Whether it was Korn music videos occupying the same MTV airtime as Britney Spears at the height of their popularity, or their shared love of strong melodies and soaring choruses, nu metal and pop have always been bedfellows – happily or otherwise.
It’s no surprise that the impressionable minds of any aspiring artists that grew up during the early 00s would eventually pull these seemingly opposing influences into their own music, considering how ever-present they both were.
Here are 10 tracks that we think best represent the merging of worlds that is nu pop, and the artists raising the flag in celebration of each genre's greatest strengths.
Wagamama Rakia – “Bite Off!!!!”
Pop music is having a Latin music boom, with the likes of Bad Bunny, Rosalía, and J Balvin taking over the airwaves. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Wagamama Rakia take Reggaeton into nu territory.
On the surface, Wagamama Rakia are a J-Pop group, but dig deeper than the image and you’ll find an eclectic rap metal and pop punk band with four vocalists. Wagamama Rakia made history this past April by being the first J-Pop Alt-Idol group to perform at Knotfest Japan.
On “Bite Off!!!!,” the band’s rappers duel on top of wicked, driving Dembow beats, which accelerate the ride into an unhinged neon carnival of bounce riffs that wouldn't sound out of place on Soulfly's self-titled debut album.
Halfway through the song, the ride takes a sharp turn off the tracks. All the momentum gets suspended in mid-air, leaving time to catch your breath before crushing you with not one, but TWO Go! Breakdowns – one for you to dance and pogo to, and the other to open Pandora’s box into the pit.
Demi Lovato - “Still Alive”
Demi Lovato’s journey from Disney Channel alum to alt-pop sensation has been hard-fought and truly a sight to behold in their newest single, courtesy of the Scream VI soundtrack. Blessed by the magic touch of Mike Shinoda as co-writer and producer, her occasionally clunky penmanship is now tempered by Shinoda’s keen eye for lyrical clarity.
Lovato’s brutal honesty is able to reach its full potential as she lays her burdens out for all to see and challenges you to make her day by giving her one more to overcome. Although their recent full-length work HOLY FVCK leans more towards The Pretty Reckless than Evanescence, the intensity of Shinoda’s production makes their powerhouse vocals shine, and is something we’d love to hear more of in the future.
Halsey – “Easier Than Lying"
At the risk of provoking the ire of notorious nu metal denialist Trent Reznor (the brains behind the production of Halsey’s fourth studio album, along with longtime collaborator Atticus Ross), the New Jersey native’s recent output was truly ahead of the curve.
Releasing If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power in August of 2021 as a full body of work with no lead single was a bold move, but one more than warranted for an album bursting with bangers, nevermind the deeply satisfying bite and twist of this outstanding album cut. Over a barrage of relentless drums that eventually merge with the guitar track into a merciless wall of sound, Halsey asserts “losing you is easier than lying to myself that you love me,” which seems prescient in hindsight, as it was likely this pivot in sound that caused her to part ways with Capitol Records.
If recent leaks are to be believed, Halsey had the cojones to squeeze their then-label for $25 million for the full campaign. A high price for an album that would only be certified Gold in February of 2023, but more than worth it for the wealth of material it resulted in. Should they choose to pursue this sound further in the future now that they've shrugged off their major label shackles, we could be in for something really special.
Maggie Lindemann – “break me!” (ft. Siiickbrain)
The third single off 24-year-old singer-songwriter Maggie Lindemann’s debut album SUCKERPUNCH presents itself as a flaws-and-all culmination of rapid artistic growth over the course of her relatively short career.
Lindemann cites Flyleaf, Evanescence, and Avril Lavigne as her core influences, going on record in an interview with W magazine, saying the early 2000s were “actually my favorite time in music, but I felt like I had to hide that side of myself in order to fit this pop princess vibe." In fact, the most apt comparison may be Lavigne’s sophomore work Under My Skin as it re-traces the arc of a growing artist who cut her teeth on pop music before delving into deeper and darker subject matter.
As the album surrounding it bounces effortlessly between nu metal, heartfelt emo balladry, and fiery pop-punk, this despairing ode to toxic love is a brilliant first step in an exciting nu direction for Lindemann.
Dreamcatcher – “Vision”
Industrial sound design. Simple but effective riffs with sharp attacks. Rap verse about being victimized and in pain. Imagine all of those elements together. What band is that?
Chances are, your first guess isn’t K-Pop!
That’s because Dreamcatcher isn’t your typical K-Pop group. Their spiritual roots can be found in the Japanese Alt-Idol scene – which brought us acts like Babymetal and Ladybaby – and K-Pop pioneers Seo Taiji & Boys who in 1994 dropped “Classroom Idea,” an early nu metal song that criticized the Korean education system. Three decades later, Dreamcatcher are acting as necromancers of a lost art; socially conscious Nu K-Pop.
