Since last November, when OpenAI unleashed the world-conquering ChatGPT, artificial intelligence has stalked creatives like a malignant doppelgänger. You, a presumably human artist, return to work, and AI is there, drawing your comic, writing your script, acting in your place. Your artistry—your identity—has been replaced by a computer program.
Hannah Diamond knows that feeling. Today, she’s an acclaimed member of PC Music, the influential London-based label responsible for pioneering the glitchy shimmering sound of the genre often dubbed hyperpop. But in 2013, the year she and A.G. Cook founded PC Music, it was just the two of them in Cook’s bedroom, finishing off “Pink and Blue,” Diamond’s first hit, her pitch-shifted vocals like a garage edit of a YouTube Kids’ sing-along: Bubblegum popping into a glittery array of pixels.
After “Pink and Blue” came out and Diamond’s career took off, she began noticing a certain kind of think piece. These articles shared a conviction: Diamond wasn’t real. Instead, she was a model in a pink North Face jacket, and like something out of Singing in the Rain, it was Cook behind the curtain, conjuring “Hannah Diamond” on a computer.
What’s more, when it became clear that she was a (flesh and blood) woman, she says, the hype dissipated. Of course, it wasn’t computers that erased Diamond’s personhood back then, but people: a bro-y tech subculture that venerates some and not others. “Because all of the things that A.G. and I were doing and making with my work at the time, I think people thought they were [ideas] that couldn’t come from a female perspective, a female face, or a female-led project,” she says. From Diamond’s perspective, it seemed as though these people wanted to presume she was a machine (and, by proxy, a man).
A decade later, artificial intelligence is heaving artists into a similar nightmare in which AI replaces human creativity—invited in by greedy corporations.
These fears are not universal. Earlier this month, Creative Commons, the American nonprofit that has long pushed for copyright laws more in tune with modern times, published an open letter signed by artists who work with AI. In it, they address Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), whose summits, attended by tech royalty, aim to pressure Congress to legislate artificial intelligence. These artists, who, in their own words, use “generative AI tools to help us put soul in our work,” are attempting to push back against the rising wave of AI acrimony.
The letter notes that despite its newfound visibility, AI use stretches back years and has lowered the barriers to creating art “that has been traditionally limited to those with considerable financial means, abled bodies, and the right social connections.” It has let people pioneer “entirely new artistic mediums,” furthering human creativity, in other words.
In no art form has this been truer than music, the letter notes—opening with a quote from Björk—as the medium has been using “simpler AI tools, such as in music production software, for decades.” For Diamond, and other like-minded musicians in this lineage, AI is just another tool in their arsenal.
Parallels can be drawn to the early life of PC Music. The question then was: How big of a pop song can someone make with just a mic and a laptop? (A decade later, following the ascendance of PC Music and associated acts like Charli XCX and Sophie, the answer emerged: massive.) The chopped-up vocals of Diamond’s first hits, “Pink and Blue,” “Attachment,” and “Every Night,” she explains, were simply the cleanest way to mask any background noise in the home of Cook’s mother. ‘“When you’re faced with limitations, you end up creating a style,” Cook says.