Roma Radz always dreamed of being a pop star, the type that stans obsess over, quoting their queen’s song lyrics in adoring Insta posts – she just never thought becoming one herself was achievable. “The way I was brought up, it was ‘try and follow a career path, think what you’re going to do’, so pursuing music was never in my brain,” the 20-year-old says.
Coming from a quiet UK county like Ipswich in Suffolk stunted a young Roma’s artistic ambition, who grew up in awe of Lady Gaga and Marina, formerly known as Marina and the Diamonds. “It’s just small-town normal jobs, so thinking you can get into music is kind of crazy,” she considers, adding that going online helped her find “a whole community of kids who were obsessed with non-mainstream pop music”.
Escaping to London to study fashion at Middlesex University in 2017 sparked her suppressed creativity. Two years later, a course-required work placement led her to an internship and friendship with PC Music popstar Hannah Diamond (HD had studied the same course years earlier). Roma was a fan of her music, having discovered Hannah Diamond’s 2013 track “Pink and Blue” – a maximalist redefining of “pop” that kickstarted the hugely influential early-2010s hyperpop movement which was pioneered by SOPHIE, A. G. Cook and the PC crew and later influenced US scene-leaders 100 gecs, umru and Dorian Electra.
After sending her CV, Roma became Miss HD’s photography assistant, helping out on shoots with hyperpop-affiliated artists including Charli XCX. It was exciting, but Roma also wanted to be the centre of attention. When Hannah suggested Roma become a pop star for her final-year uni project, also inviting her to join a European and UK tour as her DJ, CD-Romz, everything clicked into place.
Roma’s tutors were sceptical, but she didn't care. She ended up writing a dissertation about herself and created the glossy self-starring Y2K-inspired Hello Kitty-featuring music video for what would become her debut single, the bubblegum cute-pop banger “Boyfriend In Every City”, released in May 2020. Two months later, she released “Like Magic” – a candy-coated early-2000s twinkling pop throwback complete with a sugar rush chorus that would’ve topped the chart had it been released by Carly Rae Jepsen. She also bagged a first class degree.
Roma’s happy with the small fanbase she’s built – alongside her collaborators phonewifey, Worldwide Princess, Mattu and Nathalie Mac (who produced her third single, “Really In Love”) – but is hopeful that her upcoming debut EP will result in her own legion of stans. VICE caught up with her to talk about where she fits into the UK hyperpop scene and why she can’t wait to perform live.
VICE: Hey Roma! Having been a part of it for the last two years, what are your thoughts on the hyperpop scene in the UK?
Roma: I think it’s kinda weird. Because I do fully believe that over here it all began with SOPHIE and PC Music. In my eyes, it’s the main act artists [on that label] like Hannah, A.G. Cook, GFOTY and Danny L Harle who made [the current hyperpop scene] all possible. Then, as other artists started to mimic and be inspired by those acts, it grew into something bigger. The term hyperpop started being used a lot because [other] artists [making a similar type of music] knew they couldn’t really call themselves PC Music because, at the end of the day, it’s not their label.
How do you think the hyperpop sound has developed since those early PC days, then?
It’s so broad that I don’t fully understand it. It’s not necessarily a sound – it’s more of a movement. It’s a wave and community. It crosses over into a genre created by the listeners.
Why is it called hyperpop?
I guess the hyper comes in because… I feel like it means underground pop. It's “you're-not-famous-yet” pop. There’s no rulebook. Who made these rules? Was it Spotify? They’ve created a cult of people that don't fit in a box yet because they're not famous.
Where do you think Roma Radz fits into it?
I feel like the basic bitch of the scene! But I just want to make pop music. I even question how well I fit into it as the trends within the genre itself are constantly changing and evolving. It’s just a constant chain of evolution. Hyperpop fans are so crazy that once you are seen as a hyperpop artist, anyone you collab with or feature automatically gets put into the hyperpop bracket too.
What do you mean when you say you feel like the “basic bitch” of the scene?
I feel like the music I make could be heard on the radio. If people think it’s basic, I don't care; pop is the most successful music. I don’t like how people look down on that - not everything has to be weird. But it’s just because there are very few underground normal pop singers.
That’s why it’s good to be a part of this scene because people won’t find out about you if you’re not in a scene. I’d rather 100 people be obsessed with me than 1,000 casually know my name. I want people that are invested in me and would listen to me every single day.
As a British artist, would you say the UK hyperpop scene is getting as much recognition as those in the US?
I do think the UK hyperpop scene is being recognised globally because, for example, if I look at where most of my streams are, it’s from the US. I think this is true for the majority of other UK artists too.
Hyperpop isn’t really that niche anymore, so I don’t think it’s shocking to me that people everywhere listen to it. PC Music was niche but, through the evolution of artists being inspired by PC, [the sound] has widened so far out that parts of almost every music genre can be found within hyperpop.
What are the main differences between the US and UK scene?
The main difference is that, in the US, they don’t know as much about the PC Music influence. And I think some people get confused by autotune. Lots of autotune doesn’t necessarily equal hyperpop. Or does it? But I feel like that’s a whole other conversation. Also, I feel like it’s the producers who really own and run the US hyperpop scene. In the UK, I don’t think the producers get as much glorification – it’s the singers. The US scene is also influenced more by emo-rap than pop music – stuff like Lil Peep, Bladee and Yung Lean.
Where do you think hyperpop is heading?
It’s something that is growing rapidly and is something much bigger than any of us. It’s definitely the fastest breeding genre right now, I’d say.
How has lockdown and not being able to play shows affected you?
When you can’t see anyone, it feels like you're just shouting into nothing. Because you really are just putting your opinion out into the internet. People could care or they might not.
What’s coming next from Roma Radz?
I’m working on the release of my debut EP but it’s been pushed back. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t helping as I can’t work with people IRL, but my mental state has been holding me back a lot. I feel like there’s so much pressure and competition within this scene that I feel anxious most of the time leading up to releasing anything new. But I just have to push through that and believe in myself more!
After that, I want each project to be a different era. I don’t want to be trapped in a box, because I haven’t tried everything yet. And, like everybody, I just want to get out there. If COVID wasn’t a thing, maybe I could have done my own singing shows. Now, I feel like I’m totally ready. I can’t show the fun performance side of me when I’m alone in my bedroom!