Poppy: These Flowers Aren’t Addictive; They’re Explosive
By the time I receive an invitation to attend Poppy’s album release party at the YouTube Space LA, I am a woman possessed. For a week now I’ve been trying to crack the code to this mononymous, mysterious entity that has taken the web by storm, accumulating over 222 million views on her YouTube channel with eerie, perplexing videos that generally show her in a sterile room repeating phrases in a chipper, robotic voice.
So when I get the opportunity to witness this pink-pastel-colored-Internet-princess perform IRL, I take it, hoping to get to the bottom of this phenomenon by talking with Poppy’s fans.
“The first Poppy video I saw was on a Comedy Central Snapchat story and then I looked up her channel, and I thought it was so odd and off-putting but in a great way,” says 22-year-old album release party attendee Maxamillion Polo. “She’s like this artificial version of pop that feels real in a weird way, and I just kept wanting more and more.” Polo describes Poppy’s videos as a mixture between ridiculing technology and reveling in it.
As I sit through hours of Poppy videos before her performance begins, I pick up on the “mixed messaging” Polo is referring to. Her videos are a satire on modern technology, but she also professes a deep affection for it. For example, Poppy has a three-minute long video on her channel in which she stands in an isolated room wearing a shimmering futuristic dress, instructing her viewers to “delete your Facebook.” Yet the description box below the video directs viewers straight to her personal Facebook page where she has over 200,000 likes, along with information on her first solo tour. So, what’s the message? Delete our Facebook or add her on it?
“Regardless of what the meaning behind her message is,” says Kendall Keffe, Poppy’s newest devotee, “I think it’s a fun one and an interesting one. If anything the message is thoughtful and curious, but I don’t really know what the intention is,” she tells me. “I don’t even think it matters. I think once you put it out there it’s for the listener, the viewer, to understand.” Keffe makes a valid point.
Art, no matter what the intention it is initially delivered with, will almost always transform in meaning or significance depending on who is receiving it. But of course, being a born seeker of truth, I need to know why Poppy creates the way she does. I have no interest in the pretty petals she distracts her audience with. I need to get to the root of it all. As I wait for Poppy to come on stage, I still harbor a bit of skepticism, but the second she opens her mouth to sing it is almost as if the opium from her lungs is scattered across the crowd.
I find myself swaying back and forth to “Interweb,” dancing along to “Bleach Blonde Baby,” and enthusiastically absorbing the lyrics to her Japanese pop-inspired single, “Moshi Moshi.” After the performance is over and I come down from my Poppy high, I speak with other album release party attendees. I leave this event knowing everything there is to know about the cyberspace celebrity’s past.
I learn the story behind Poppy’s connection to her creative director Titanic Sinclair and I learn what steps have led her to where she is today. As I’m getting ready to head home to tell the world who Poppy really is, I catch a glimpse of the woman behind the persona standing in the semi-packed crowd, wearing a millennial-pink jumpsuit and saying hello to her friends. Before tonight’s event, I only knew Poppy through a computer screen.
I separated Moriah Pereira (Poppy’s birth name) from her glamorized persona, and completely stripped her of all humanizing elements. As I look around the venue, it slowly dawns on me that the majority of the attendees at this party know Poppy pre-stardom. They’re here not just as fans but as friends. In an instant, my desire to “expose” who she used to be becomes irrelevant, and I see the real person beneath the meticulously crafted image. And what’s wrong with a meticulously crafted image anyway? Aren’t we all trying to appear as the person we want to be?
According to Poppy, she’s happy with who she is and isn’t looking to press the reset button anytime soon. “I’m discovering things about myself that have always been there,” she tells me as we talk over the phone the weekend after her performance. “I’m just more free with who I am now. I think once you have an open mind and start looking inside of yourself, you start discovering what it is that is your whole self or what makes you, you,” she explains.
There’s no real end in sight. She’s aiming to get bigger, bigger, and bigger. She wants movies. She wants a theme park. “I have a show coming out next year called I Am Poppy,” she tells me with a hint of excitement coloring her usually affectless voice. “And I’m going on tour for my new album, Poppy.Computer, so that’s my next adventure.”
She says the main reason she’s excited to be on tour is because touring is going to give her a chance to be intimate with her fans—a sentiment you might not expect if you watch her purposely impersonal videos: “It’s going to give us a chance to love each other and I want to know what love is,” she says. She tells me she thinks technology has created a different type of love. A more separated kind of love.
“I think it has made us a bit more disconnected because I think we’re all kind of being programmed,” she tells me. “But at the same time, I love the technology culture, and I love talking to my fans on social media, and it’s a very unique connection that I have with them.”
Indeed, Poppy is very connected with her fans, boasting 168,000 dedicated followers on Twitter and over 600,000 followers on Instagram. She tells me the overarching message she hopes to convey to her fans is to make them take a second to ask questions and do things differently. “I just want the people that see my videos to feel like I’m speaking to them. And I want it to be the one thing during their day that makes them very happy.”
There’s no doubt about it: Poppy’s videos, with their inscrutable tone and mysterious messages provide her audience with an opportunity to exercise their critical thinking skills. I confess to Poppy my initial feelings and reaction towards her character and she giggles slightly, almost as if she isn’t surprised by this at all. It seems that the mystery is the point.
And even though I think I’ve unraveled it for myself, for those who are still curious I have to ask: “Who are you, Poppy?”
“Poppy is a reflection of our society," she starts. "[She's] who I truly am as an artist, as an individual—it’s a reflection of all those things combined. Poppy is everything.”
Written by Eva Barragan.
Photographer: Ian Morrison at OPUS Reps.
Stylist: Samantha Burkhart at The Only Agency.
Hair & Makeup: Ashley Kucich using Oribe, Giorgio Armani Beauty, RMS Beauty, and MAC Cosmetics.