Music Features

Exclusive Interview: Poppy Is in Creative Control on ​​"I Disagree​​"

The enigmatic singer spoke to Popdust about the creative process behind the "post-genre" sound of her latest record, I Disagree.

"I'm Poppy."

Despite introducing herself countless times in one of her first viral videos, the Internet spent 5 years trying to figure out who Poppy really was. The enigmatic singer, performance artist, graphic novelist, and church leader (born Moriah Pereira) has wielded ambiguity in savvy and eerie ways throughout her artistic career, creating a pastel-hued cult of mystery surrounding her multimedia Poppy project since 2015. Returning with a new "post-genre" sound that melds together shades of industrial rock, nu-metal, and ethereal hyper-pop, Poppy put out her third studio album, I Disagree, back in January. She's never been beholden to a singular sound or character, and her latest project showcases this ability to evolve as she expands her Poppy-verse to new dimensions in one of her most emboldened metamorphoses yet.

Take the music video for the album's title track, "I Disagree," which stars Poppy wreaking havoc at a roundtable of record label execs as she sings about apocalyptic ends and new beginnings. "We'll be safe and sound / when it all burns down," she chimes in a crystalline chorus amid a swarm of doomy guitar riffs before the shot closes on her overlooking a mass of flaming bodies. Despite the seemingly macabre visuals, this song—like many of the others on the album—is as much about asserting oneself against oppressive forces as it is about regrowth in the face of chaos. Out of the ashes is born a new version of Poppy, adding another layer to her evolving mythology.

On I Disagree, Poppy navigates between ethereal vocal passages before launching into thunderous, nu-metal breakdowns. This jolt in momentum can be dizzying at times but on the whole a lot of fun to listen to and definitely a refreshing break from the poptimism direction many singers are heading towards. Her alt and nu-metal influences are detectable enough: Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, and Nine Inch Nails, and even metalcore bands like Norma Jean come to mind. Poppy has been vocal about these influences in interviews, but she also prefers to refer to her latest record as "post-genre" rather than boxing it in as a "metal record." Her ability to navigate between different sounds and styles is an impressive showcase of range, which shouldn't be surprising coming from an artist who has in the past explored everything from synth-pop (on 2017's Poppy.Computer) to heady dark-pop on 2018's followup, Am I A Girl?

But one of the most compelling aspects of Poppy's career is that she'll never lift the veil too high. In an age when almost no personal detail of a celebrity is withheld from audiences, it can be refreshing to see a star who embraces these elements of spectacle, persona, and mystique. Like Marilyn Manson and David Bowie, Poppy is a master of world-building and theatrics. Though Poppy was once notorious for staying in character during interviews, she's since opened up to show her most human side yet.

Enter Poppy's uncanny valley corner of Youtube. Poppy's videos quickly made her an Internet sensation, garnering millions of views on videos like the "I'm Poppy" clip (which now has over 23 million views). She would go on to steadily release a slew of mesmerizing, often A.I.-esque videos that left people equal parts intrigued and freaked out. Is she a computer? A cult leader? The Warhol of Youtube? A surrealist performance artist pulling off an elaborate stunt to critique the pop machine? Well, as she already told us: She's Poppy.

Poppy began to shed her robo-humanoidism aesthetic on "X", the closer to her 2018 album, Am I A Girl? (the sonic embodiment of her former sugary-pop sound meeting a nu-metal sensibility). She also fleshed out these darker, moodier tendencies of Nine Inch Nails-esque rock on her 2019 EP, Choke, which was released on Diplo's Mad Decent label.

The Poppy mythology grew more entangled when she made a public statement parting ways with former collaborator Titanic Sinclair (real name: Corey Mixter), whom she was involved with in the Mars Argo lawsuit. The lawsuit is perhaps alluded to on the track "Anything Like Me," where Poppy sings fairly straight-forward lyrics such as, "I'm everything she never was / Now everyone's out for my blood" etcetera. Although Sinclair did contribute to the album and is credited on a few songs, Poppy's decision to sever ties reflects a new chapter in her artistic career, as she invariably moves towards more autonomy and control over her own sound and direction. She's also no longer working with some of the major labels that she's worked with in the past. Instead she put out I Disagree through the metal label Sumerian Records and is set to tour in support of Deftones in the summer of 2020.

I spoke to Poppy in February over the phone before she headed to perform her Boston show on the I Disagree tour. Read our conversation below.

POPDUST: So I know you're on tour right now. How has it been playing the new songs from I Disagree live?

