If you’ve ever ventured into the stan-infested waters of the musicsphere on Twitter, you know it can often be an eye-opening and terrifying exercise. But the next time you roll your eyes at a passionate and sharp-tongued diss from one fandom to another, take heed because that fan might just become your next favourite pop star one day.
Catherine Slater, better known today as Slayyyter, spent her teenage years hiding behind the OneDirection fan account, @harrys_anaconda. She’s since changed gears, updating the handle with her current onstage moniker, but has dedicated her entire life to studying pop culture online — what makes it tick and, most importantly, how to attract attention.
Slater grew up idolizing the hyperfeminine and colourful personalities of celebrities in the early 2000s – think Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Pamela Anderson. Now the rising pop singer is repurposing their eye-popping aesthetics and godlike auras for the social media era. Blending them with a sarcastic and shareable online presence Slayyyter is able to humanize the once obscure and unattainable pop star personas that once seemed so out of reach. “I used to spend all day on Twitter, which might not be the healthiest thing but it definitely helped me out,” she says. “When I first started out, I was recording songs in my closet, but I was really good at meme culture and getting people to share my music.”
Slater confesses that a part of her is somewhat disheartened that the “air of mystery” has partially vanished from celebrity culture, but she appreciates the community of like-minded fans to joke around with. Slater’s high-octane hyperpop sound, lovingly mocking early 2000s pop tropes with lyrics that would make Cardi B blush, has turned her into an icon for anyone that loves their pop music neon-coloured, at its most shamelessly brash and confident.
Like many artists in the hyperpop genre – especially those in LGBTQ circles – will admit, the nostalgic aspect comes from a desire to recapture their youth and celebrate the interests they may have had to keep suppressed. For Slater, that means paying tribute to the strong female figures she always fawned over. Although, her definition of an empowered woman may have diverted ever so slightly from that of her Catholic mother’s. “I was always obsessed with icons that were very sexualized and my mom absolutely hated it,” she said. “She was always like ‘Don’t look up to those people, that’s not ladylike!’ But I wanted big boobs and a rock star boyfriend.”
Slater initially got into making music as a liberating experience, never expecting to attract an audience and simply creating to break out of her suppressed earlier life. “My train of thought, which is so funny to think about now, was that no one’s going to see it anyway. I could just be a slut on the Internet, my mom would never see my Instagram or my music,” she says. “She definitely has seen every part of me.”
Although the “Slayyyter” persona was also intended to be a character lampooning the overt sexualization of pop stars, with her debut studio album, Troubled Paradise, Slater is finally letting her real-life emotions creep into her writing. Understandably, the last year and a half have made a therapeutic outlet a bit of a necessity. “I wanted to not limit myself to only writing songs about one or two things,” she says. “Writing is so therapeutic when it comes to having a really intense day, so I wanted to be more vulnerable.”
Troubled Paradise, as its name suggests, is divided into two halves. One contains metallic clinks, rapped vocals, moans buried in the mix and references to Slater’s bleached ass. The other is coloured by sugary-sweet pop tunes, many disguising lyrics about depression and anxiety under driving dance-pop beats. Even Slater’s hair is now dyed half blonde, half dark.
The standout track, “Cowboys,” sees her addressing men who fail to see under the Slayyyter façade, unable to view her as a genuine person to possibly pursue a relationship with due to putting her sexuality on full display. The song once again brings to light the fine line between Slayyyter the character and Slater the artist. There’s still a hefty dose of over-the-top provocativeness on either side, but how she addresses it switches from a playful joke to a key component of her personality. “I think the notion that you can’t be sexual and also thoughtful and emotional is very silly. Those two facets of a personality can exist with each other,” she says. “Hot girls get sad too!”
While it feels like there’s a new flare-up from older generations over pop culture every week – just take a glance at Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s steamy “WAP” performance at the Grammys becoming a major talking point on the White House floor – Slater feels as though more progress is being made every day to normalize and accept sexuality in music. The song was, after all, a massive cultural disruptor that sparked a shift.
“It’s so insane that people are still shocked by sexuality. Everything has been done to death so much in music and pop culture that nothing is shocking to me,” she says. “People are like, ‘oh my god, the lyrics are so vulgar in this song.’ Haven’t we done this like 40 different times?”
Slater names Lady Gaga as a prognosticator for both hyperpop’s campy and chaotic sound and the same kind of tongue-in-cheek sexuality that she strives for, comparing her timeless “LoveGame” lyric “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” to Cardi’s sexual puns. “It’s pretty funny when you take it way farther than it needs to go,” she says. “It makes music more interesting to listen to, and it makes lyrics funny to repeat and memorize.”
At the end of the day, Slater is simply trying to inject some of what she calls the “catty” energy of early-2000s pop culture back into common practice. Nicki Minaj unexpectedly sending shots at Miley Cyrus live on air at the 2015 MTV VMA Awards just might have been the last shady comment of a dying breed. For the most part, she feels that today’s focus on positive vibes is somewhat underwhelming. “No one’s really vocal about stuff like they used to be,” she says. “Sometimes that can be a good thing, because it’s not cool to be a hater. But I love shady diva moments of pop stars, and I feel like that’s getting lost because everyone’s trying to be like – we all hold hands, we all love each other, we’re all friends here. I don’t know, sometimes it gets a little boring.”
Slater’s Troubled Paradise proves that pop artists can be much more than you might expect. And rest assured, she’s certainly never going to be boring.