by Saffron Forsberg
Arts + Culture Editor
[originally published October 2021]
Galen Tipton makes pop music—well, sort of. Her music is somehow freshly experimental and distinctly referential, unpretentiously sincere, and engrossingly postmodern. Her already ample discography is a vast, thudding landscape of sticky choruses paired with obscure elements more recognizable in, say, noise music than danceable pop. The rules of genre aren’t really her thing. And she’s coming to the Oberlin ‘Sco this month. We talked on the phone about it.
SF: So what can Oberlin look out for as far as a show; what do you think that’ll look like?
GT: Well, a couple things. I’m going to be doing more of an experimental set first, and then I know I’m going to be doing more of a dance set later on. The more experimental…[set]...I’m still playing around with how I approach that side of my music in a live setting, so the plans I have for right now...it’s probably going to be along the lines of some free improvisation stuff.
SF: That’s very fitting for Oberlin. Definitely.
SF: So, for someone who doesn’t know, would you mind describing your identities as far as Galen but also recovery girl?
GT: Yeah! So the stuff I do under my given name, Galen, is kind of...I decided to use my own name as my artist name kind of early on. [And for] a couple different reasons: one, I couldn’t really decide on an “artist name,” I felt like I’d be changing it too much. And also, like, what I do extends outside of just doing music. I do a lot of art, too. Pretty much anything that I feel like is a way that I can express myself in a way that I enjoy I will do. And to do that all under my given name made the most sense to me. recovery girl is more along the lines of the more focused, pop aspect...I kind of look at it as... me restricting my impulses to throw everything but the kitchen sink at something, to really think “ok, what makes this the best pop track it can be?” rather than...like if you’re listening to any “Galen Tipton song” it can be anything from club music to sound collage, so-
SF: So recovery girl is kind of your pop girl side.
GT: Yeah, yeah.
SF: So, how does that kind of go into your mixtape, recovery girl & friends?
Many of Tipton’s recent tracks were released as collaborative work by both her given name, Galen Tipton, and her newer alias, recovery girl. Her music also features many other artists who belong to a similarly snappy, sugary crevice of the modern pop world—names like GFOTY, diana starshine, Lil Mariko, and Petal Supply.
GT: So it’s mostly, like….I had a song blow up on TikTok earlier in the year. And it was some stuff I released a while ago...cutesy, acoustic-type stuff. So it was me kind of consciously trying to emulate that on a pop track...and including my name on that just to be like “ok maybe there’s a slight chance that someone will see this and this will become another TikTok thing”...very much a—I dunno if “cashgrab” is the right word, because it didn’t go anywhere. But, kind of...y’know maybe this could be a thing again. Because that was kind of nice. [Laughs]
Me: So, do you feel like, as a musician, TikTok is a way for more people to find your work now, versus other kinds of social media?
GT: It’s honestly so random. The thing that blew up on TikTok of mine...I wasn’t on TikTok at the time, it wasn’t something I ever expected to blow up on there ever. I was definitely on, like, the more experimental edge of my career. It was something that was totally random. Like, any experiment I’ve done to try to replicate that has fallen through...so in a sense...yes? But I’m not on TikTok very much at all. Because that blowing up transitioned into the most streams I’ve ever gotten on a song.
SF: Oh. Oh wow.
GT: -Which isn’t very much in the grand scheme of things. But it was a lot for me. Which leads to bigger Spotify payouts, which was...like because of that TikTok blow-up it was like “wait I made that much money off that?”It was just like wow...I feel like if I got one viral TikTok song that was actually viral I could just live off that for the rest of my life. Like that type of feeling. [Laughs] Insane.
SF: So, your stuff is widely viewed as “hyperpop.” Is that label you sort of accept or maybe embrace?
GT: Yes and no. If it makes it helpful for people to find my work and find other people’s work like mine that they like, I’m totally all for it. But, while I’m making stuff I’m rarely thinking like “oh, I’m making hyperpop.” Like a handful of times, I’ve been like “yeah, this is the fake hyperpop song I’m going to make to see if I can replicate [the one that blew up on TikTok]...but rarely when I’m making stuff that I’m really serious about am I thinking about that at all.
SF: How did you come to pop music? Were you always into pop or did you do [other] stuff before?
GT: Um, I have not always been into pop. So my musical experience has changed a lot over the past, like, close to two decades at this point. I used to be really into—just lived and breathed—heavy music. And then transitioned into really liking EDM and other stuff like that through college. And when I seriously started making music, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of it as pop, but I still enjoyed...I don’t know...I wasn’t listening to stuff I really would’ve considered pop, but the act of something being catchy and sticky and memorable has always been something I’ve thought about. Transitioning into really making pop music has been like “ok, I’m going to focus on this top-down now. It has to be catchy and [with] a pop structure...accessible-ish, first. And then I can build up around that” rather than “I’m going to make this weird thing and then try to make it accessible as a secondary thing.” If that makes sense.