POPPY: Great! I'm having a lot of fun, and I've been waiting to be able to do this because I have had a lot of the songs for a while, so it's great to finally be able to play it.

I saw that you've been playing a cover of the T.A.T.U song "All The Things She Said," which is incredible. What drew you to that song?

Thank you. That song has been a favorite of mine and I feel like it fit amongst the other songs very well.

In your own words, how would you describe the new sound on the album?

Well, I just call it post-genre, that's what I've been using. It's not any specific genre, as you can tell from the record, so I'd say that's the best descriptor.

When you started out creating I Disagree, did your vision for the album retain its shape throughout the process or did it go through a few different evolutions as you went along?

I just went into the process with an open mind, and I wanted to make an album with no rules, and I think we did that, and that's I Disagree. No rules.

In interviews you've mentioned that this album has a lot of different sonic influences, from Marilyn Manson to Trent Reznor to Madonna. What kinds of bands did you like to listen to growing up?

Nine Inch Nails, Gary Numan, No Doubt, Blondie: I was very drawn to all of them.

I wanted to ask you about the song "BLOODMONEY" and the themes you explore on that surrounding religion. Throughout your career as Poppy, I've noticed that, while your sound grows with each album, these themes surrounding religion and/or devotion continue to crop up. Are you attracted to the aesthetic or visual elements surrounding religion?

I think some religion is fascinating, but [I] also think that people can follow blindly without asking questions. I think any religion needs to be questioned at times, and I think it's fascinating to analyze, but I don't subscribe to any one in particular.

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Can you expand on what you were hoping to explore on "Bloodmoney"?

It's about hypocritical people that are a different way behind the curtain [and] which things are a lot darker behind the scenes and behind the curtain, so that's what I'm expressing.

Speaking of addressing people, the video for "I Disagree" seems to have a pretty clear message towards the established music industry. What kinds of changes would you like to see within the music industry?

That's definitely a complex question, but I don't think there's a ton that can be done in the immediate future because certain people are in positions of power that won't let ideas come through. But I think whenever you mix art and business, there's going to be compromise, and I just feel fortunate that I'm in this position where I don't need to compromise.

While making I Disagree, did you feel like you were in a position where you had more control over what you were creating?

Yeah, absolutely. It was shown to industry people after it was completed, so at that point I didn't take into account anyone's opinion because it was already done. So I did have complete control over it.

"Nothing I Need" appears to preach a kind of minimalism within a pretty sonically maximalist album. Is that something you intended?

It serves more as an interlude on the album. I wouldn't say it was intentional that it was minimal, but it allows the listener a second to breathe, because it is a lot of information as an album as a whole. The message is just being okay with being okay, and it doesn't mean settling by any means; it just means you're accepting things for what they are and things that end...you're okay with it. You're okay with starting over, and maybe things you thought you always wanted are actually things you don't need.

With this new chapter, do you ever feel like you are leaving behind your previous Poppy persona or perhaps evolving into a completely different person?

Evolution. I wouldn't say I'm leaving anything behind, because I think if I was to stay consistently the same it would be really boring, and I get bored really easily.

In terms of what's next on the horizon, I saw that you have another graphic novel coming out. Can you tell me a bit about that and how you got into that medium?

Yeah, I have been always drawn to it, and it just felt like the right time when we launched Genesis I, my graphic novel that came out before my first release. And yeah, I'm really excited for Poppy's Inferno because it comes out in July, and it'll have an album that you can play along while you read it.

MUSIC

INTERVIEW | Add ALAENA to Your List of 'UN-GUILTY PLEASURES'

A Q & A with L.A.'s "Pop-Grunge Princess"

Courtesy of Alaena

"I Get My Way" drops May 23rd... and ALAENA is calling the shots.

ALAENA is proving that a once die-hard death-core metal musician can go pop… pop-grunge, that is, and that's just how we like her. Her 90s pop vibe paired with that grunge grit makes ALAENA unique – her voice eerie, electrifying, and enchanting.

Influenced by diversity - think Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson – ALAENA's music blends genres and styles to create her own sound, finding her place in the music industry, and gaining fans with a taste for something fresh. Named one of PAPER magazine's "Artists to Watch" in '17, the industry is sitting up and watching indeed.

ALAENA's forthcoming solo debut EP, UN-GUILTY PLEASURES, invites the world into her "wonderfully weird mind," and her latest single, "I Get My Way," is set to drop on May 23rd.

In her exclusive Popdust Q & A, we dig deeper into what makes the singer tick, where she has come from and where she's headed. From her songs to her style to her self-confidence, ALAENA is inspiring and intriguing. Pop-grunge has a ring to it.

