On their 2016 debut album as Heaven Pegasus, Ash Hegedus sent lonely lyrics soaring atop frenetically catchy melodies and glassy beats. The self-titled release was a study in compelling contrasts and a testament to how pop songs can supply a glitter-painted antidote to alienation, even if it's just for a few minutes at a time.
Heaven Pegasus's first new single in two years, "Take Control," debuting today on FADER, furthers the idea that an upbeat track can break the spell of a dark mood. Its lyrics are simpler than any on Heaven Pegasus — it's all about partying and finding true love on the dance floor — and its beat is far more aggressive. Hegedus took inspiration from the happy hardcore trend of the ’90s, hearkening back to Eurodance titans like Aqua and Blümchen, who pushed bubblegum pop to a surrealist extreme with crossover hits like "Barbie Girl" and "Boomerang."
"Take Control" comes accompanied by a gleefully absurd music video in which Hegedus leads a trio of cowgirls in a face-off against a gaggle of beer-guzzling, popped-collar frat boys. Directed by Julian Shine and made with members of the YouTube comedy collective Everything Is Terrible, the "Take Control" video is a full-blown sensory assault in the most dopamine-inducing sense, a rave and a rodeo wrapped up in three minutes.
Speaking on the phone from their home in Los Angeles, Hegedus discussed their love of happy hardcore, how they grew up on country radio, and why everyone could use an absurd escape from the horrors of the world.
How does the cowgirl vs. bro confrontation in the video tie into the song's themes?
I'm trying to smash the cowgirl/frat boy binary. I collaborated on the video with a dear friend of mine — his name is Julian Shine. The two of us worked together to bring out that concept. It's just sort of irreverent and goofy. It set up a confrontation that's pretty unique even as far as stick-it-to-the-bros videos go. The video was a strong group effort with some of the L.A. comedy scenes that I'm involved in. I'm a musician, but a lot of my work is steeped in comedy. Almost everyone involved in the video is either in or tangential to Everything is Terrible. They're this found footage comedy troupe — they're pretty famous online for their edits of VHS tapes. I really just wanted to create a piece of irreverent escapism. I'm really into bubblegum music and I hope that I can help to spearhead bubblegum as a trend in pop music, because I think we need it right now more than ever. The world can be so dark and we're all so plugged in and engaged. It's good to be engaged, but it's also good to give yourself time to escape. I hope that when people watch this video, it'll just be three minutes when they can live in a goofy fantasy and forget about their troubles.
Happy hardcore is such a natural fit for your production style. What pushed you to embody the genre with "Take Control?"
I really wanted to start doing a lot more upfront heavy dance music. I got obsessed with happy hardcore in the last few years, and even though I'm not going to work in that style exclusively, I really wanted to become competent in it. Happy hardcore's interesting because it is a music of contrasts. In almost every happy hardcore song, the really vicious sections contrast with sections that are a lot softer and introduce a catchy melody. A lot of happy hardcore songs, even when the lyrics are really upbeat — a lot of times, they have this melancholy feeling to them. That's always been a fixture of my sound.
You star in the music video as the leader of a cowgirl troupe. From Mitski to Oneohtrix Point Never, it seems like cowgirls are having a moment right now. Why do you think so many artists are turning to this imagery?
I've been into country music since I was young. It was something that was played around the house a lot, especially 2000s radio country. It's partially what I was raised on and it's always had a special place in my heart. Country is undergoing a weird but cool transition right now. It's borrowing from pop radio, and there's now a lot of hip-hop-inspired country music. One of my favorite bands is Florida Georgia Line, who have really pushed country in a new pop direction. The line between country and pop is muddier than ever. Along with that, people really enjoy appropriating the campiness of country aesthetics and putting it in their own work. It's classic Americana campiness.