SF: Yeah, that does. So, you were speaking a bit about music being accessible. When did you really start thinking about that, versus that being more of an afterthought?
GT: I’ve always thought about accessibility...like a lot...in my music. Because there’s a lot of things that I really enjoy listening to that I understand are not something an average listener...or even just many people around me...might like or listen to. The goal of some of my more experimental music has been to try to take all the stuff that I like about this “inaccessible music” and try to bridge it across for people who don’t. So if there’s a really bizarre noise album that I like, how do I take that feeling that that gives me and package it in a way that someone who doesn’t listen to music can also have that feeling? And maybe that’s a bridge for them to seek out other stuff. And in focusing more on a pop sense, it’s been more of a challenge to force myself to see how I’d do in very traditional modes of accessibility. Because I still have this other outlet to do pretty much whatever I want, but like having a more rigid set of rules for myself in some sense can be freeing. I can figure out ways to bend those rules.
SF: Do you think having popular tracks or being viral speaks to that accessibility? Is it kind of like saying “this is accessible, and I can tell because it’s on TikTok”?
GT: I don’t know. I guess. Maybe? The general feedback about the song that was on TikTok was very positive, and it was something that I never intended to be on Tiktok or ever thought would be viewed by millions of people. So I guess it is more accessible than I thought it was. But it could have just been hitting at the right time. There were a bunch of viral videos of, um, people attaching pick-up mics to mushrooms or whatever, and making weird synth sounds...so basically the song of mine that blew up had a really similar vibe to that at that time. It was kind of a “right place, right time” thing. So, yeah, maybe it is. But I also know that...for example, older adults I know in my life, they think what I’m doing is really cool, but I know they don’t actively listen to it. It might be a lot for them. Like I’ve been told by older people: “This is a bit too much..you should pare it down. It’s unlistenable.” [Laughs] and I’m like “well, it’s not for you. So that’s fine.”
SF: Could you speak on your relationship, as a musician, to the internet? Like the constant, like, “this could be viral tomorrow”, “you’re stealing my sound”...that kind of culture?
GT: The thing is, there’s this idea about originality, of people trying to be completely original, and that’s just a total fallacy; not a lot of people come to that conclusion, because we’re always drawing inspiration from everywhere. Like you can be inspired by something, and make something with clear inspirations of that thing...and that’s not you stealing anything. And there are parts of the internet that fully embrace...a sort of “anything goes” culture, like everything is fully accessible, we should be able to do anything we want and make whatever we want. Which is mostly cool, but there are different social aspects to that that still need to be considered. The internet is a messy place. There are people who are fully for what you’re doing and really against what you’re doing, and you can come across those people within the same minute.
SF: And I think, regardless of if the label fits, kind of thinking about hyperpop: I think most people consider it to be “post-modern”, and maybe even snarky at former pop, rather than just being a collage of these references. How do you think originality goes into making pop?
GT: Well, one thing I want to touch on with that...like the people that I know who are really serious about being hyperpop or modern pop or whatever...they’re not being snarky at older pop. They’re really, actually, inspired by that. Everyone I know or who I’ve worked with—even if they make silly, really strange music, they absolutely fucking adore pop music. Like Giant Claw, Orange Milk Records,...I’ll be hanging out and he’ll be showing me a new Ariana Grande record. Like he listens to more pop music than anyone that I know, and like genuinely really loves it. It’s coming from a place of genuine appreciation of the art form, which...there are definitely like some annoying-ass hyperpop kids who are just doing really dumb shit because they think its funny, but I think the stuff that really has been sticking is the stuff that is coming from that genuine place of just enjoying something.
SF: I feel like, listening to your music, there’re some really distinct fantastical environments that you create. I was wondering about the role that fantasy plays in your music.
GT: Honestly, a pretty big role. A lot of it comes down to a lot of media that I grew up on having more of a basis in fantasy, and that eliciting really strong emotional responses in me at the time. I don’t want to say it’s nostalgia, but a lot of that media was video games and movies...and [wondering:] how can worldbuilding come into a purely sonic state? It’s basically me trying to make something as immersive as possible with just sound. A lot of it is very specifically playing to my own interests, at least when it comes to the more experimental, fantastical elements...I’m making it for my own attention span. And a lot people look at fantasy as escapism, but I look at it more like—there are emotions, or feelings, or thoughts, that are sometimes really hard to ease through in your head, but in experiencing a show, or a movie, or a song, those things can become more clear to you. You can work through things you didn’t even know you needed to work through. It’s not escapism. I think of it more as a heightened reality.
SF: Are there any specific influences you see in your recent work?