Credit Dana Pennington

So, pop-grunge? You are bringing together two genres most would consider opposite ends of the spectrum. What about the mixing of the two appeals to you most?

Pop Grunge to me is an overall vibe. I am not a fan of labeling because music is becoming sooo much more diverse. I want to reinvent how people look at dark pop music and that's where the term pop grunge really struck me. I naturally have this essence to my voice that is angsty like you hear in grunge but still holds a bit of pop innocence. Guitars with distortion mixed with a dark bass line and a pop beat backing it really is the pinnacle of my pop grunge vibe.

Speaking of genres, you started out in the business as a deathcore metal keyboardist. Who were your musical influences in your teens that led you in that direction?

Yes, I was in a band called Winds of Plague. Pretty metal. Haha. I was obsessed with symphonic black metal- and honestly, I still am. I love Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, and Emperor. But I grew up listening to it all, which is why I feel like my musical taste varies so much. I loved Britney (still do), No Doubt, Destiny's Child to Marilyn Manson, Korn, Deftones. The list could continue forever! Haha.

Why did you make the choice to embark on a solo career?

I had always jumped from band to band- none of which I started. It was really cool because I was given opportunities to grow as a musician and see the world, but I was missing something. It kind of all just happened at the right time - met producers - made music - was extremely happy - so I knew that this was the step I was supposed to make.

Watch ALAENA's video for "Wasteland."

Now that you're solo and embracing a unique sound, do you take any of the deathcore metal mentality with you? Or is this an entirely different ballgame?

I never changed and neither did my mentality. Actually, I never thought of this before and I'm geeking out having a realization moment thinking about it. Haha. Me playing keys in a metal band with a Mickey Mouse T-shirt on blasting someone like, I don't know, Kesha, on the bus, is now singing pop music with a weird safety pin obsession trying to add screams in her songs subtly whenever she can. I think it is just how I balance those parts of me at each specific time.

You must be beyond excited that UN-GUILTY PLEASURES is complete. If you could sum up the EP in a word (or a few) what would it be?

UN-GUILTY PLEASURES is NOT for the average Joe. Anyone who wants to give me a try I ask you to open your minds and explore these different feelings that my music might give you. One release of feelings I always found through metal was my pent up anger or sadness – stereotypical, I know, haha - but really, how do we express anger in pop that shows that it is okay for you to be mad while letting go of that aggressive energy at the same time? Being angry at someone or the world can bring you empowerment in the end. Don't hide from it!

Can you tell us about the process that led to its creation? Were you influenced by any artists you admire? Who did you collaborate with? Is there an overall tone you wanted to convey or is each song its own entity? And do you have a favorite track?

UN-GUILTY PLEASURES has been culminating for the past year, some songs even longer. I have been developing my sound and sometimes, you know when it's right, its right. I knew it was time to bring together my EP. I was 1000% influenced by old 90s Britney, TATU, Marilyn Manson, and Cradle of Filth. These were my main go-to references in any of the songs that are on this EP. "I Get My Way" is my favorite track along with "Brand New" as a close second.

Speaking of "I Get My Way," your latest single is about to drop. So, tell us, how do you get your way?

I have struggled with this my whole life actually. I was always a "yes girl" constantly telling myself I was getting what I wanted… until recently I made changes in my life and decided to be this strong empowered female that everyone thought I was. It was tough, and it STILL is. But now, I HAVE MY OWN OPINION, I call all MY own shots. If I feel as though someone or something is hurting me or isn't serving me a purpose in my life, I am NOT afraid to walk away anymore. This song though, "I Get My Way," is specifically about a relationship. A guy I was in love with had no idea how to please me sexually or just in general love me right, so I told him he needs to do this or do that so that I can get what I deserve, what I want! But the message flows over into all aspects of life.

Courtesy of Alaena

Your sense of style is a standout. Have you always expressed yourself so boldly through fashion? What inspires you to set your own rules about rocking an "ALAENA" ensemble?

OMG. I WISH I was a fashionista growing up. I was so confused-mismatched… but then I tried to be someone I wasn't - wearing what I thought everyone would think I'd look cool in and STILL felt so uncomfortable in my own skin. The past 2-3 years, I really just stopped giving a f*ck and fell back into my confused state. But it wasn't so confusing anymore. Everyone loved what I was putting together. My roommate always tells me when I show her two pieces of clothing I say I'm gonna wear, she shrivels up inside her body but then when I put it on, she's like, "How the hell did you do that, it looks good." So, I guess my own rules are: don't care what others think, do what makes YOU feel comfortable.

