In Jia Tolentino’s 2019 book of essays Trick Mirror, the then-30-year-old writes about internet culture through a millennial lens, particularly that of a millennial woman. In the penultimate essay, “The Cult of the Difficult Woman,” she untangles the issue of women in the spotlight and our tendency to compartmentalize famous women into good and bad boxes, no longer objectifying women but rather, and maybe more egregriously, viewing them through a new broken brand of feminism as “subjects.”
Harriette Pilbeam, the Australian pop artist who tumbled into indie stardom sometime around the release of her debut LP Keepsake in 2019, cites Trick Mirror as one of many inspirations for her expansive new album, Giving the World Away. It’s easy to see how someone like Pilbeam, now 28, might relate to Tolentino’s message. The internet’s indie music hive, which can often feel like a vacuum where certain artists are glorified while others are shunned and there’s no in-between, has already sorted Hatchie neatly into a box. But on Giving the World Away, Pilbeam sought to take “control of her own narrative,” album press materials say. In the process, she reclaims her emotions, expands her sound and positions herself as an artist who refuses to fit into anyone’s preconceived opinions.
The best example of this transformation might be the edgy, electronica-infused “The Rhythm,” which Pilbeam opens with the line, “Took some time for me to find the rhythm / it’s hard to see but believe in me, it’s within.” Many who have lived through early adulthood, or are still navigating it, can relate to those moments—even if they’re fleeting—when everything clicks, and you can see how past versions of yourself led to the version you’re meant to be. Giving the World Away is largely a personification of those feelings.
But that’s not to say the album is free of nerves and doubt. On standout single “Quicksand,” which leans into the industrial moods Pilbeam toyed with on songs like Keepsake’s “Without a Blush” and “Stay With Me,” the singer admits to “chasing [her] tail” and “thinking about everything [she] never did.” The song hinges on the question of what happens when one does reach that place of self-actualization or whatever goal one is chasing—what then? Does regret dissipate, or linger? “If I had everything I wanted would I want more?” Pilbeam asks. “Would I keep fighting if there’s nothing left to fight for?” She revisits this dilemma on “The Key,” asking, “Do I regret what I wanted? Regret that I bought it?”
While some of the new Hatchie music exhibits a thematic expansion, Pilbeam still delivers her share of the kind of lush, romantic pop that defined her beginnings as an artist. As on her 2018 Sugar & Spice EP, bubbly love songs like “This Enchanted” (which sounds like if an early-2000s teen pop star started messing around with house beats), “Sunday Song” (featuring the perfect love-song lyric “Feel like my heart’s made up of rooms / On each wall, a portrait of you”) and the buoyant “Thinking Of” give Pilbeam extra space to shine.
And the same dream-pop and shoegaze comparisons that leapt to our minds when Hatchie first shared Sugar & Spice are still at play here, too: You’ll find evidence of Mazzy Star on the dreamy “Twin” (during which Pilbeam swoons over “Stars in your eyes / a salty kiss slumber”), Cocteau Twins on the ballad “Don’t Leave Me In The Rain” and Slowdive on the more jagged “The Key.” There’s seemingly a new rainbow of guitars at every turn, pointing us to a glistening trove of catchy pop hooks and moody heartbreak tunes alike.
Like the rest of us, Pilbeam may not have cracked the code to living out the most truthful versions of herself. But if the assured sounds of Giving the World Away are any sign, she’s at least more confident in who she is as an artist. Removing herself from the narrative others imposed on her was perhaps the key to an unexplored terrain of musical ideas. Not content to settle on one style of pop music, but rather preferring to float effortlessly between many, Hatchie is a credit to what is possible within the pop genre.
Ellen Johnson is a former Paste music editor and forever pop culture enthusiast. Presently, she’s a copy editor, freelance writer and aspiring marathoner. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson and re-watching Little Women on Letterboxd.
Revisit Hatchie’s 2018 Paste Studio session below.