The Beautiful, Bizarre Future of Poppy

The viral sensation turned Diplo-backed pop star tells Playboy about new album 'Am I a Girl?'

Courtesy: Island Records

As the uncanny valley of robots crumbles, in time so too will our feelings of unease and disconcertion toward the nearly human. Until then, we have Poppy, a performance artist in android-pop-star packaging who treats that dip in emotional response as her virtual playground.

Like a malfunctioning Westworld host on the cusp of sentience, the character of Poppy is one intended to challenge our notions of what it means to be human in the modern age; she's shaped in our image, and what that reflects is more disturbing than any android-like behavior. Her mentor Titanic Sinclair wrapped this high concept, and Poppy herself, in the packaging of pop music to provide a candy coating.

Waifish, Harajuku-styled Poppy made her digital debut on YouTube in 2015 with "I'm Poppy." The video consisted of her repeating that eponymous phrase for 10 minutes as she primped and posed for the camera. Going viral is one of her raisons d'etre, and with over 18 million views, the reasons to continue and expand the Poppy universe became all the more compelling.
Poppy has no backstory. While there's a wealth of online chatter regarding her origin, digging up anything beyond the persona requires detective work.

Although she doesn't like to discuss her pre-Poppy days, it's assumed that the performer was initially known as Moriah Pereira, a petite brunette who played as the character Mini Bloodbath in a Boston roller derby league called The Nutcrackers. Mini Bloodbath met an early demise as the Nashville music scene beckoned. HeyHiHello was the first band she fronted as an alt-rock grunger with few hints of the futuristic techno-pop infusing her music today. An archived MySpace page shows her belting out classic covers in uncharacteristic fashion. Any further evidence of her human life form has been wiped in a calculated effort to create the mythos and maintain the mystique.
Titanic Sinclair came into the picture in 2014. Pereira met the director/songwriter shortly after moving to Los Angeles, and the pair connected through the songwriting scene. “I thought he looked interesting, and we became friends. Then I got to find out more about him and what he wanted in his life," Poppy tells Playboy. "It was similar to what I wanted in my life, too. He really didn’t want to be making videos anymore, but I begged him. I said, 'If you make videos with me, I promise it will be fun, and we can make whatever we want,' and that’s what we did."

Imagine a "what if?" collaboration between Andy Kaufman and Marilyn Manson filtered through mainstream-pop hitmakers, and you'll have a good sense of what to expect from their 300-plus videos. She's the Edie Sedgwick to Sinclair’s Andy Warhol.
Bible passages are read aloud for nearly an hour in one video. In another, she eats cotton candy in silence while wearing a pink sequined top. Even Camila Cabello's "Havana" earns a cover (with Poppy, of course, staying on-brand and in character in her haunting, robotic voice). When asked who inspires her, Poppy lists an esteemed group—Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, David Lynch, Salvador Dali—and you can see their influence underpinning much of her work.

"What drew me to Andy Warhol was how clean his aesthetic is and how pop it is," she says. "With the Campbell's soup can, he gave you a different perspective on it. You’ve seen it many times over, but when Andy Warhol does it, it’s different. With Jeff Koons, I really like the innocence and playfulness. With Salvador Dali, I like the seriousness of his work and how it makes you a little uncomfortable.”

Using pastel backdrops and soothing music in the background, her videos have an almost benzodiazepine affect on the body and mind. Doll-like hair drapes her striking eyes, which perform unnervingly like mechanical parts, blinking as if they're running a program.

They don’t want me to talk about that, but I really like getting to talk during interviews. I get to tell people what I’m thinking.

To fill the vacuum of the missing backstory about the singer, come the rumors. Fables abound of subliminal messaging. When asked about ties to the so-called Illuminati (Poppy often employs imagery associated with the secret society), she innocently coos, “I don’t know what that is.”

There was speculation of Sinclair brainwashing her. Fans went as far to say that she was being held against her will. Some said he would feed her responses during interviews through an earpiece a la Cyrano de Bergerac. But Poppy, highly intelligent and very much autonomous in interviews, brushes aside the rumors. 

“They don’t want me to talk about that, but I really like getting to talk during interviews," responds Poppy, using "They" to apparently refer to two mysterious entities that are said to keep watch over her. "I get to tell people what I’m thinking.” There are no cameras on her during our conversation. Her voice contains the same signature innocence, but with more depth.

It was almost impossible for Poppy to not succeed in music, given her devoted YouTube following. Indeed, she follows in the footsteps of such music stars who initially garnered fans through the video site, including Justin Bieber and Lana Del Rey. Poppy started with her quirky videos, and the transition to pop star seemed to be an effortless move.

Her sophomore album on Diplo’s Mad Decent label, Am I A Girl?, dropped appropriately on Halloween. It takes listeners on a wild ride and includes tracks with Grimes and Diplo, the latter having worked on the popular song "Time Is Up," which Poppy performed this year on the Late Late Show. Am I A Girl? carries a strong electronic sound with sporadic metal-esque guitar riffs, hints of Kate Bush and brief moments of Madonna. It's Diplo’s signature deep beats, with a splash of Jem and the Holograms.

“I have a lot of creative control, and that’s something as an artist that is very freeing," Poppy says. "You always hear stories about artists not being able to do what they want, but I get to do what I want every day, and that’s the greatest gift.”

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