Published Jan 08, 2020You could spend hours going down the rabbit hole of weird lore behind the enigmatic internet celebrity called Poppy. She is part singer, part surrealist art project, part cult leader, part abstraction of reality.
Since 2011, this socio-philosophical mixed media experiment has amassed millions upon millions of YouTube views for her mystifying performance art pieces, and over the last few years, has evolved into a music career that is almost as hard to explain.
In the latest chapter of this bizarre story, Poppy ditched her glossy electro-pop sound and signed with Sumerian Records, a metal label known as the home of djent. I Disagree announces Poppy's rebirth as America's answer to kawaii metal, although still with more of a pop-centred position than the genre's pioneers, Babymetal.
For this third album, Poppy took influences from Madonna and Air as well as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, creating a bridge between Ariana Grande and Slipknot that no one asked for.
The album is framed as a violent reclamation of Poppy's creative agency. This development didn't come out of nowhere, though. The last couple of songs on her second pop album, Am I a Girl?, showed her affection for the hard and heavy, and the Choke EP followed it up with "Scary Mask," another nu-metal rager backed by the Fever 333.
But now, the outliers are the norm. "Poppy Version X," as she has called herself, feels like the poster girl for a still-to-come generation from a post-irony dystopian future in which Area 51 has been liberated and skeletons have enslaved the human race. In the music video for lead single "Concrete," Poppy holds the mechanical stare of Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina while her band of masked droogs headbang to a tune that William Gibson protagonist Henry Case might hear in a Chiba City dive bar. Part industrial fatalism, part Kit Kat commercial and largely nonsense, it's a Frankenstein's monster of pop-metal, a sick experiment that needs to be heard to be believed.
Responses are bound to be similar: What the hell is this? It's how you're supposed to react, and becoming viscerally upset is playing right into Poppy's hand. Her music has always been humorous, childish and self-aware — shiny, hyper-produced pop made with a giggle and a knowing wink. This is a gimmick, a novelty concoction designed to be noticed. It's subversive in a fairly trite and lazy way, taking two things on opposite sides of a spectrum and mashing them together. It's a mutant like one of Sid's toys — a baby's head stitched onto robot spider legs.
But beyond the overt gimmickry of the singles "Concrete" and "BLOODMONEY" (the latter sounds like she went rooting through Skrillex's trash), I Disagree is often surprisingly unchaotic; Poppy at least knows better than to try to fool you with the same tricks. She gives the band a break on "Nothing I Need" and "Sick of the Sun," and lets a wave of synths and vocal harmonies wash over her. "Fill the Crown" and "Anything Like Me" draw parallels to Rammstein and Marilyn Manson, and the title track along with the one-two punch of "Sit / Stay" and "Bite Your Teeth" offer some lessons in how the Billboard Hot 100 and Headbangers Ball can coexist coherently, if we're being generous. "Don't Go Outside" closes the album with a slow burn that's a little less Slipknot and a little more Stone Sour, complete with one of the most Guitar Hero riffs you've ever heard. The final words on the album? "You can be anyone you want to be."
That's the premise here, really. I Disagree marks a point at which Poppy is offering her middle finger to anyone thinking of holding her back from doing whatever she wants. In the music video for "I Disagree," she and her group of satanic Daft Punk ghouls play to a boardroom table of peeved-looking record execs before gassing them and setting them on fire — a message about artistic independence that's about as subtle as the spikes on her choker.
But I Disagree also functions as an unwitting satire of how far clout can get you. And with millions more YouTube views for music that could plausibly have been cooked up by the Hot Topic marketing team, it turns out that the line between parody and sincerity is still razor thin, and even just the superficial image of aggressive individuality is still quite lucrative. (Sumerian)