Poppy has been an internet sensation, a comic book character, a cult leader and the force behind avant-garde pop-electro-kawaii-metal that will challenge all of your perceptions of musical genre. But as she prepares for her new era, dubbed POPPY 3.0, she promises a version of the character you can’t even fathom, born out of the pure necessity to keep herself entertained.
If you first entered the world of Poppy in 2016, when her YouTube fame was reaching its apex, you were likely as captivated by videos of her sitting isolated in an off-white room and chatting up plants as you were compelled to scour the internet for video compilations of her breaking character.
Poppy’s music has also been subject to dramatic and interesting changes. It has gradually evolved from pop music that is as bluntly bubblegum as it comes into a fugue state of polar-opposite styles and a smattering of genres that you would never consider able to fit together but somehow work. Her latest release, 2020’s I Disagree, welds together elements of heavy metal and all of its subgenres with J-pop sugary-sweetness, industrial-rock menace and electronic elements that are meticulously tacked together by both screams and whispers. The album is a satire of the very idea of classification and compartmentalization of music, and art in general, while celebrating pop song moments that feel as intrinsically saccharine and culturally provocative as “Material Girl,” then bouncing into shredding as satisfyingly sinister as “Raining Blood.” Poppy’s music feels like King Diamond crossed with Lady Gaga, remixed by Aphex Twin and used to score a Neon Genesis Evangelion movie—and in the intersection of clashing tastes being forcefully smashed together, we were slowly introduced to Poppy’s true self.
Ahead of her special one-off Veeps livestream performance “The Last Disagreement,” revisit Poppy’s debut Alternative Press cover from 2020. Poppy’s Veeps performance will air on Saturday, April 24 at 4 p.m. ET. You can get tickets to “The Last Disagreement” here.
— Poppy (@poppy) April 9, 2021
As an artist who’s constantly evolving, how do you feel about artists who choose not to evolve and rely on a very clear approach to music and don’t experiment in deviating from the sound they’re best known for? The first art that comes to my mind is AC/DC. They don’t deviate from their structure, from the style of song they’re known for, and their fans love it. Does it frustrate you to see other artists not growing in a way that you grow? Or do you think that’s part and parcel with just the way the music industry works?
I think some of it has to do with the industry, or just some of it has to do with their life experience. I think artists come in all forms, and you are a product of your own influence. I make it my mission every day to try and learn something or try something new because you’re only here on Earth for a short time, and I just think that it’s important to keep pushing yourself and your boundaries and where you think that you can go and surprising yourself. Otherwise, you get boring. At least for me, I feel really bored. I don’t really look around at other artists and think that it’s disappointing. Everyone has their own path. I can only speak for myself, that I can get very bored if I’m not trying to constantly learn something.
Do you ever feel as if the attention to the fact that you shift through styles overshadows the overall Poppy experience? Or is it the opposite? Is it a means of getting people interested and then fully initiated into the whole presentation?
I’m entertaining myself. And I find it to be wonderful that other people are entertained by that. I spent a long time making music that I thought people might like. Maybe with the first album and maybe some of my second album, but then there was a shift in making the third album that was just exactly what I wanted to make. People seem to like that more. I’m excited for them to hear these more recent albums that I’m working on because I’m really entertaining myself nowadays.
Along the lines of everything from your personal life that you’ve been divulging publicly, announcing your engagement to Ghostemane, do you feel like incorporating your personality more directly into the Poppy character was a risk? Did it create a paradigm shift in how you engage with your audience and how you assume the character?
I feel that my audience and I have become closer even [over] the past year, and I feel at this point in my life—where I’ve come from and how I’ve changed as a person and evolved as an artist, the fans that have been following me for a while have gotten to see [me] through all different ages, and I do feel like their level of respect for me is higher, and I love them back. I feel like everything is more personal, and I can’t wait to share more with them about me and my life and my experiences because I’ve been on this planet now for 25 years, and I feel like I got to see a lot of crazy things and experience traumatic things and exciting things that could help somebody else deal with their experiences as well. That’s how I got into music. I used to obsess over my favorite artists and what they had been through and find similarities between their lives and mine, and then their music resonated with me. Whether it be coming from a broken home or just dealing with bullying and finding out that some of my favorite people and artists went through similar stuff. I felt like, “Oh, I’m not alone in this.” I’ve been looking forward to releasing these next couple of albums that are more personal to me and talking about that more with fans.
Was it difficult for you to withhold a lot of the personal, more intimate details of your life in your music up until recently? Was it difficult to withhold information like that and keep your emotions and your true feelings back and reserve them as an artist? Was that a complex process? And how have those floodgates opened in the past year?
Yeah, it was a complex process, and parts of who I was playing on screen and at shows was starting to seep over into who I actually was as a person. And it was almost a “Snap out of it” kind of thing for me. I had to go through some really difficult times, recognizing that that’s not me. I am me. It wasn’t until I saw an interview with Jim Carrey talking about when he played Andy Kaufman. He was talking about how he got lost in the character, and I started to get lost in it as well, and that resonated with me. I was like, “Holy shit, this is not what I want to be a part of anymore.” It scared me. I refound myself after that and realized that I needed to start making places for me, as a person, and be able to sleep with my decisions.
You mentioned that so many of those complex feelings were tied to the character. Was it a difficult decision to continue with portraying that character that had become tied to so much trauma? Did you, at any point, just want to shed Poppy and make music that was completely divorced from that persona? Or do you feel like you needed to have that character, and did you feel like you needed to live in her skin to find your own voice?
I feel that she needed to be shed in order for me to find my own voice. And people sometimes will identify the character with the name, but I had the name before the character came about. I was a person before her, and I’m a person after her as well. But I think this version of Poppy, I just call her 3.0, is the best and the truest Poppy that anyone has seen. And that’s exciting. Actors often create an elaborate backstory for their character. They establish a deep-seated, hidden want or desire for their character so that they’re always chasing something that is a universal truth to mold the character around and give it depth.
You and Ghostemane are both extremely provocative artists—extremely aggressive in a lot of ways, not just through music, but through your ideas and through your visual presentation. What do the two of you do to help each other stay grounded to stabilize your day-to-day life in a world where you’re assuming these personas and taking on these roles and being larger than life in so many ways?
I don’t want to elaborate too much, but I think what’s really special is that we can understand each other on a level that’s very specific. As people and what we make as artists is very, very different from each other, but it’s similar enough to where there’s an understanding that goes deeper. I’ve never had something like that with somebody before. I don’t take it lightly. I think it’s a very amazing thing from the powers that be in the universe—they put us together. So, I don’t ask any questions. I think it makes sense. It’s a good feeling to be happy.
Poppy is defined in pop culture in a lot of ways. Poppy is the perfect pop star. Poppy is a humanoid-demon comic book character. Poppy is a YouTube sensation. Poppy is the breakout queen of heavy metal. Poppy is a fashion trailblazer. Poppy is a lot of things. But how do you define Poppy, and how do you plan to challenge yourself and your audience’s expectations of how they should define Poppy in future incarnations? You alluded to the newest version of Poppy as Poppy 3.0. Can you give us a taste of 3.0?
It’s just Poppy at the core. I’m still doing all of these different things that I’m interested in and love and am passionate about and every new element that’s introduced—every lyric and melody, article of clothing and makeup [look], book, tour, beyond—it all comes back to me and what I’m into, and if people love it as a whole picture, then that’s me. I think you’ll get a taste of 3.0 in the next couple of months because I’ve been locked inside for a very long time, and I’ve had a lot of time to think and make things.