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Happy birthday to the world's biggest genre
On this day in 1973, Clive Campbell, the Jamaican-American "selector" known as DJ Kool Herc, hosted a "back to school jam" at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Boogie Down Bronx of New York City.
Armed with a booming sound system and reggae beats, Herc– a shortened nickname for "Hercules"– commanded insatiable audiences across the South Bronx with his unique looping technique called the "Merry-Go Round." "[I knew that] they were waiting for this particular break," Herc later said, "and I got a couple of records that got the same break up in it. I wonder how it would be if I put them all together."
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The enigmatic singer spoke to Popdust about the creative process behind the "post-genre" sound of her latest record, I Disagree.
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.
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.
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