As macabre as she is, I’ve been transfixed with Poppy since someone sent me the link to a 28 second video clip of her bleeding from the mouth layered with ambient music and unusually high production value. There are a lot of things pop musicians do to win audience attention – Britney Spears had “Hit Me Baby One More Time”, Miley Cyrus had “We Can’t Stop”. Poppy, on the other hand, has unsettling 20-40 minute videos of her reading the Bible.
If you haven’t kept an eye on this enigma of a musician, allow me to catch you up to speed: when she’s not dragging around men on leashes at award shows, she’s swearing up and down that she’s not a cult leader. You know, normal pop star stuff. No one’s really sure who or what Poppy is supposed to be. She’s just a walking David Lynchian fever dream for Generation Z. In fact, Poppy doesn’t even seem to be aware herself. It’s a question she wrestles with on her newest album, Am I A Girl?.
For the uninitiated, Poppy’s public persona is best understood as performance art. The character she presents herself as is eerie and robotic – she often refers to herself in third person and speaks of vaguely terrifying “handlers” who tell her what to do. It’s clear cut commentary on celebrity culture and social media. Initially, the performative aspect of the project only operated as an attention grab for Poppy’s music. Nowadays, Poppy critiques the celebrity lifestyle while living it herself. It’s hard to decide whether this defeats her entire purpose or if it’s a work of artistic genius.
Her first EP Bubblebath was a tongue-in-cheek shot at the pop industry with satirical lyrics and provided her first and only hit, “Lowlife”. Her debut album, Poppy.computer, was meant to build a storyline around Poppy as a character, but offered uninspired, formulaic songs. Am I A Girl? beautifully fuses the underlying concepts of these works together, seeing the futuristic and robotic sounds of Poppy.computer as a background for the blatant satire and occasionally deafening social commentary Poppy is famous for.
The beginning of the album feels like the traditional pop we’ve heard time and time again. Poppy’s electro-pop numbers like “Iconic” and “Fashion After All” are enjoyable, although familiar and sometimes forgettable in terms of her vocal range and lyrical content. The production is a consistent highlight – “Chic Chick” starts lively and builds to an electrifying instrumental bridge that feels far too short.
Akin with this is the album’s second single, “Time Is Up”. Over top of an earworm beat provided by Diplo, Poppy saccharine voice battles with vicious lyrics about selfishness and greediness in society. Altogether, it’s unforgettable and offers an almost cinematic quality, as though you can envision the sci-fi thriller this song would accompany. If nothing else on the album, this song is worth a listen – it’s Poppy at her best, as she’s probably the only singer that could call her fans “meaningless cockroaches” and get away with it thanks to an infectious instrumental and poised vocals.
Then, the final songs on the album strike suddenly and scarily, like a flaming car crash of every genre imaginable. Fusing bubblegum pop with everything from nu-metal to spoken word, Poppy seeks to breathe new life into the genre she’s known for. For those impatiently awaiting a follow up to Grimes’ Art Angels, the Canadian songstress makes an appearance on the album’s 13th track, “Play Destroy”. Somehow toeing the line between soft pop and hard rock, it’s a perfect amalgamation of Grimes and Poppy’s unique sounds that stays true to the both of them. “Play Destroy” serves as an introduction for the final track, X, which sounds like about five different songs frankensteined into one. It’s not made for casual listening, but it’s unique, fun, and classic Poppy: unexpected.
With how much Am I A Girl? attempts on one album, it feels longer than it is. It’s overwhelming, but in a good way. While it has a few misses (Aristocrat sees Poppy singing in a ridiculous fake accent like singers who shall not be named before her which, though amusing in context, is not enjoyable to listen to) Am I A Girl? is a maturation from prior work and an effortless listen.