trends: Chugging guitars lifted from the 2000s pop-punk bands like Sum 41? Straight from the 100 gecs playbook. Trap hi-hats and bass? Check. High BPMs borrowed from nightcore edits? Textbook.
What saves Gao’s music from being formulaic is her confidence and humor. “I’m your teacher, you’re suspended!” she yells on “100 Boyfriends.” She raps and sings with a madcap twinkle in her eyes as she takes aim at her peers at the Soho House or at the rave: “Pretty white boy got hella issues,” she mocks in a baby voice on “Never Coming Back.” Before the dubstep-esque breakdown on “DTM,” she shouts, “Skrillex!”
High Dragon and Universe is a good translation of Gao’s personality but falters when it tampers her star power and hooks with the angst of the moment. “Underrated Popstar” is Gao’s entry in the time-honored tradition of songs about internet trolls. “Shut up! Keep streaming my song,” Gao barks before spiraling on the bridge: “What do I do if I never pop off? Fold tacky sock at the local Walmart?” It’s a jokey send up of stan culture and the pressure on young artists. But even as she mocks these expectations and genre conventions, Gao still hasn’t quite found a way to move beyond them.
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