GT: My most recent full-length under my name...kind of came about–I had a lot of it worked out already, but I’d also recently watched [the 1982 film] The Dark Crystal for the first time. And like, that had immediately had a huge aesthetic and emotional impact on me. And suddenly that soundtrack and world became the vehicle through which I could put all this other stuff. I’m very attracted to things that are simultaneously dark in tone but also whimsical and maybe “made for kids”...I think there are some really complex, interesting emotions that can be pulled out of you by watching something like that...Like how can I recreate these strange, terrifying, whimsical feelings that I’m feeling right now through my music?
Tipton is currently working on recovery girl’s first full-length EP. It’s taking her a long time, because recovery girl is a project of great specificity. We talked about Tipton’s process of mapping out the specific concepts and media inspirations involved in the recovery girl vision. Tipton says she enjoys looking at it like a “moodboard.”
GT: A lot of my moodboarding looks like very long Google Docs full of images and words and…”what if this artist, this artist, and this artist made a song together?” A lot of the work I really, really love is work made by large groups of people. And while that’s been some of my favorite work, I think it would be really interesting to try to make a project totally on my own...but like put myself in different positions. Like, well, “what if I was this artist that I like….what decisions would I make?” A lot of it is just me grabbing random things I see or hear or do and putting them in a folder, and the more I know what I want to do, gradually deleting things. And just wondering: where can I go from here? What does pushing myself look like right now?
SF: Going back to how collaborative you are, why do you think that it’s so attractive to collaborate with many people?
GT: So, the work that I’ve made in-person, with people in the same room….there’s a magical thing that happens when you’re on the same wavelength as someone else...There’s just something so new and exciting that comes out of that. And... how I look at music and art and really any form of creative expression is like...all these ideas already exist, and we’re just becoming conduits to them. And I’m trying to get out of my own way as much as possible to let the work happen. And when you do that with other people successfully, it’s like...this is truly its own living, breathing thing to bring into the world that we couldn’t have done on our own. Online it can go either way. I, in general, enjoy the magic that comes with being in the same room with somebody. But, I live in rural Ohio...it’s not like a ton of options. I’m very grateful for the people that I do know that are close to me. But, a lot of times it boils down to working with people several countries away.
Tipton is based in Columbus. It’s something she laughs about as an artist so dedicated to creative community. She fantasizes about a little town stocked with musicians to collaborate with—to sit in the same room with and cook up some of that collaborative magic.
SF: I’m curious about this little town. Who do you think would live in this little town with you?
GT: [Laughs] Uhhh 100% like Giant Claw...but we already live like ten minutes from each other. Seth Graham—who doesn’t live that far away. I really wish I lived closer to Holly Waxwing, who’s probably like my all-time favorite musician. I’m really happy that we’ve become actual friends throughout the years. Honestly, everyone on DESKPOP...I’ve been in the room with most of them like twice and it was just like...seeing an online community in person together was really cool. It was just like “Oh us being together in-person rather than online really isn’t all that different!” I really wish I lived closer to Space Candy...there’s an aspect of humor and fun in the music that I feel like me and Space Candy are on a very similar wavelength together. I feel like we would get so much out of working together...or just like hanging out. I don’t know.
SF: Whenever I talk to an artist from or based in Ohio, I kind of want to ask about how living in a rural place might affect art-making...if it does.
GT: It absolutely does. I feel like not being based out of a “cultural hub city”...to even make the small amount of ripples that even I’ve made, you have to work a lot harder. There’s not those connections and there’s also not that interest, especially if you’re making stranger stuff. There’s an interest in an underground sense, but even that interest is not as big as in “cultural hub cities.” I often think about like...if I lived in New York or LA like six years ago I feel like I’d be twice as successful with half the discography. In some sense it sucks, but it’s also like when you find those people who you really click with artistically, those connections become so much stronger. I am endlessly grateful that Orange Milk is based out of Ohio. And having been in and out of various DIY scenes and queer scenes and art scenes...all of those scenes are sort of small and feudal.
SF: How was [your first international show] in Germany? That sounds exciting.
GT: It was amazing and I want to go back. [Laughs] The show that we played at—it was actually me and diana starshine—it was a queer festival [Acting in Concert festival or CTM] in this village, and granted, we were in a bubble so-to-speak, just like surrounded by really cool queer art people. Everyone was so kind and very much fucked with what we were doing. It was overall just a really validating experience.
SF: Ok, one more corny question. Do you have a dream collaborator—anybody?
GT: I mean, an honest answer that’s also kind of sad is that I would have loved to work with SOPHIE at some point. But, I know I’m not the only one in that. I think it’d be really fun—I don’t have a specific name—but how, like, Oneohtrix Point Never started working with The Weeknd...some sort of the equivalent of that but with me would be really silly. Like whoever that would be with me...one, that’d be a lot of fun, and two, just hilarious.
Galen Tipton will be performing live at the Oberlin ‘Sco on Saturday, November 13th. She can be found on Instagram @genderlessgenderfulgirl. You can stream Galen Tipton and recovery girl on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Music.