We Should All Be Watching That Poppy

What happens when you combine the blandest possible pop culture, celebrity worship, the Internet hive mind, conspiracy theory and post-Warhol meta art with clear influences from and references to idol?

That Poppy.

“Maniac,” you say, “that’s just a standard American pop song. What’s the big deal?”


Welcome to my latest obsession, gang. I’ll spare you the essay; what I want to talk about is the idol side of Poppy (and just a little bit, just to make it relevant) and the injection of personae into pop culture without an ounce of authenticity, which is people can complain about all day as something not “real” or whatever, but I like to place value on the creative process itself and consider society just as suitable a tableau as any other medium onto which to reflect one’s artistic effort.

I’m caring about this at the moment because it comes up periodically whether X or Y idol project is truly alt or whatever, based on how they sound or how they present themselves. I’m not entering that fray because I don’t really care about that fray — idol is a package; very little of it is “real” in the sense that it reflects the individual person’s true personality or desires; and I try to focus on rock music etc as performed by idols because I think that’s interesting. I also understand that, a few particular shining lights aside, the idols themselves are basically just contract labor, no more owning the product of their labor than the textile workers who gave us the Bread and Roses Strike.

Poppy came along (for me; she ain’t new) at a time when I’ve been contemplative about whether any of this stuff matters. I like the music; fine. You like the music; fine. We can talk about that stuff together. And yeah, our idols, largely inspired by BiS (who were inspired by others) and Babymetal, are the ongoing agents of cultural change (not touching the commodification of that change itself).

So as far as Poppy is concerned:

This goes straight through the looking glass at about 16:10, so maybe come back to it later

“Low Life” up above is just a pop song. It has interesting lyrics, as do her other songs, but it’s mostly “just” paint-by-numbers post-R&B American pop music. Meagan Trainor could have done it. Xtina. And so on.

This song is actually pretty sweet, though:

But Poppy, as you could tell from that video above the fold, is more than a singer with slightly more cerebral lyrics than normal.

Her YouTube channel is filled with this stuff. If it isn’t obvious, Poppy is a persona, and the totality of the work is the real art at play. She — it — is as idol as it gets. It’s all a show (that happens to use “kawaii” as a descriptor, which is helpful, and inspires things like this).

But here’s the best part: It’s not just American pop with a splash of kawaii; it’s a deeply disturbing art project at the same time:

It’s a bizarre music+ project that’s developed a cottage industry of explaining or analyzing what it is. The visuals and messaging are unsettling, and also kind of completely infatuating.

I can’t look away.

This is idol. It’s American, it’s backed by some big money and it’s more of a conceptual project than how idol usually works, but it’s idol to the core — so much so that Hello! Kitty’s parent company uses her as the face of the U.S. operation.

It didn’t come from nowhere, though, and there’s a lot to learn here.

The first thing you need to know about, or maybe already do know about, is Mars Argo:

The mastermind behind all of this is the thin gentleman with Kurt Cobain hair, Titanic Sinclair (possibly a pseudonym!), who various context clues indicate is a producer in Los Angeles. Titanic’s overall bent is, I think, summed up in his pinned tweet:

Web-based meta art designed to critique a society that fuels it, to exploit the exploitative and create … something incisive enough to at least make people pay attention? I’m sure that everybody involved appreciates the irony (indeed, it’s probably deliberate) that entering the fray with offerings designed for mass public appeal that also use that platform to critique the whole space surrounding it, and likewise making sweet, sweet cash from the endeavor, entails.

So what about Poppy? This video explains a bit:

Despite all of that, there’s still precious little online about the individual. Which, to come back to how idol this all is, and indeed how homicidol at its heart, makes sense and is appropriate.

I am, though, more than a little obsessed with this. I don’t hide the fact that I want to do some kind of idol project right here in my own country, adapting elements from the style and performance and presentation through an American prism to create something familiar but more culturally relevant, and I feel like I want to meet Poppy and ask her lots of questions, and I want to sit by Titanic’s side and glom off as much insight into how it happens. This is senpai.

In the end, I’m joining her cult. Knowing me, I’ll develop some kind of fan project instead of actually trying to do the thing myself.

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  1. Pingback: No Big Deal, Just Another Mesmerizing Dots Performance | Homicidols

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