Pin It
Addison Rae
Courtesy press / MARCUS COOPER

Addison Rae and a history of plasticity in pop

The TikTok star is finally officially releasing songs from her ‘lost’ album, and in doing so has become the latest participant in pop music’s ongoing meta-narrative

Addison Rae is coming to save pop music. At least, that’s what stan Twitter believes.

The TikTok star announced earlier this week that she was officially releasing some tracks from her “lost” debut album. While the exact songs included in this surprise drop remain a secret, it’s expected that “2Die4” featuring Charli XCX will be included – Charli even responded to Rae’s tweet announcing the release, simply writing “cult classic”. 

Many pop fans may already be familiar with Rae’s oeuvre. Songs from her debut project leaked online last summer, helping shift the perception of the 22-year-old from anodyne TikToker, known predominantly for dancing awkwardly with Jimmy Fallon, to a genuine pop music prospect.

It was part of a shift into the mainstream that Rae was clearly eager to make. While she boasts 88.4 million fans on TikTok and 38 million followers on Instagram, social media stardom had obviously reached its limits: following Rae’s starring role in gender-swap remake of She’s All That, innovatively titled He’s All That, it was announced in 2021 that she had signed a “multi-picture creative partnership” with Netflix, who said that they were developing new films for Rae to star in. (She has two films, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving and Animal Friends starring Ryan Reynolds, coming to the streamer in the near future.)

Rae’s first, and so far only, official foray into music came with her 2021 single “Obsessed”. Released independently through co-writer Jacob Kasher Hindlin’s label, Sandlot Records, she premiered the song live with a slick performance on The Tonight Show. Described by Rae as “an empowerment song”, the slinky Selena Gomez-esque track seemed to flirt with self-awareness: “I’m obsessed with me as much as you/ Say you'd die for me I’d die for me too,” Rae sings over clipped beats and reverbed guitars, seemingly poking fun at the incongruity of her vast online audience, as well as the accusations of narcissism often thrown at social media influencers. 

Whether this subtext was intentional is debatable, although something about Rae’s musical aspirations clearly caught the eye of Charli XCX. In an interview with Variety, Rae said she was working in the studio with the “Vroom Vroom” singer, among others. Charli, meanwhile, tweeted that she thought Rae was a “great popstar”. “She comes with great lyric concepts,” she said. “They all sound like vroom vroom lyrics. It’s super cute.”

Given Addison Rae’s beginnings, though, there was an air of scepticism about whether an individual who, for all intents and purposes, was famous for being super hot, actually had the talent and wherewithal to become a bonafide pop princess. Critical reception to “Obsessed” was also tepid; one publication dubbed the track “embarrassing”, adding that Rae’s vocals “leave much to be desired”. In 2023 Vogue asked: “Was it shallow trash, or tongue-in-cheek art?” 

Perhaps the answer to that question is that it’s both. The music of Addison Rae is an exercise in exploring pop’s plasticity. As deliberately constructed and manufactured as her social media persona, the point appears to be the playful pursuit of sparkling artifice. 

There’s no better example than “2Die4”. With austere production that echoes Cassie’s “Me And U”, Rae sings about a hookup with a tone of impassivity that sits somewhere between Hilary Duff and Hannah Diamond. Devoid of the gasping lustfulness of, say, Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” or Selena Gomez’s “Good For You”, its attempt at eroticism mutates as the sexually charged lyrics become somewhat haunting. As Rae lists different body parts in the chorus, she seems not to be singing about the body of a woman but that of a doll. 

Insouciant vacancy is a hallmark of Rae’s vocal delivery, making her perfectly suited to the machinations of modern pop production, which strips away the texture of a singer’s voice in order to produce a sound that’s almost mechanical. Some singers have embraced these technological advancements with aplomb, using them to craft unrecognisable sounds. On her last album, Madame X, Madonna used electronics to push her voice into almost alien-like territory, while Rae’s mentor Charli XCX is known for treating technology like auto-tune and pitch correction like an instrument. 

With Rae, though, the technique is used less for musical innovation and more to capture a glossy emptiness. She’s the IRL equivalent of Jocelyn from The Idol (minus the sex cult), or the human embodiment of Black Mirror’s Ashley O. In her music is the glassy 00s pop aesthetic of Paris Hilton, Heidi Montag, and even Courtney Stodden. Hilton’s music is, of course, the most well-known of these, and has seen the biggest resurgence in recent years, thanks in part to the exquisite nature of “Stars Are Blind”. The DJ and reality star has even capitalised on this, performing at her first-ever live concert earlier this year alongside Kim Petras. Yet, as with the character she created for television, Hilton’s music always felt conscious of its own plasticity: pop star was just another outfit to wear, as pink and synthetic as a Juicy Couture tracksuit. 

In certain ways, Rae has imitated this method. But while Hilton’s music sometimes crossed into novelty territory (see her cover of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” or “Drunk Text”), Rae’s musical ambitions feel more earnest – as she told Rolling Stone: “I want to show that this is a real passion of mine and not just something that I jumped into and got the chance to do.” 

Certainly, there appears to be more drive; instead of simply signing with a major label, Rae initially decided to go the independent route. In this light, there are perhaps more similarities between Rae and Montag, who used reality TV show The Hills as a platform to launch a pop career (nearly bankrupting herself in the process). In a full circle moment, both have even recorded demos of songs originally performed by Lady Gaga. 

Nevertheless, Montag’s attempt at pop stardom was always tinged with desperation, perhaps owing to the huge financial burden it put on her. Rae, meanwhile, seems to hold pop with a sense of cool ambivalence, especially after her music leaked online.

In fact, there’s an air of hyperpop to Rae’s artistry, not necessarily in the sonics but in her attitude. It’s telling that Charli XCX cited “Vroom Vroom” as the song that most aligns with Rae’s lyricism. A musical punch to the face, “Vroom Vroom” is Charli’s most sonically audacious yet thematically empty track. Deliberately vapid and sugary, it simultaneously sends up and celebrates the processed nature of pop.

The music of Addison Rae ultimately feels like the next step in this ongoing meta-narrative, where self-referential celebrity, deliberate artifice, and mass market appeal are all tied together in the creation of pop music itself. Her participation in this project is, in a way, inconsequential, although it would be naive to assume she wasn’t at least partly conscious of it. In the same way that social media stardom has itself become an indictment of the affected nature of 21st-century fame, her songs are a purposeful evocation of pop’s manufacturing pipeline.

In the musical universe of Addison Rae, life in plastic is fantastic. 

Join Dazed Club and be part of our world! You get exclusive access to events, parties, festivals and our editors, as well as a free subscription to Dazed for a year. Join for £5/month today.