Maybe Poppy’s Self-Aware Pop Music Is Too Self-Aware

“We may all actually profit from simply giving folks the good thing about the doubt.” That quote comes straight from the mouth of Titanic Sinclair — the ridiculously named producer–director–veritable Svengali determine born Corey Mixter who works with the 23-year-old pop star–YouTuber–oxygenated performance-art undertaking Poppy, in an interview with Cosmopolitan that was simply printed. The sentiment drips with irony, contemplating that Sinclair and Poppy (born Moriah Rose Pereira) have spent the final two years crafting a postmodern hall-of-mirrors persona that the latter wears with seeming effortlessness.

Poppy and Sinclair’s work typically draw comparisons to Andy Warhol (her supervisor, Nick Groff, instantly name-checked the late artist and his frequent muse Edie Sedgwick to the Cut final 12 months), however the meta-commentary embedded of their artwork extra carefully resembles that of Hipster Runoff, the late-2000s/early-2010s weblog that adopted a closely ironic (and, most of the time, misogynistic) pose whereas exploring the blurred traces between indie and movie star tradition at a degree when each have been on the verge of reaching complete convergence.

“Do you ever take into consideration followers?” Poppy asks in a 2017 video titled “Selena Gomez,” certainly one of many bite-size clips piped into the feed of her 2 million-plus YouTube subscribers. “I ponder who has essentially the most followers?” (at the moment, it was Selena Gomez, on Instagram.) In a video from this previous August titled “Should I Get Engaged?”, Poppy proposes the titular query earlier than partaking in arched-eyebrow free-associating: “Justin Bieber is engaged. Justin Bieber might be getting married. Marriage? Justin Bieber. Ariana Grande. Who’s Justin Bieber engaged to?”

From a YouTuber perspective, Poppy’s extremely mannered, ultracontrolled presentation — typically soundtracked by a Twin Peaks–esque swarm of ambient drone — is good in its self-preservation. You’ll by no means discover Poppy in a Japanese forest gawking at lifeless our bodies, or having her channel shut down because of allegations of kid abuse; Poppy doesn’t do “off script,” and amid the problematic chaos that's and continues to be YouTuber tradition, she’s as dependable of an antiseptic as Purell.

If Poppy’s heightened self-awareness appears considerably singular amid her fellow YouTubers, practically each single transfer she’s made to this point as a pop artist has carried clear and up to date precedent. (And, sure, to be truthful: I'm sure her and Sinclair’s out-of-costume reply can be, “That’s the purpose!”) Her debut EP as That Poppy, 2016’s Bubblebath, was an unremarkable replication of assorted sounds bouncing round in pop, from reggae-tinged bounciness (fittingly, she’s signed to Diplo’s Mad Decent label) to “New Americana”–period Halsey. Following the weird ambient album three:36 (Music to Sleep to), her correct 2017 debut Poppy.Computer was steeped within the vacuum-sealed digital pop that postmodern pop-prankster collective PC Music so stridently made waves with within the mid-2010s.

The zippy synths and grating repetition of that album’s opening observe, “I’m Poppy,” unmistakably apes PC Music “artist”–cum–power drink QT’s 2014 single “Hey QT” — itself functioning as the identical commentary on pop’s relationship with know-how and capitalism that Poppy and Sinclair dutifully Cliffs Notes’d all through Poppy.Computer’s ruminations on forgotten passwords and lovelorn odes to laptops. Much like PC Music’s personal philosophical statements, Poppy and Sinclair’s methodology is obviousness (to wit: the closing music on Poppy.Computer is actually titled “Pop Music”). It follows, then, that the sound of Poppy’s sophomore effort Am I a Girl? is clearly indebted to at least one major affect sussed out just by noting the collaborator featured on the album’s penultimate observe, “Play Destroy.”

Indeed, the slippery post-genre sound of Grimes looms massive on Am I a Girl? — particularly, the particle-separator pop of her good 2016 album Art Angels, which threw riff-tastic guitars and city-flattening bass traces within the combine with neon-lit trance motifs and swirling atmosphere in a means that solely Grimes may. At instances, Am I a Girl? sounds a lot like Art Angels that it skirts the traces of complete copyism; the ethereal, expansive framework of “Iconic” instantly mirrors that album’s exhilarating title observe, whereas the trashy guitars that rip via the album’s closing third (“Play Destroy” included) recall the extraordinary void of “Scream,” in addition to the headbanging moments that always accompanied the Art Angels tour.

That Poppy and Sinclair — together with producers and songwriters starting from Kate Nash and Diplo to Sir Nolan (Nick Jonas, Selena Gomez) and Garibay (U2, Britney Spears) — have so ably replicated Grimes’s sound is maybe essentially the most fascinating ingredient of Am I a Girl? As Grimes’s sound has developed over this decade, she’s been an artist typically name-checked as an affect by critics discussing the sound of different feminine artists; when she began her Eerie Organization label in 2015 to launch fellow Canadian artist Nicole Dollanganger’s You’re So Cool, a Pizzagate-esque conspiracy concept briefly took maintain alleging that the 2 have been the identical particular person. But just like Kanye West’s 2010’s output, there’s been nobody thus far who’s really gave the impression of Grimes — a testomony each to her personal Zeitgeist-capturing singularity, and to the diploma of unoriginality that Am I a Girl? traffics in.

Poppy is not Grimes, which is a press release as apparent as, nicely, Poppy’s personal lyrical obviousness. The latter typically makes use of vivid flashes of images and expresses herself with simply sufficient obliqueness that many have been unaware her breakout 2011 single “Oblivion” was about assault and poisonous masculinity, till she mentioned the music in an interview a full 12 months later. Poppy’s makes an attempt at lyrical depth and social commentary — the latter of that are entrance and heart all through Am I a Girl? — are a bit extra easy: “I dance like an aristocrat,” she lilts on the refrain to (you guessed it) “Aristocrat,” which cringingly invokes the “ghetto” and implores listeners to “Do it like solely a poor child can.” The Diplo-produced “Time Is Up” takes on local weather change, type of, as Poppy sings from the angle of an AI-powered being outlasting the remainder of us: “I'll nonetheless survive when the crops have died / And the environment is only a huge gap.”

Then there’s the title observe, which takes on the sophisticated emotions that include breaking past the binaries in the case of gender — daring territory, to make sure, for an artist who sneered “Boys aren’t even boys anymore” on “American Kids” and requested a paramour, “You are by no means within the temper / So come on child, inform me, are you homosexual?” on Poppy.Computer’s “Software Upgrade.” “Don’t consider me as girl or man / It’s protecting me awake,” she sings over a pulsing beat, as hair-whipping guitars crash via onto the refrain: “Am I a woman? / Am I a boy? / What does that even imply? / I’m someplace in-between.”

When listening to these lyrics, my preliminary urge was to take Poppy’s expression of nonbinary gender identification at face worth, out of straightforward human empathy. Then, this quote from the aforementioned Cosmo interview caught my eye, through which author Emily Tannenbaum asks the singer when she took curiosity in “questioning society’s gender constructs.” “When different celebrities began exploring it,” Poppy replies, a attainable hat tip that the problem of gender and identification, which is beneath very actual assault on this nation proper now, is however one other fashionable toy in Poppy’s postmodern playpen. I sincerely hope I’m mistaken about that assertion, which casts Poppy’s stagy detachment in a disgustingly offensive new mild and means that, like a lot of Am I a Girl?, her digital-dreck performance-art pose isn’t practically as fascinating because it’s made out to be.