Wisp Is Pushing Her Shoegaze Beyond Its TikTok Moment

Sophia Álverez / Hendrik Schneider

Wisp’s debut EP Pandora might be the most audacious shoegaze release of 2024, simply because it exists. After all, what’s a greater risk than putting reality in competition with a narrative developed by the online hivemind? For the past year, Wisp has been the semi-anonymous New Face of Shoegaze, a blank canvas upon which nearly 1.8 million monthly Spotify listeners and a much smaller crowd of skeptics could project their hopes and fears for the genre’s future. If Interscope is signing artists like Wisp off one song, last year’s viral TikTok hit “Your Face,” is this the first sign of Gen Z and Alpha rejecting therapy-speak and pop hegemony to usher in an unprecedented commercial boom for one the most ego-free forms of guitar music? Or, is it just proof that no genre is immune from TikTok? Is Wisp an artist that happened to arrive fully formed or, sigh, an industry plant? Or, as some have speculated, a veteran musician going incognito to jumpstart their career?

But when I talk to Wisp the day Pandora is officially announced, she’s simply a 19-year-old with braces named Natalie trying to get decent wifi in a parking lot.

If the influence of Interscope or the pressure to score a second “Your Face” weighed on Wisp, it’s not apparent here. “Every time I wrote something that I thought wasn’t as good as ‘Your Face,’ I would get a little upset,” she admits, but ultimately, the practical desire to have an actual release to tour behind won out; plus, she points out that shoegaze is a genre in which EPs have been celebrated as canonical events.

The resulting Pandora is an assured, reverent collection of sultry shoegaze, albeit reverent of a mutant, distinctly American lineage that likely baffles anyone over the age of 40 – sure, all bloodlines eventually lead back to My Bloody Valentine, but Pandora draws more from the fuzzed-out reveries of Siamese Dream, Hum’s stargazing and the knife’s edge glimmer of Deftones. She claims that both Beach House and Title Fight helped her through the darker times in her life and of course Hyperview, the latter’s once-divisive shoegaze/hardcore hybrid, is her personal favorite.

Nothing about Pandora seems designed to game TikTok algorithms, but it’s about as punchy and direct as you can expect for songs that hover below 80 bpm. This reflects Wisp’s own listening habits, skimming through the “shoegaze” tag on Bandcamp, often determining within the first five seconds whether or not she has a keeper – a process that can seem diametrically opposed to shoegaze’s immersive qualities until you remember how quickly “Only Shallow” or “Vapour Trail” announced their intentions.

Considering what even a viral tweet does to anyone’s ego, Wisp appears enviously, even eerily, level-headed. Her decision to remain anonymous at the outset was not part of a Weeknd-style, protracted multimedia campaign. “If she breaks kayfabe, don’t worry,” her PR rep joked beforehand, although her name was already published in a small college blog interview from January and she performed her two sold-out shows at Los Angeles’ El Cid without any sort of cloaking device (a la Parannoul). As the DistroKid proceeds started rolling in from “Your Face,” her biggest splurge was a new phone; her previous one was actually used to record the vocals from that song. Likewise, as a result of her Interscope advance, “I would just constantly take my parents out to eat, they just ate really good food,” she laughs. “That’s how I treated myself.” Even beyond their approval of her decision to put college on hold, Wisp appreciates how her father helped man the frontline as the bidding war commenced. “When ‘Your Face blew up, I got a lot of phone calls from labels and I would take them myself,” she laughs. “And I remember not knowing the difference between managers and A&Rs.”

Perhaps not every teenage musician has the dream of posting a song on SoundCloud and almost immediately being flooded with phone calls from label execs, A&Rs and managers. But who wouldn’t want to be in the position of Wisp, able to ask every single one of these suits the same question – what can you do for me that I can’t already do for myself?

I suppose that answer arrives in Wisp’s decision to uproot herself from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, a move that seemingly confounds the hazy, heavy shoegaze that she actually makes. “I feel a lot more creative in LA,” she explains, and yeah, the weather, but also closer proximity to her collaborator Max Epstein, the producer better known as Photographic Memory.

Again, practicality wins out as Wisp gears up to speedrun the apprenticeship she seemingly missed out on due to the immediate success of “Your Face.” Her only prior experience playing live music came in middle school when she shifted from orchestra to playing in a cover band that favored Oasis and Black Sabbath selections. For the next month, she’ll be opening Panchiko, a band who emerged from total obscurity to stunning online fame in 2020 upon the rediscovery of an album made before Wisp was even born. “They were probably the first or second concert I ever saw,” she recalls.

Wisp and Panchiko make for a fascinating contrast, one artist that became labelmates with Eminem, Imagine Dragons, and Kendrick Lamar after releasing three minutes of music and another that turned down the chance to relive their thwarted major label dreams at 40 because it involved too much paperwork. Yet, both withstood accusations of being deep fakes or astroturfed artists in light of their path to online fame because the alternative explanation is that of a pure meritocracy – that the promotional muscle of the majors are, at times, powerless against the vicissitudes of TikTok and Reddit users. Besides, even Wisp herself can’t even wrap her head around how to make another “Your Face,” though many have already tried. “A lot of people ask me for tips on how to make music…and I don’t think I have said anything that was super mind-blowing,” although she does have one jewel of wisdom for the next Wisp – “definitely don’t take so many phone calls in one day.”

 


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