I Have Seen the Future of Idol in America, and It Is Good

Friends, I don’t know how to start or end this post, save for the title. I came home from Poppy’s show drunk, euphoric and feeling completely vindicated in having taken up this bizarre world as a hobby. I saw what idol is capable of in the United States.

I’ve extolled the virtues of Poppy before, and I’ve made a few passing attempts here and there to gin up a little more interest in her among idol fans — if it worked for you, I am happy; if it didn’t, you are bad. Two nights ago, I got to take in her show from the Poppy.Computer tour right in ol’ DC, and it was absolutely the experience that I wanted it to be.

Of course I did the VIP experience, which included some merch items but, more importantly, a chance to “meet the real Poppy” via a VR experience that I really wish I could show you, but, you know, VR. Just imagine a weird series of games and puzzles with no apparent point until Poppy and Titanic get sick of you — for instance, I don’t know if what I did with the ray gun was right, or with the key in the room with many doors, or what the weird icepick things were for, but it was fun.

Everything about the dang venue, though. The Rock & Roll Hotel is a cool, fairly intimate place for a concert, and even the bathroom seemed to be setting the perfect mood for what a night with Poppy promised.

After a full hour of Toto’s “Africa” grinding toward singalong choruses (because that’s all of “Africa” that most people can sing), we were treated to Charlotte, who is Poppy’s best frenemy and also a mannequin. Her job is to open the show with a long (but pretty fun) DJ set that’s roughly on par with most idol DJ sets — it’s just a selection of crowd-pleasing songs with some light mixing for the transitions. Charlotte, who I will remind you is completely inanimate and a villain in Poppy’s world, was nonetheless beloved no matter how hard I personally tried to insult her (for being so mean to Poppy all the time).

Of course, the actual reason for the season would eventually take the stage, but only after her version of Watanabe Junnosuke, Titanic Sinclair, got things going by … well, by basically offering a sacrament, which was chillingly cool and also what the hell was in those cups?

If you ever wondered what your friendly neighborhood Maniac sounds like, I’m the guy screaming “TITANIC!” and “You asshole!” Also, I have no idea why that video posted sideways and am too lazy to try to fix it

The show was everything that I ever could have wanted. Poppy’s new album doesn’t have some of the fun pop rock that, for instance, the Bubblebath EP does (and it definitely lacks the distinctly sinister vibe of “Lowlife” and “Altar”), but it’s a big ball of fun masquerading as cultural critique in a post-Internet world, where “brands” “interact” with “brands” in “the social space” and there’s a thriving shadow economy paid for in a currency that only exists because people say it does.

But yeah, the show. As you can see, Poppy’s presence is that of a digital goddess; she moves around and dances even from time to time, but her job is to be Poppy. She sang live, sometimes, over the backing track, but also had backing track for her brief MC segments between songs, often very coyly and pointedly holding the mic close to her tight lips while her voice filled the air. The two dancers were total scene-stealers, thrashing around and I swear sometimes making it up on the fly, occasionally busting out a keytar to sell how incredibly digital the whole experience was. All the while, Titanic sat back, playing DJ and adding little flourishes like flashing the Illuminati all-seeing eye hand sign. We even got the crucial 3:36 moment!

There were even people playing genuine wota roles! That might have been the thing that surprised me the most. I personally didn’t see any penlights, but I know that people have been using them on the tour, and, despite the lack of ai no te, there was plenty of back-and-forth between the scene on the stage and the people on the floor. There was even that guy, a maybe-middled-aged dude who was front row, center, and completely silent the entire show, just staring at Poppy.

It was a tremendous experience, is what I’m saying, and — no disrespect to the many cool and awesome people who are idoling in their own ways in this country — as close as it gets to a bona fide American idol presence; there’s no buppan and no cheki (except for the very Dots-like VR experience), and I’m pretty sure that Poppy actually gets paid via the various monetized and merchandised avenues that attach to her brand, but the manufactured character, the twist on kawaii culture in her fashion, the manager playing both bad guy and gadfly and mentor all at once, it’s pretty idol.

And if Poppy is able to make that work, and if other artists like Melanie Martinez can do a darker and more artistic twist on pop music and make it work, and Babymetal can presumably still sell out some pretty big venues all on their own, then idol, our kind of idol, can work here, too. I have never felt so certain about this, both as a thing that I want to see happening — idols coming here, and home-grown idols finding success — and a thing that I want to be involved in. Somebody set me up with a few hundred thousand in seed money, okay?