My feelings toward internet pop sensation Poppy have always felt a little confused. On one hand, I think her music is endlessly catchy, her image is really fun and cheeky and humorous, and her whole shtick is really well done, but on the other hand… well… it’s pretty clear that Poppy is meant to be a parody of the modern pop star.
So when I’m enjoying her catchy pop songs… am I the target of Poppy’s derision? Am I even supposed to be enjoying Poppy’s music?
…I’m thinking too hard about this, maybe.
But either way, I think many people, myself included, were surprised at Poppy’s newest album, “Am I a Girl?” It dropped on Halloween this year, and featured musical and genre influences that I’ve never heard from Poppy before. The perfectly polished android pop star we were all used to was suddenly putting on a new image.
How well did it work out? Let’s find out.
What I think surprised me the most about this album, putting aside some of the genre influences, is the lyrics.
Before, in songs like “Money” and “Moshi Moshi,” Poppy’s lyrics are mostly concerned with talking about vague concepts that many people would relate to, as the genre she’s parodying tends to do, without any interest in making a statement on those concepts that is personal to the singer. “In a Minute” immediately destroys this usual habit of Poppy’s.
This track is a repetitive, electro-military track that seems to strongly imply Poppy’s dissatisfaction with how her popularity as a singer has made her decisions less her own and more at the whims of the entertainment industry. She repeats the things she has to do in order to appease her fans, because she’s “busy and important” and that is simply what she must do.
Yes, instead of lampshading just pop music, “Am I a Girl?” throws punches at the entertainment industry as a whole, and in my opinion, reflects more of Poppy’s character than ever before. I don’t think this song is the best one to illustrate the latter development, so I’ll expand on that later.
As for quality though, “In a Minute” is catchy, clean, and tight and sticks with you forever afterward. It also has a simplistic but trippy music video that goes along with it, one that pays homage to Poppy’s fondness for Illuminati symbols, to boot.
Befitting a song with a title about fashion, this track sounds exactly like something that would blare as supermodels in weird haute couture strut down a runway. That pounding electronic beat, and the distant echo of Poppy’s vocals makes a catchy little track, but I appreciate this song for its lyrics as well.
Perhaps a little sarcastically, Poppy decries the nature of fame, of having people watch her every move, declaring her either a perfect paradigm of morality or a devil, viewing every fashion choice she makes as gospel. It’s an interesting blur of character. Normally, it seems like Poppy is adamant about sticking to her shtick of distant, perfect android pop star. But here it seems like the musician behind the image has stepped out from behind the curtain to discuss how all the sudden attention has made her feel.
And yet, that same clean Poppy sound persists. It’s what makes this album so odd, and so intriguing, at least to me.
Though I’m fascinated by the way this track is constructed – similarly to the track before it with a very high-fashion runway kind of beat, but with less of a commitment to sticking to that sound throughout – it doesn’t quite work for me. I think it sticks to a message repeated throughout the album, poking fun at the popular terminology used to describe our pop icons. Poppy seems to wax philosophical on what exactly makes someone “iconic.”
The lyrics are fine enough, the song itself just doesn’t work for me. I think the way the vocals switch pitch and emotion throughout is interesting, but doesn’t do enough to differentiate this track from the rest.
Here’s the weird thing about this album. If Poppy had released a song like “Chic Chick” on any other album except this particular one, I would have assumed that this song is meant to make fun of your stock “rah rah girl power” pop fare. But with all the surrounding content of “Am I a Girl?”, I can’t help but feel like this song is 100% honest. Poppy really means this song, and that’s actually kind of charming.
If you’ll allow me to speculate on the lore of this album for a moment, I wonder if this album is Poppy’s android character exploring the concept of humanity, finally starting to understand some of the subjects of all the pop songs she’s obviously studied and copied. And this album is that character attempting to find how she feels about many of these subjects, hence the question in the title – “Am I a Girl?”
If we take that meaning of the album, that provides an even deeper look into this track.