“Vision” is a slayful take on Linkin Park’s blueprint of a slick, techy verse that sets up an anthemic chorus, as explosive as the sun’s eventual supernova. They pair that with vengeful lyrics, crying out about environmental and societal collapse. And what’s better than nu metal to act as a cathartic soundtrack to a turbocharged, capitalist hellscape?
Insomnias – the Dreamcatcher fans – call them the “Face of Rock in K-Pop.” Songs like “Vision” earn them an additional, forthcoming title of the “Face of Nu Metal in K-Pop”.
PVRIS – “Animal”
“When you cage an animal / Their claws will start to show / They're aimin' at your throat / It's time to let them go”
Whereas past PVRIS material mainly consisted of pop rock and synthpop songs about heartbreak and internal struggles, the project’s shiny nu coat of paint has unchained its only official member Lynn Gunn. In the singles from their upcoming first stab at a heavier album, Evergreen, Gunn’s vocals and lyrics have taken on something of a “good-for-her” attitude reminiscent of the swaggering “don’t mess with me, I'm crazy” ego of classic nu.
What stands out about “Animal” is the multi-layered, immersive sound design applied to the performance. It’s driven by a warm, buzzy, descending main riff; the drum samples carry shades of J. Dilla, if Donuts was played through a busted speaker, and Gunn soulfully belts and wails digitized shouts about how she’s uncontrollable and “two-sided like a Gemini.”
Poppy – “Spit” (Kittie cover)
Poppy has always flirted with nu metal and the ever-present allegations, but with her recent cover of Kittie’s “Spit,” she has gone full mask-off. Since rising to stardom from her surrealist viral videos and eventual music career, Poppy has explored the deepest depths of the pop genre, eventually settling on a fusion of pop and metal since her I Disagree era.
Now we find her fully embracing the land of nu-pop as she tackles the legendary nu metal group Kittie, and pays homage to them in an amazing way. There’s no better time to get into her music than now by checking out her absolute ripper of a cover of one of nu metal’s finest cuts.
Rina Sawayama – “STFU!”
When fans of Rina Sawayama heard the first single off of her debut full-length Sawayama, immediately, there were ten thousand wigs in the air. There’s not a single chaotic-neutral queer on planet Earth that could have heard one note from Sawayama’s discography and expected her next step to be a nu metal song like “STFU!”
The British-Japanese Pop star’s voice is comparable to the campy flamboyance of Lady Gaga, as well as the razor-sharp confidence of Britney Spears. That’s a complimentary yet stark contrast to the dirty Korn-esque bounce riffs, though the attitude is fitting for a song that acts as a stiff slap to the face of belittling stereotypes about Asian women.
Rebecca Black – “Destroy Me”
After spending much of the 2010s as the internet’s favorite punching bag, Rebecca Black could be forgiven if she simply chose to move to a cabin in the woods and never be heard from again. Instead, she has spent the last decade or so grinding away seemingly with the goal of making sure “Friday” – the blessing and curse – did not become the only thing she was known for.
Now with the release of her debut album Let Her Burn in February of this year, we can confidently say that she has achieved that, with “Destroy Me” serving as a more than welcome surprise amongst an eclectic track list of hyperpop and dark electronica. Her airy vocals drift over the bouncy drum & bass verses in stark contrast to brokenhearted lyrics that deal with the grief of having her every move dissected and mocked for the amusement of others “cut a little deeper / there’s no reaching the end / watch me while I crash burn again and again.”
She doesn't allow it to get her down for long, though. Heavy guitars puncture the bubbly pre-chorus as Black invites her detractors to “go ahead / destroy me / destroy me” with the confidence of a woman who has been through hell and walked right out the other side.
Alice Glass – “THE HUNTED”
The Godmother of hyperpop’s purely electronic instrumentation may raise a few eyebrows at its inclusion on this list, but everything from her appearance of a 2001 mallgoth frozen in time to her transgressive lyrical content oozes nu metal in all its brazen, shameless glory.
None exemplify it more so than the album highlight "THE HUNTED", whose throbbing bass synths could be swapped out for guitars and feel right at home on Linkin Park’s Meteora. Taking on the role of an avenging angel, Alice Glass decries how a world rife with predators will “drain you / down until you fade away / it’s never enough” with a vocal tone that rivals Chester Bennington’s own in its barely contained anguish and fury.
Gore, trauma, and revenge are common threads throughout Glass’s 2022 solo debut PREY//IV and we are reminded of the toll that a life spent grappling with darkness both within and without can take on a person. No one slices right to the heart of the matter quite like Alice Glass.