stef — A Glitch in Our Virtual Reality

Pioneering a generation of empowered 20-somethings on the edge of adulthood, stef is single-handedly setting the standard for what it means to create great pop-rock music in an era often applauding happy-go-lucky sounds. The breakout starlet takes her heart’s innermost thoughts and seamlessly translates them into tracks that are almost too easy to relate to. With her second EP, A Glitch in Our Virtual Reality, stef explores personal obstacles, triumphs, and everything in between through a collection of experimental elements and intoxicating lyrics. The project is impressively nuanced and mature, but uniquely remains appealing to listeners of any age all the same.

Structured like a true storybook, the EP is reminiscent of a “chapter” taken from stef’s life expressed in 18 minutes of sonic bliss. Fastened with an intro, body, outro, and a reimagined track serving as an epilogue, the listening experience is exceptionally satisfying — and fans have made note. The EP found immediate resonance alongside pop-music fanatics alike, with stef herself posting to Instagram a screenshot of her work sat between Justin Bieber’s Justice and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia (The Moonlight Edition) on the iTunes pop charts.

While many of the tracks maintain a generally dark quality (in the best way), stef’s created a safe space for listeners to ground themselves before hitting the play button. Song one, “intro.” offers a full meditation sequence. Packed with water sounds, ambient synths, and chimes, it serves as the ideal way to cleanse your musical palette and prepare for a mystifying set. The ease into “i used to build dreams about you.” is truly magical, and for the first time we hear stef’s voice on a comprehensive record since 2019’s Why Do I Laugh When I Cry? EP. Put simply, it’s extraordinarily shameless. Based on vocals alone, it’s evident that the starlet is more confident than ever as a singer. The song pulsates like a heartbeat making it contagiously catchy and raw. Akin to its namesake, she’s also managed to incorporate gentle whispers that quite literally appear dreamy.

A modern-day Avril Lavigne in her fantastical Y2K era, stef makes angst sound cool. In many ways, A Glitch in Our Virtual Reality is a symbol of significant growth for the 21-year-old. Mistakes are inevitable, heartbreak stings, and life is a cycle of endless lessons — luckily stef is offering a hand to hold as we enter her headspace. If you search “relatable” in the dictionary, records like “switch.” and “kickin all the pieces of my heart.” would be an undeniable part of its definition. The body of work shows that sad songs don’t have to be ballads and happy tracks don’t require an overwhelming sense of optimism; if anything, adding a heavy electric guitar is exactly what the radio needs.

Boasting millions of streams already, EP standout “hi, my name is lonely.” takes grit and sharpness to new levels. To be frank, you could tell me it’s fresh off of Billie Eilish’s album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP WHERE TO DO WE GO? and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash. And as if that’s not enough to pique your curiosity, don’t fret. “outro.” is the perfect, all-encompassing final stretch that sublimely epitomizes the project. The ultimate taste test to a stellar EP, it’s 41 seconds you won’t regret sacrificing.