There was a distinct period of time in 2021 when the #FreeBritney movement, a fan-led push to get Britney Spears out of her then 13-year-long conservatorship, launched from the fringe corners of online stan culture into the mainstream. Well-regarded national outlets began taking the movement seriously, perhaps fueled by the Hulu documentary Framing Britney Spears. The film allowed us to collectively re-live the early 2000s through the lens of a society who now (mostly) recognizes misogyny in media and the dangers of putting a young pop star on a pedestal.
Most of Gen Z wasn’t old enough to experience the beginning of Spears’ conservatorship and her 2007 “meltdown,” now seen as a rebellion against parasitic paparazzi. But they did grow up on the internet, meaning they understand the dangers of being vilified by the media. Now that we’re living in a time when social media can be both a source of liberation and ridicule, PinkPantheress has emerged as a rising pop star who is reclaiming her image and taking control of how she’s perceived by the public.
PinkPantheress is a 20-year-old UK musician whose success story only could have happened this decade. A year and a half ago, PinkPantheress was attending film school in London and posting 15-second snippets of her remixes on TikTok. Now, she boasts the debut album To Hell With It, a record deal, millions of followers across social media, and over 6.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone. Despite her international popularity, virtually no one knows PinkPantheress’ real name — and she’d like to keep it that way. She rarely even shares photos of herself; of her seven Instagram posts, only half are photos of her. In fact, she admitted that she considered never showing her face until some people online speculated she was white. “I had to set that record straight,” she told Interview Magazine.
The real reason for all the mystery isn’t because she wants to keep secrets. She’s seen the way the media’s perception has impacted artists, and she wants to avoid those downsides at all costs. “I just didn’t want what I looked like – negatively or positively – to impact my music. So that’s why first off I started [by] not showing my face,” she told The Face. Her relative anonymity is also a way of protecting her personal life. As an already shy person, PinkPantheress wants the ability to post freely online without concern about how she’s being perceived. “It’s not about secrecy. I’m avoiding stress and preconceptions,” she told i-D.
Though TikTok’s algorithm typically seems to prioritize creators who show their face in videos, PinkPantheress’ music was compelling enough to go viral on its own. It all started when she began remixing late-90s and early-’00s house music like Crystal Waters and Adam F in her dorm room while procrastinating on assignments, layering her bright, dulcet vocals over tightly-packed beats. The young artist had only been making music for a few years before she began posting on TikTok. Her first video is dated in late December of 2020 and just a few months later, her music was all over the app.
At the time, PinkPantheress remained humble about her increasing popularity, not even telling her close friends until one of her videos was outed in a group chat. But don’t mistake her modesty for a lack of passion. PinkPantheress had been seriously trying to get her music to reach the right audience for months, at first trying to make it big on SoundCloud before making TikTok her platform of choice. Eventually, her 15-second clips turned into 1.5-2-minute long songs, resulting in a record deal with Coldplay’s label Parlophone and a debut release, To Hell With It, which clocks in at just over 18 minutes.
PinkPantheress has offered a simple explanation as to why her songs are short in interviews. No, it’s not an acute commentary on her generation’s short attention spans the media blames on smartphone addictions. Her songs are concise simply because she gets bored writing. “I’m so lazy when it comes to writing, and I’m so lazy in general when it comes to music, that I really don’t like having to write more than I have to, which is actually why my songs are so short,” she admitted in an interview with Complex. She notes that she’ll never spend more than an hour at a time on a given track, even recording one of her songs during the course of a Zoom lecture. “I only ever want to write what I want to write. I never like feeling like there needs to be a section B and a hook and… I just like having the freedom to write exactly the length of what I want,” she added.
So, why does a musician who rarely shows her face and makes songs no longer than 2 minutes resonate so deeply with the younger generation? Well, for one thing, her songs are wildly catchy — and not in an over-the-top production kind of way. There’s a tangible authenticity to her sound, which also translates to offline persona (she oftentimes talks about trying to avoid being labeled “cringe” in interviews). She’s not going to make a five-minute-long song just because her label tells her so. In fact, when fans quip about her short songs, like one commenter under her “Just For Me” YouTube video who wrote, “pinkpantheress concerts finna be like 17 minutes long,” she’s in on the joke.
— pinkpantheress (@pinkpantheress2) April 22, 2022
Much like her guarded public image, PinkPantheress’ music speaks to feeling more comfortable connecting with someone from a distance. A lot of her songs are almost voyeuristic in nature, detailing on obsession with a crush from afar but never getting close enough to admit feelings. Songs like “Just For Me” and “Last Valentines” can act as metaphors for parasocial relationships, one-sided relationships formed with someone’s media presence, which are at times more comfortable than opening yourself up to vulnerability and the possibility of rejection. While PinkPantheress is now on the other side of a parasocial relationship with her fans, she knows the feeling all too well, having come of age as a secret K-Pop stan who would spend her free time in her bedroom editing fancam videos.
Because she tends to sample music from a previous decade, PinkPantheress herself describes her music as “new nostalgic.” Written by someone who was born in the year 2001, PinkPantheress’ music is made to feel nostalgia of a time period she never lived through. It draws inspiration from the best parts of the early aughts, like hyper-saturated vocals and simple beats, while leaving behind the worst parts of the decade, like the blatant misogyny in the music industry (remember when interviewers were obsessed with asking Britney Spears uncomfortable questions about her virginity?). Unlike Spears, PinkPantheress has opted to remain out of the limelight in her young career. Who knows, there might be a time when fans can learn PinkPantheress’ real name. But for now, what we know about PinkPantheress is exactly what PinkPantheress wants us to know.
To Hell With It is out now via Parlophone. Get it here.
PinkPantheress is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.