Arts & Entertainment

ARTIST REVIEW: Porter Robinson, the ‘anime boy’ with the pretty tunes

Beloved EDM artist Porter Robinson continues to grow alongside his fans after influencing the electronic community with his nostalgic sound and anime-inspired aesthetics. 

Passing years have brought forth significant change in pop culture media. Specifically, it seems like many shunned subcultures and hobbies are now popular., two of these being anime and the EDM (electronic dance music) scene. I’ve personally decided to ask why this is, and I found that artists seemed to have great influence in making this possible. One of these is the prestigious EDM artist, Porter Robinson.  

Porter Weston Robinson is a record producer, DJ, singer and songwriter from Atlanta, Georgia. Not much is known about Robinson’s childhood, but his music career began at the early age of twelve. He was entirely self-taught and had an immediate interest in creating EDM music. It was during these first few years that he met and became close friends with Madeon, another greatly influential and talented EDM producer.  

In 2011, Robinson signed a record deal with Skrillex’s label, “Owlsa,” showing that he had already garnered the attention of some of the biggest figures in modern EDM as early as his first year in the business. It was through this first record deal that Robinson was able to drop his first EP, “Spitfire.” Upon the moment of its release, the EP topped the iTunes Dance chart. Beatport – an exclusively electronic music chart – also awarded Robinson with the number one spot right after its release. The album garnered so much heavy traffic on the Beatport website that it made the entire site crash.  

Later on in 2012, Robinson co-wrote a song alongside Zedd, this being none other than Zedd’s greatest hit, “Clarity.” At the time of its release, the song became an instant hit, appreciated by both the EDM community and mainstream pop media listeners. It’s now known as one of the most iconic and well-loved EDM tracks ever produced, and can always be found playing in clubs, music festivals and raves.  

Robinson’s debut album was released in 2014 through Astralwerks and Virgin EMI. Unlike most EDM artists up until that point, Porter Robinson’s “Worlds” aimed to evoke softer emotions in its listeners. Robinson disclosed that “Worlds” was meant to encapsulate nostalgia. “Sad Machine” became this album’s biggest hit, and his first experience with vocals. It was also through this song that he brought forward an entirely new technology that would forever alter the EDM genre: the Vocaloid voice bank.  

For those that aren’t aware, Vocaloid is a software music production program that can be purchased and used to synthesize vocals with the voice banks of your choice. If you Google Vocaloid though, you’ll most likely be met with anime characters. One of these is Hatsune Miku, one of Japan’s most popular anime characters and a J-Pop idol.  

Porter used the Avanna voice bank for “Worlds” and continued to use other voice banks in later songs. In 2016, Porter released “Shelter”, perhaps his most popular song to date. This single was his first collaboration with his dear friend Madeon, and was meant to be a heartwarming song about protecting and caring for loved ones. This song was also accompanied by a gorgeous, animated music video that Robinson and Madeon directed alongside Crunchyroll, the world’s most popular anime streaming website.  

Promotional image and cover art for “Cheerleader”, Porter Robinson’s newest single. Photo by @porterobinson via Instagram.

In 2017, Robinson seemed to disappear from social media to rebrand. He reappeared with a new alias, promoting his newest EP. The self-titled EP was named “Virtual Self” and captured a different side of Robinson’s production prowess. “Virtual Self” was a purely digital experience that fully utilizes the full spectrum of new wave EDM instrumentals. It was so impactful in fact, that this EP garnered Robinson his first Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording.  

After a four-year recess, in 2021 Robinson came back to announce his newest album, “Nurture.” Similarly to “Worlds,” “Nurture” is an album heavily inspired by nostalgia. But this album chose to dive deeper in that regard. Rather than focusing on the more rebellious, hyperactive teenage years, “Nurture” openly demonstrates the softness of childhood. Delicate melodies with the use of chiptunes and artificially high-pitched vocals, as well as the pastel-colored imagery shown throughout the album art and music videos, show the purity of youth. It’s deeply comforting, even healing, to listen to.  

Now, Robinson is currently working on his third album. Though it still has not been disclosed, Robinson has once again rebranded, updated his social media and has become more active on TikTok. This past March 20, Robinson released this album’s lead single, “Cheerleader,” accompanied by an extremely colorful and vibrant music video. Compared to past works, “Cheerleader” shares the same composition as early 2000s rock and electronica. It’s a more mature sound that is more existentialist and moody. 

I’d compare it to my late teens. The theme of the song is interesting. At first glance, it sounds heavily inspired by emo rock heartbreak anthems, but it’s actually about parasocial relationships. Specifically, it’s about how artists depend on their fans despite the toxic obsessions that might develop during their rise to fame. Adding to the early 2000s glitchcore emo, he truly embraced the anime-inspired imagery, even utilizing cute Kigurumi masks for the “Cheerleader” character. This motivated fans to lovingly give him the nickname “Anime Boy.”  

I’d like to share how important Robinson has been for my journey as a music-lover, artist and even as a writer. His music evokes unique feelings of joy that I rarely experience in music. I was there at the very beginning, and “Lionhearted” made a big chunk of my early adolescence. I’ve grown alongside Porter, and I feel that most of his fans feel the same way. To this day, I still get emotional when I listen to “Shelter.” It brings back memories from a simpler time, but it also reminds me of the love I have for those I hold dear to my heart.  

To close things off, here are a few songs that I’d recommend for any new listeners of Robinson’s work. These are some of my favorites: “Lionhearted,” “Goodbye to a World,” “Sad machine,” “Unfold,” “Blossom,” “Something Comforting,” and “Cheerleader” of course. I’d also recommend listening to the entirety of “Virtual Self,” as it’s just such an enjoyable experience to appreciate in its entirety.  

Porter Robinson’s entire discography is currently out on all music streaming platforms.  

Porter Robinson posing for a photo shoot to promote his upcoming album. Photo by @porterrobinson via Instagram.

Featured image caption: (From left to right) Porter Robinson, Zedd, and Skrillex perform at the 2012 South by Southwest (SXSW) on March 16, 2012. Photo by @Weekly Dig via Wikimedia.