Story-wise, I think this song is pretty clear. The lyrics, from Poppy’s robot perspective, discuss the destruction of the Earth by humanity, ruminating on her immortality, and how she will outlive humanity’s self-destruction. Taken in the context of how Poppy is also perhaps trying to align herself with humans in this album, the song takes on a double, sad meaning. It’s as if Poppy is attempting to warn humanity about its demise so that she can continue living among them.
I think the music video adds credence to this theory too, especially during the ending, when humans dance in a carefree way around Poppy, standing grimly in the center, a spotlight shining on her. She’s a part of the celebration, sure, but also she’s apart from it as well, gleaming, celebrated, but not really dancing with the rest of them. Maybe she wants to join in, but she knows getting close would be silly?
The song itself is nice too, though I wouldn’t call it a favorite. I like Diplo’s beats well enough, and I think with his contribution this track has an unmistakable Daft Punk quality to it, though I can’t say it lives up to that particular standard. I like the spacey, distant sound of it as a whole, though, really fits the message, even if my added interpretation wasn’t the real intention of the song, and it was truly meant to be a song about a robot killing off humanity because she’ll outlive it.
Though this was not the point of this post, it’s unfortunately difficult to talk about Poppy without also mentioning the abuse allegations leveled at her producer, Titanic Sinclair. I’m inclined to believe these accusations, and though it definitely does change the way I look at Poppy’s music, I still believe it’s possible to appreciate Poppy while also acknowledging the role this cruel man plays in her music.
That all being said… it does make it easier when the album brings a new producer on board for this track. And it may be the “hatred of abusers” talking, but I think Garibay does a much better job with Poppy’s voice than Titanic Sinclair usually does. It kinda makes me long for a possible future where Poppy still gets to make her cool music without her disgusting producer but… alas, I’m not sure that’ll happen.
It’s interesting how human Poppy sounds in this. And the less-artificial sounding vocals alongside the catchy Latin beat makes this song infectious. But the differences aren’t so much that it doesn’t feel like a Poppy song, either. The parts of the song where Poppy puts on an exaggerated aristocratic tone of voice sounds like the Poppy we’ve come to know.
Plus, the lyrics are really clever and full of excellent rhyme schemes and puns. I love the idea of a formerly impoverished girl bragging about how she’s clawed her way to the top. And considering what we’ve seen what this album so far, I can’t help but see it as a bit of an allegory for a little-known YouTube musician clawing her way into the public consciousness.
Though I don’t think I would say I want Poppy to drop her pop android persona, it’s refreshing to hear something a little different.
So I told you about the Titanic Sinclair lawsuit in the last song because…. oh boy, this song.
You know, even as Poppy herself defended Titanic Sinclair, and denied the accusations, this song makes me wonder if that was truly how she felt about the situation. A song where she wonders if she was created only to replace someone her creator loved before… how can you not make the connection to how Mars Argo accused the Poppy persona of being a direct copy of her act?
Plus, this song is also produced by Fernando Garibay, like the last one. I really do think the note of humanity his production adds to Poppy’s sound is an incredibly effective part of this album. Putting aside all the real life implications of this song, it also connects to the mental crisis Poppy’s character is going through. She wonders – if she is truly meant to always be an android, how can she feel resentful toward her creator?
I also enjoy the call-outs to Poppy’s previous character quirks, specifically the “porcelain skin” line. It feels a lot like the unearthly perfection Poppy’s character has always possessed in previous songs, especially “Bleach Blonde Baby.” This Poppy is questioning everything about her character before, and it really explains what makes this album so much different than what we’ve heard from her before.
We’ve gone through quite a bit of existential crisis up to this point, but we’ve finally settled back into what Poppy started out this album doing – criticizing entertainment. Whew.
I have a real soft spot for this song. The emotionless way Poppy lists off images of sexual appeal all too familiar to most of us really calls to mind some sort of mindless entertainment executive listing off all the images they think will attract the most buyers.
But Poppy seems to question this, throwing in a “Dear lord, what’s next?” and even saying she wants to see “Boys in bikinis too.”
It’s a silly, fun little song, and actually one of my favorites. If not for it’s depth, for the infectiousness of it, that bouncy electronic sound and Poppy’s interesting sounding vocals. It’s a solid entry on an album I’m already heavily sold on at this point, so no complaints here.