Tell us about your thrifting? If your fans could find treasures like yours, they'd be thrilled!

Haha, I bet they wouldn't be thrilled to thrift with me! I am in the stores for HOURS. I love thrifting so much! I am in Goodwill, resale stores and even the cheaper clothing stores in the malls finding anything I can because I will take it home and just completely recreate it. I would take it home and just completely recreate it with layers, cutting, pinning, and unconventional ways to wear the item.

Name an artist your fans would be surprised to hear you admire.

That's hard, because I feel like my fans I have now know I love bubble gum pop, dark pop, and black metal. But do they know I LOVE Cardi B? She is such a boss bitch. I admire her, her come up, and how she expresses herself.

What's next? Are you touring, recording, writing?

I will always be writing and record. I have my own little studio at home and write at home as well, but I really want to start playing out. That is my next step. Live shows. I'm a visual freak so this is itching at me because I get to combine performance with art. It's gonna be sick.

If there is one thing you want fans to take away from UN-GUILTY PLEASURES, what would that be?

I want the listeners of UN-GUILTY PLEASURES to embrace themselves and who they are. Don't feel guilty for liking what you like. Find your confidence. Embrace what makes you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed and Make. It. Your. Own!

LISTEN:

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | TWITTER | FACEBOOK


Melissa A. Kay is a New York-based writer, editor, and content strategist. Follow her work on Popdust as well as sites including TopDust, Chase Bank, P&G, Understood.org, The Richest, GearBrain, The Journiest, Bella, TrueSelf, AMC Daycare, and more.


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I. I'm Poppy

The first thing to know about Poppy is that I'm Poppy. I am Poppy. Got it? Now say it out loud:

I'm Poppy.

Three more times.

I'm Poppy.

I'm Poppy.

I'm Poppy.

Good. This first section of the article has been brought to you by Doritos®.

II. I'm Poppy

That Poppy is a character born from a YouTube video project, and now a pop singer whose first album was released earlier this season under Mad Decent. The music has a glossy J-pop style—simple melodies over major key synths and little percussion to speak of—and Poppy's voice is doctored just enough to where you can listen without having to engage with her layered lyrical content (e.g. "I fell in love with the man of the future/I've got a thing for my laptop computer", or "Bath salts, start a cult, I'm so adult, that's my style").

The videos are more complicated: ethereal, creepy, hilarious, usually a minute or less. Poppy's generally presented in a medium-close shot against a uniform white backdrop, repeating some nonstarter phrase or following an abstract line of thought in voice-over over lingering synth music. Occasionally in her music videos, the light quality of her tunes and her visceral comedy come together to create a sort of Katy-Perry-on-nitrous-oxide effect.

But past who she is or what she does, if there's one thing you need to understand about Poppy it's that by trying to understand Poppy you've already lost the game. By clicking on and reading this article, you've played right into her hand. By writing this article, I have too.

To write or read about Poppy is to fall into her trap. The character is a logical mobius strip, where the satire comes by virtue of her becoming the thing being satirized. Her online advertising partnerships are both a source of revenue and her playing sellout. Every radio interview and artist profile works on two opposing levels, simultaneously: by publishing this piece, for example, I am at the same time promoting her work and part of it. "Oh Poppy, you are quite strange" I, the surface-level media writer would say, "Why do you have so many YouTube views? What makes Poppy, Poppy? Let's try to unpack this." The more I sound like a CBS morning anchor in the process, the more it feeds the game.

In this sense, it's not sufficient to know Poppy as a YouTube creator, comedian or singer. Poppy is a character existing simultaneously in a state of pop star and anti-pop star. The driving conflict of the project is more than just the videos, the songs, even the satire of internet culture—it's that the ultimate end to the whole joke can only be achieved by Poppy becoming that which she's criticizing: a real life pop star. The punchline is every billboard with her face on it, every single on the radio, every artist profile on a pop culture website (*wink*).

III. I'm Poppy

Fundamentally, the idea is all about isolating the normalized behaviors of internet culture and pop fandom, to reveal the inherent ridiculousness of it all. In some cases, that means constant repetition of a single phrase, or giving a Wikipedia-style take on a basic concept, until the original word or idea is stripped bare of all its original meaning.

Poppy herself is a Taylor Swift ad absurdum. Where pop stars exist in service of their public image, for Poppy there is nothing else. Her manufactured appearance goes past magazine cover model to a near-Aryan level of blonde-whiteness. She isn't just "robotic"—she will openly refer to herself as an artificial intelligence.

