In the grand tradition of Vine, TikTok has become the musical platform for newer, smaller artists to break out onto the world stage and get a serious hit with absolutely no prospect of reliably following it up. It’s hardly a surprise considering how ephemerality is baked into the app’s entire appeal, but for as many global smashes as it’s already spawned, it’s not even nearly had the same success rate at launching careers. Even in the case of Lil Nas X, the veritable poster-boy for just how far TikTok virality can take an artist when Old Town Road became the biggest song on the planet, any follow-up tracks he’s had have drastically underperformed by comparison. So when that brief spurt of fame is funnelled down through the bedroom-pop bubble that’s already primed to burst, it doesn’t leave much hope for continued success in the long term. Thus, that brings us to Powfu, who’s currently in the middle of his upswing with death bed, a fairly unassuming indie-hip-hop song that’s currently on the up thanks to its prominence within the TikTok ecosystem, and from a sample of fellow Gen Z wunderkind Beabadoobee that’s become its most recognisable feature. And make no mistake, this has become a global hit (it’s even been retroactively retitled to coffee for your head to goose up its potential even further), but like so many others, it’s hard to see Powfu replicating that success. For a start, the entire appeal of this new EP has boiled down to the fact of it including both the original death bed and a remix from blink-182, but for a sound as lo-fi and steeped in bedroom-pop tropes as his is, it’s hard to see how his success could transcend beyond the viral push.
Indeed, with the botched release of this EP, that seems even more likely (it was supposed to release in mid May but, for some reason or another, didn’t, and instead dropped two weeks later without warning), but on a purely musical level, Powfu exhibits every possible sign of how this sort of thing just isn’t built to last. poems of the past might tap into the zeitgeist in a way expected of a combination of an artist in his early 20s and major label black magic, and therefore when it’s as unappealing to anyone outside of its laser-focused audience as it is, that’s not a surprise. It’s bad, for sure, but in such an ordinary way, and that’s probably more of a disappointment in itself. It almost feels like an acknowledgement that Powfu is an artist with such a direly limited window of opportunity, and it’s borderline impossible to get onboard with something that like that that refuses to treat aiming higher as even a possibility.
Even then though, when this is effectively the most commercialised approximation of emo-rap possible fed even deeper through a Disney Channel filter, is aiming higher actually possible? It certainly doesn’t seem that way, given that Powfu and his accompanying crew of no-marks can’t find more to do than anchor a very basic, palatable sort of angst in a high school setting and pretend that it’s all so deep and meaningful. It’s not of course, and that becomes established right at the beginning in death bed’s framing of a relationship ending through death in a very The Fault In Our Stars-esque vein, but when Powfu devolves to tracks like im used to it which is borderline a parody in how seriously he plays the teen melodrama angle (not to mention a line like “Your boyfriend’s a douche that thinks he’s cool / He doesn’t deserve a girl like you” which automatically saps away any pathos in a five mile radius), or such an archetypal ‘opposites attract’ template to young relationships on popular girl, typical boy, it’s hard to see what the intention is here besides blatantly courting favour from a young audience who’ll believe this is coming from a real place. As performative as emo-rap frequently is, it’s never as naked as this in how any sort of sincerity is feigned, and it turns Powfu from a non-presence to an outright unlikable one. None of this feels as if it’s coming from a real place, and when the attempt to make it so almost laughably misses the mark in how painfully trite it is, poems of the past falls flat on its face at the only hurdle it realistically needed to clear.
Because let’s be blunt – if the writing is something that can connect, no one cares about what releases like this actually sound like. And yet, in Powfu’s case when he proves so inept a getting down anything beyond the absolute the basics, it draws attention to how little of worth there is in the actual music here. To be perfectly fair, there’s a nice airy swell to ill come back to you that isn’t bad at all, but beyond the odd pocket where it feels like this EP might actually recentre itself, this is just as forgettable as anyone would expect, simply by virtue of using its creaky, homegrown affectations stylistically rather than for any sort of artistic purpose. The crackling production on death bed and a world of chaos is presumably meant to sound warm and intimate but is completely upended very basic beats and guitar loops give it nothing to work with, something that’s exacerbated to the nth degree on popular girl, typical boy where the already tinny acoustic line sounds basically out of tune in how little real form of structure it has. This isn’t entertaining to listen to, and while pandering to the TikTok and bedroom-pop crowds might see a spurt of success, it’s the definition of ephemeral, especially when it’s this bland and lacking in any distinctive quality. Then there’s Powfu himself who engenders so many of the same criticism; he sounds like he can’t be bothered even humouring the idea of effort most of the time (probably the reason why every song is so listless), and with that and his skin-crawling emo whine, he actively seems to have a negative effect on all of his guest stars, barely any of which can actually be told apart from one another on their individual songs. Even Mark Hoppus, the potential source of some form energy or at least levity, sounds as though he’s completely phoning this in.
That’s not a surprise though; where Hoppus actually has a career and standing within the music industry, Powfu is little more than a pretender whose fifteenth minute is approaching alarmingly fast. When death bed drops off after the next inoffensive SoundCloud dreg pops up, no one will ever think of Powfu again, and rightfully so considering the evidence on this EP suggests he doesn’t have a creative bone in his body. It’s flat, lifeless, painfully boring, and clearly thinks so little of its audience that it believes selling the most overdone clichés and passing it off as depth is something that it can get away with. And as if it wasn’t clear enough, that’s not how this works, and the lack of longevity that Powfu is currently staring down is as galling as it gets. Hopefully he enjoys his time as a minor ‘star’ for the next few weeks; it’s the only one he’s ever going to get.
For fans of: guardin, Cavetown, mxmtoon
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘poems of the past’ by Powfu is out now on Columbia Records.