Pop Life: Poppy’s Virtual Presence has Come Alive IRL
WORDS by HOLLY SOLEM
PHOTOGRAPHY by MARVIN SCOTT JARRETT
STYLING by HEATHER PICCHIOTTINO
GROOMING by MARAND WIDLUND
MAKEUP by JAIME DIAZ
There are multiple iterations of what we know as “Poppy”. The one who first entered our collective consciousness through viral YouTube videos in which she magically flips mundane scenarios—like eating cotton candy—into captivating scenes and profound observations (all while speaking in a soft, sugar-high, girl-droid voice). And the one that makes often-aggressive, sometimes-ethereal, always-lyrically thoughtful, hook-laden bangers. And while Poppy originally led people to believe that she was “from the internet”, leaving viewers to speculate that she may actually be artificial intelligence, in the body of a freakishly realistic doll, Poppy’s sentience has become increasingly obvious through her music. A virtual presence, grown from hyperactive digital pop into something carnal. But if there was ever any question of Poppy’s realness, she’s not only come alive, she’s come into herself as an artist, a writer and a human being.
Currently, Poppy is excited to talk about the tour she’s on with legends, The Smashing Pumpkins. “It’s been really wonderful, I’m obviously a huge fan and was honored to be invited,” she says before recalling a childhood memory of overhearing her sister playing their song, “Zero”. Her favorite to this day. “It’s kind of a ‘stop, hold on, what was that?’ kind of double-take. “That’s how I felt when I first heard them,” she muses. She uses this style of dramatic, present-tense language, frequently throughout conversation, making one feel as if they’re living out the memory with her. There’s a gravity and importance to all of her carefully chosen words as she regales us with tour highlights like watching a hockey game with Smashing Pumpkins guitarist and co-founder, James Iha—“he’s a sports fan.” Or as she excitedly shares details of the Halloween party they’re about to throw where she’ll dress as a character from Japanese manga series, Tokyo Mew Mew. Will her band be dressing up too? “No I don’t believe so. I’m the only one who’s committed to this,” she says, deadpan.
Poppy loves touring and gives us a peek of her life on the road, making clear the importance of routine. “That’s kind of all you have to hold onto because everything is changing all the time.” To keep from spinning out, she practices yoga, hits the gym with her makeup artist, eats healthy, goes to museums and takes plenty of photographs to ultimately make a scrapbook. She’s not about the rockstar-cliché-burn-out-party-lifestyle but is quick to mention she’s got “no judgment if that’s your style.”
And while Poppy’s built a legitimate fan base for herself, she welcomes the challenge of new ones. “We’re opening, so you’re in front of a crowd that isn’t your own for the most part and I like to work for it. It’s nice to see people at the beginning be like, ‘what’s this?’ And then you watch the cameras go up, the phones and you’re like, ‘okay, got you!’ They’re not wooed by the internet lore. They live and die by the song. To play in front of an audience like that, it means more to win them over than it would to win over a passive viewer.” Her favorite songs to perform live are “BLOODMONEY”, “Lessen The Damage” and “FYB”. When asked why these specifically? “Because who wouldn’t wanna say ‘fuck the world’ over and over again?” Which brings us to the highly personal Stagger EP (on which “FYB” is a standout among standouts) with lyrics lifted directly from her journal entries. Poppy seems committed to inspiring fans—and maybe even being a good influence—so she’s willing to speak of the growing pains of walking away from the destructive relationship described in her body of work.
“I think you have to have a very strong sense of self-worth. I think in the past, I found myself in some sticky situations and they served as learning experiences and cautionary tales.” She pauses to realize that the lesson for her is wariness of things that ignite fast and burn out quickly. She describes a naive and vulnerable version of her past self which led to her being targeted by significantly older men with whom she became involved with when she began dating.
A self-proclaimed “late bloomer” and “outlier” she didn’t have relationships at school so as a young adult she started from scratch. Yet Poppy always had the spark of self-awareness to know that someday these relationships would mean nothing to her. From where she sits today, it seems unbelievable to her that she ever put up with anything less than what she deserves. But the experiences certainly made for good songwriting fodder. What was the turning point to revealing a more authentic voice in her songs? “I think that it just got too loud to ignore in my head. It wanted to be talked about. So I had to listen.”
Poppy is opening up and blooming, or perhaps her intelligence has multiplied upon itself, reminiscent of the larger conversation regarding AI’s sentience, which she says is both a terrifying and wonderful fact that needs to be accepted. When she’s asked what makes her feel alive? “Anytime I get to be onstage and be a part of experiencing another human’s reaction. Even in terms of visual art or film, something that I do, if it provokes somebody in any way, that makes me feel alive,” she says after a thoughtful pause. Her answer leaves one to consider the innate desire that we all have for connection, so utterly human.
When it comes to creating, Poppy flourishes in many media. She’s an avid journal keeper working on several literary projects, including a soon to be released graphic novel. She talks of the importance of stepping away from devices, putting pen to paper and getting one’s hands dirty. “Over-stimulation, constantly, is exhausting. There’s so much to learn and so much we have access to, if we have any questions, we can answer them on Google. But I think it’s important to withdraw at times and reflect and decide within yourself: what do you want? Cause we’re just a little speck floating in space. That can be something that motivates you or cripples you with anxiety.” Clearly for Poppy, it’s the former.
At home, Poppy is offline and present in her world. She paints with her cat Pi, (he steps on on her work and tracks paw prints), she quilts, watches movies and makes snacks. She is known for her “Special Poppy Protein Balls” and goes on to say that maybe there will be a cookbook someday. She also carries hot sauce with her at all times, Tabasco and Cholula being her favorites. She tops off this wholesome habit by saying, “it’s a pretty Poppy life.”
She lights up with excitement when sees her gorgeous, Renaissance-inspired wardrobe for our shoot, speaking with passion of her love of couture, her brilliant stylist Heather and a recent collaboration with designers Viktor&Rolf. She’s looking forward to going to Fashion Weeks, grateful that they’re back in full force. When asked about her style evolution, she thoughtfully answers that it’s now more assured and reflects strength. “I feel like being strong is beautiful and I think that makes me feel empowered.” She mentions former body image issues that she still grapples with from time to time but resolves that she’s learned how to take care of and love herself. “If you don’t, nobody else will.” Wise words.
”As far as my personal Poppy aspirations, I’m just excited about releasing new music and I’ve been dancing quite a bit so that’s something that we’re exploring.” When pressed for details on her upcoming album she says (unsurprisingly) that it’s “uncharted, new territory for Poppy.” And when it comes to her dreams? “Deeper sleep,” she concludes. Never, in its wildest dreams will AI be able to create the warm-bodied, enticing and thoughtful art that Poppy makes. And Poppy doesn’t need to dream. She’s living it.
It is indeed a pretty Poppy life. @impoppy