By way of example, remember that time Taylor Swift became a Knicks fan for a day to promote her new single? Here's a Poppy treatment:

Poppy likes sports—she likes all the sports, especially the ones you like! When girls like sports it means they're down to Earth. Poppy is down to Earth, and relatable. Poppy is just like you—yes, you! See? She's spinning a basketball. That's something people do...

The character design of Poppy and her partner (or "director") Titanic Sinclair are the highest rung of the satire. He plays the brains of the operation, whether being the leader of the cult of Poppy, or the one controlling the music boards at her concerts. In interviews he's allowed to speak frankly about the project and its intended commentary while Poppy remains studiously on pause until further commanded. The YouTube camera angles, which generally sit slightly above and tilted down at her head, seem approximately geared to Titanic's eye level. The two of them equally lean into their separate roles as subject and object, director and cattle, painter and painted. This is a basic idea—objectification—taken to a literal place. Men act and women appear. A pop star, of course, is all appearance. Poppy can never publicly break character: every facet of her presentation is entirely contrived.

IV. I am Poppy

Poppy's fans have a reputation for being cultish, but under these circumstances you'll be able to see why that's not actually the whole picture. If Poppy is as both a joke of a pop celebrity and a real pop celebrity, the only proper way to be her fan is to be both a real fan and an ironic play of a fan. When Poppy emerges onstage for her November show at Williamsburg Music Hall, the building goes up, because just as Poppy has her cake and eats it too, when a Poppy Seed (read: Bey Hive, Beliebers, etc...) shouts every lyric to 'Moshi Moshi', two things are happening at once: the ironic performance of the "fan" (You love Poppy. You worship Poppy. Poppy is your queen.), and the genuine fandom itself (you actually do love Poppy).

If anything, Poppy's fan base is much more diverse than you'd gather from the Reddit forums. In her audience 20-somethings stand beside middle-aged parents with young girls on their shoulders, and for all the beanie hats and plaid shirts there's also drag and cosplay. The people in front of me dance to everything, and the couple behind me stands watching quietly. I recognize a C-list actor from HBO in the back, and near the stage a woman who by her appearance I could swear must be Poppy's mom.

Charlotte (a mannequin, and Poppy's best frenemy) plays a half hour DJ set to open, after Titanic walks onstage to whisper something to her (and maybe clicks 'play' on their prearranged playlist). She really crushes it on the boards, too—for every new song, a unique clip plays on the on-stage screens, of her plastic hands dutifully adjusting pitch levels and spinning records. The track list runs the gambit from "Africa" by Toto to The Strokes, Akon and "Love Shack".

www.dailydot.com

Poppy's performance is true to form, if not awkwardly unfitting for the setting. Every bouncy song and heavily choreographed dance seems prefigured for an arena crowd, despite being played in a room the size of a small lecture hall. At least half the fans are much more interested in the moments in between songs than the songs themselves. Every so often she makes sure we still love her by baiting a crowd roar. When the show ends and chants of encore start to emerge, Titanic reemerges to address the audience. "They don't want Poppy to do another song!" But, he then says, maybe she can...on one condition: everybody, on the count of three, shout "Monster Energy Drink!"

The after-show merchandise lines run three waves deep. Kids in the coat check line recount all the nuggets of comedy they spotted in her performance. 'Africa' by Toto is again playing over the speakers.

V. I'm Poppy

I'll leave with this: when Taylor Swift looks in the mirror, does she see her self, or her reflected image?

In its essence, Poppy is less an idea or even a robot than a presentation. Functionally, she's a 'Mother!'-style, lets say, hardware upgrade of Titanic's last muse, Mars Argo: even prettier, even beadier eyes, blonder hair and a softer voice.

Where her earliest videos were shot in front of pastel-colored backdrops, in more recent iterations her pale face is so made up in post- that it threatens to fade into the blank white backdrop. First and foremost in any video, song or picture is Poppy's perfect face. She is less I than imago: the mirror reflection, the picture, the pixels on your screen. Even in person at her concert, she hardly seems to really be there.

Magazine interviewers may giggle when Poppy refuses to publicly recognize her human identity, but I ask you: does anyone recognize Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta? What about Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson, or Onika Tanya Maraj?

This is the pop star as an emergent property: not an individual human but an arena performer, not for the fans but of the fans. Your attention, your love, your album downloads—Poppy literally wouldn't exist without you. You all, reading this article—you are Poppy. So please, this time recite it with me:

I'm Poppy.

I'm Poppy.

I'm Poppy.

Now you're getting it.

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