In the early 2000s, the pop music industry became obsessed with EDM, turning nearly every hit into the audio equivalent of a strobe light: lyrical repetition, brash melodies, and a propulsive rhythm that’s designed for dancing.
Britney Spears went from a kind of bubblegum pop in “…Baby One More Time” to that techno-pop sound we hear in “Toxic.” Justin Timberlake went from teen pop ballads like “Tearin’ Up My Heart” with NSYNC to the heavier electro-pop style in “SexyBack.”
But when Lana Del Rey debuted “Video Games” in 2011 and then her first full album, Born to Die, in 2012, she helped the genre shift toward a moodier, more atmospheric sound. Del Rey didn’t invent dream pop or baroque pop — the genres she’s most often categorized in — but she certainly helped bring it into the 21st century and broaden the pop landscape beyond EDM-influenced beats.
Of course, not everyone is a fan of the direction pop started moving in by the mid-2010s. For those who don’t like Lana Del Rey or the dream pop/baroque pop genres, it’s usually because they find it slow, sleepy, and sad. That’s fair. Not all of us can dance while we’re crying.
But for those who are fond of that slower, edgier pop, here are some newer artists with distinctive voices, richly textured melodies, and just whole boatloads of atmosphere.
This Detroit-based singer-songwriter offers a signature blend of moody dream pop and brash electronic beats. Her songs are what you need if you’re just as likely to dance around your bedroom to Britney Spears’s “Toxic” as you are to belt Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans” into your hairbrush.
After performing alongside a variety of other acts, she made her solo debut with “i could be your goddess” in 2019:
Most of her tracks are heavy, slow, and haunting, like “On My Mind,” which builds up slowly and then engulfs you:
And if you were ever in doubt of her qualifications for being on this list, she teamed up with Sidewalks and Skeletons to release a “Born to Die” cover last year, putting a gritty electronica twist on the Lana Del Rey hit:
The young artist from Liverpool is brand new to the scene, having just released her debut EP Never Too Far From a Dark Thought in 2021 which sets her breathy, emotive voice against a backdrop of haunting yet curiously bouncy soundscapes. Take this track from the EP as an example:
In her latest single, “Equal,” the tempo is a little faster but the layering of instruments and vocals adds rich texture:
Mia Mormino is an incredibly talented and driven artist who writes, records, and releases all her songs herself — and then directs and produces her own music videos to boot. Her songs pair the singer’s rich contralto vocals with catchy beats and memorable hooks that tend toward the dark and haunting end of the spectrum.
She mixes a shot of the fearless, unapologetic energy of iconic female rappers like Cardi B or Doja Cat with a bottle of the introspective, angsty energy of a late-night existential crisis. Take “Mercy” as an example:
Her latest single, “Pour Another,” is a danceable bop with vulnerable yet empowered lyrics:
Originally a brother-sister duo made up of Paige and Chase Duddy, XYLØ became Paige’s solo project in 2018. The singer-songwriter’s brooding dark pop sound gets its unique flair from her experimental approach that gives each track its own distinct genre-bending soundscape.
“Freak,” for example, feels like bubblegum, EDM, and dark pop became a thruple:
Meanwhile, the cinematic and brooding “Neon Crucifix” sits at the intersection of dream pop and synth pop:
Carla Cappa — known professionally as just CAPPA — brings a certain brightness to her atmospheric dream pop tracks. If you want something a touch more upbeat but still dark enough to match your soul, she’s it.
“I do” puts faster but still dark instrumentals behind her breathy mezzo-soprano vocals:
Likewise, “Sux,” is one of the peppier breakup songs I’ve ever heard:
She also released this dark synth-pop version of “Jingle Bells” last year that kind of perfectly captures her unusual mix of brooding and cheerful sounds:
If you want your dark pop to be 95% dark and 5% pop, check out this LA-based artist. DeathByRomy’s sound is hypnotic, heavy, and full of force. It’s the music you put on to pump yourself up before delivering poetic justice to somebody who wronged you.
Her powerful voice drills right into your core in “Day I Die” where a strong heavy metal influence weaves through the dark pop track:
Even on her moodier and less metal-inspired tracks like “Don’t Fall for Monsters,” her vocals are just as hypnotic:
In “I Feel Like A God,” the distortion and deep bass add an edge to the atmosphere that transforms it from the quiet haunting of We Have Always Lived in the Castle to the more aggressive haunting of The Poltergeist: