The internet is a strange place. From hyper-specific Subreddits (hello, BirdsWithArms) to never-ending new memes, it’s the perfect arena in which to let your inner freak flag fly. Yet from one curious corner of YouTube emerged a particularly strange video back in January 2015.
Stood in front of a pastel purple backdrop, it shows a bleached blonde girl staring directly into the camera, repeating the same introduction over and over for a full 10 minutes. Who was this girl? Well, in her own words: “I’m Poppy”.
Subsequently - and unsurprisingly - going viral, the clip was followed by other bizarre offerings. There was ‘A Plant’, which sees her interviewing the foliage in question with increasingly deep questions, and ‘Me Eating A Banana’ which shows her, well, eating a banana. Soon, Poppy had become a full-on internet sensation and reaction gif gold. But online stardom wasn’t her real aim.
Born Moriah Rose Pereira in Boston, back in 1995 (or so Wikipedia claims), Poppy moved to LA in 2013 to pursue a music career. Releasing her debut song ‘Everybody Wants to Be Poppy’ and follow-up ‘Lowlife’ in 2015, her kawaii-inspired visuals paired with crystalline vocals and wide-eyed expression seemed to introduce her as the stereotypically perfect pop star. “I love my fans, my record label, my handler, and God,” she says with an unsettlingly squeaky-clean delivery in a 2016 video featuring her mannequin frenemy Charlotte. If Stepford Wives’ animatronic women were reimagined as chart musicians in the making, Poppy would have been their leader.
"What I try to operate on is, does it feel real and does it feel right for me?"
But, if you know anything about the Poppy that’s with us in 2020, you’ll know that pop perfection wasn’t what she had planned. “I think that it’s really boring if I stay the same forever,” she emphasises over a pre-Christmas transatlantic phone call, between festive party plans that include milk and cookies followed by a “seance around a gingerbread house”. “It’s what Santa would want!” she giggles.
Although she’d always embraced her creepy side, Poppy’s fully-fledged move from the robo-pop persona she originally created really came into fruition with the release of 2018’s ‘Am I A Girl?’ - the follow up to the previous year’s debut ‘Poppy.Computer’. Most notably shown on shocking closing track ‘X’, it’s here that the singer began to experiment with metal influences and the dark side, shaking off her previous pop ties with a literal blood-heavy bombardment.
“I never viewed myself as a pop star per se, just more of an artist or creator,” she explains of her musical transition. “I never really found that I fit into any specific box or area of music. I don’t really think too hard about it, I just try to make art. I think everyone puts on a different persona and I think I view my art and music and evolution as going through different eras. The last era was ‘Am I A Girl?’, and the one before that was ‘Poppy.Computer’. I feel that with this new one, I’m shedding some light on the dark realms that I was forced to operate in for a period of time, and I’m also taking my power back against everyone that has tried to hold me back.”
This new era is centred around new album ‘I Disagree’, that burst out at the start of January with little regard for easing the year in gently. A balls-to-the-walls record that flows between pop melodies, Billie Eilish-esque hip hop beats, thrashing guitar solos and mosh pit-ready climaxes that could fit into a Nine Inch Nails set, it’s miles away from the twee bop of ‘Lowlife’. “This album feels like my first album,” she beams. “All the things I’ve loved, I’ve been able to pour into this one. I got to have total freedom and didn’t let anyone else give their opinions until it was done, and even when it was done I didn’t really take their opinion into account. I just made what made me happy and proud, and was something I would listen to and want to perform for the next year or so on tour. It was all about what felt right. That’s what I try to operate on: does it feel real and does it feel right for me?”
Throughout ‘I Disagree’, Poppy holds nothing back, addressing themes ranging from religious oppression (‘BLOODMONEY’) to individualism and empowerment (Fill The Crown’), and taking the listener on a journey of her self-described evolution. “It definitely follows what I was dealing with in the present time while creating it: a lot of frustration with other people and myself I feel comes across in some of the songs,” she elaborates. “It’s also about the lessons I’ve learned. The song most dear to me is called ‘Nothing I Need’ and that one was me realising for the first time that everything I wanted is right here and I can still go after what I want but it’s OK to feel OK, and to say that you’re OK. You don’t have to say when I get X thing or Y thing or Z thing, then I’ll be OK. It’s about being OK right now whilst still pursuing what you want.”
It’s not just in her music that Poppy is growing more confident by the day. This album campaign has seen the star shed the robotic side of her persona that used to dominate her purposefully-scripted speaking style; a quick YouTube search finds hundreds of ‘Poppy breaking character’ compilations, with fans finding millisecond-long clips to prove that Poppy is not, in fact, part machine.
"I'm taking my power back against everyone that has tried to hold me back."
Notably, she’s also recently severed ties with creative partner Titanic Sinclair, who portrayed himself as her handler, following years of fan speculation alleging the manipulation of Poppy was more than just an act. When she speaks of operating previously in “dark realms” and of people holding her back, it’s impossible not to link the two given her recent online statement: “As some of you may know my former creative partner and I have parted ways. This was a long time coming but this is a person whom I defended in the past because I thought he was just misunderstood […] I was trapped in a mess that I needed to dig my way out of - and like I always do, I figured out how to handle it.”
This sense of resilience and newfound freedom bleeds deeply into ‘I Disagree’; roaring with the idea of building yourself up following destruction, it’s this that Poppy hopes people will connect with most. “I hope that it can make people feel less alone and that it helps them,” she explains. “There are probably people out there who feel the same way that I do but they might be afraid to say it, or they might not have the means to say it or the ability and they might be scared of their own voice. Hopefully they won’t be after listening.”
Now entering 2020, Poppy’s new era sees the singer ready to explore her full creative and personal potential. Though her latest output has seen her flip the rulebook many times over, going from out-there YouTuber to metal’s latest icon with Marilyn Manson on speed dial, she says it’s only the beginning, and you’d be a fool not to believe her. “I just want to make great work all the time and that’s pretty much my end goal,” she giggles, like Taylor’s nightmare dressed as a daydream in reverse. “That’s just me!”
'I Disagree' is out now via Sumerian.
As featured in the February 2020 issue of DIY, out now.