There’s a great intensity to this track that I really enjoy. It’s a staple of this album at this point to contrast Poppy’s high, light vocals with heavy electronic beats, but this song is particularly fun in just how hard it goes with that concept.
This track actually reminds me quite a bit of a few tracks off of Gorillaz’ “Humanz” (which I reviewed here), which has several tracks that, like this one, puts scenes of luxury and partying against images of the end of the world. Unlike the earlier Daft Punk comparison, though, I think Poppy lives up to the allure of that album, from the seductive sound of her vocals to the sudden build of the chorus.
This sounds like a song that would be incredible to dance to, and of course that must be the point.
Here’s another thing that surprised me about this album. I was not expecting to see Poppy question her gender identity in song form.
Yes, you heard me right. While this song does obviously ask this question as an android wondering if she is human, it also takes it from the direction of an android wondering what the definitions of “girl” and “boy” even are, and whether possessing traits from both ends of the binary make her something in between.
What I think is kind of cool about this song, though, is the solution it comes to. Instead of characterizing her confusion over gender as a problem, she feels that trying to call herself one or the other is the thing that’s over-complicating the situation. She seems to argue that if she were just left to identify somewhere in between, she wouldn’t have this confusion.
It’s refreshing to see, and not a message I was expecting. Plus, I love that big guitar riff toward the end. Get ready, that’s not the last of the loud guitar we’ll see in this album.
I’ll be honest, when I first heard about this album coming out, and I went to its Spotify to give it a listen, I had every intention to start at the beginning and listen all the way through. That’s how I try to first listen to any album, as it’s how the artist intended it to be listened to, and all.
But then I peeked down the song list and saw that GRIMES was on this track. GRIMES!!!!!
Hello, Grimes. Are you finally coming back to music after having your fun dating horrible capitalist monsters? Please tell me you are. Please? I miss you. I love you.
But oh my god. This song is my favorite off the album. It destroyed my life. The combination of Poppy and Grimes was something I’ve never thought of, but now that I’ve heard it I’m convinced it’s all I’ve ever wanted in this life.
What’s so incredible about this song is that it toes a very fine line between being a Poppy song and being a Grimes song. I mean, it totally sounds like it could have come straight off of “Artangels,” but it’s got a bunch of Poppy touches that we’ve seen throughout this album. It’s almost like this entire album was built just to get Poppy’s sound to a state where she could take a cut song from “Artangels,” perform it, and we’d all be convinced it’s a Poppy song.
I’m mostly joking, but even if that were true I wouldn’t mind. This song is good enough that it justifies that.
It’s just… ugh, it’s so good. It’s obviously meant to critique how entertainment makes violence seem fun, but it also works played completely straight as these two cutesy characters taking a sadistic glee in destroying everything around them. I think that’s the beauty of this album as a whole. Even though the commentary on the entertainment industry is clear, it still feels legitimate. Like Poppy, for all her knowledge of and disdain for all the little ways entertainment fools and takes advantage of us, she still wants to play along.
She still wants to be human, despite what we humans do.
God, that’s brilliant.
But if you thought Poppy threw down the gauntlet in the last song, you ain’t heard nothing yet.
You know, Poppy’s doing metal now, and after everything I’ve just heard, I’m really not even surprised. You’ve done it, Poppy. You’ve made me accept you even when you’re doing metal. If that doesn’t make this album a success, I don’t know what does.
It’s this song that really convinces me that this album as a whole is Poppy’s character questioning everything about herself. The very structure of this song is at war with itself, the soft, 70s pop verses conflicting with the violent lyrics, heavy guitar, and screaming of the chorus. It’s Poppy attempting to reconcile the squeaky clean, beautiful nature of her pop android character with her desires to be flawed and angry and emotional and human.
Ugh, it’s such a fantastic way to end this album. Poppy longs to go back to where she began, but after all we’ve heard, we know she can’t go back. Perhaps that’s the most human thing she expresses throughout this whole album – regret.
“Am I a Girl?” is just a fantastic and surprising entry onto Poppy’s discography, and it fills me with excitement for where she’ll be going next. I’m definitely going to be coming back to many of the tracks here for months and months to come.