With her mix of outlandish and vintage outfits and shoes, pre-teen overtones, pastel toned dresses and matching background, Poppy utters nonsensical and charmingly curious soundbites to a poignant réverbèrent ambient synth music background. With robotic gestures and a scripted voice, perfect smiles and perfect sad faces, doll-like postures, Poppy evokes a sort of ersatz product of some over-scrubbed never-never land of innocence stretched like a thin skin over a garbled interior of ill-fitting experiences of a wider world beyond innocence. Studying the Poppy phenomenon requires some degree of patience – how else can anyone sit through a ten minute video of her saying “I’m Poppy” and “I am poppy” in various tones; ten minutes of “Why don’t they listen? Why won’t they listen? I don’t think they’re gonna listen”; a thirty minute video of a repeating xylophone where two keys alternately play the same then different notes in a way that is both maddeningly irritating and compellingly difficult to skip or stop. While I admit I did not watch those videos fully, I have invested significant time in watching the majority of the others – given that most of them are a minute or less and easy to catch up on intermittently. That said, I did indeed watch the 49 and 24 minute videos of her reading from the bible non-stop. Something about that robot doll voice mindlessly intoning the impregnably lineage of biblical figures – it’s an easy target for easily offended sky-wizard worshippers, while plainly laying out the absurd notion that these texts, in and of themselves, are in any way magically charged with electric sacredness and wisdom. Poppy reading the bible (in two long Youtube clips that barely scratch the surface of that ponderous tome so often used to justify hateful acts and thoughts) becomes even more striking when placed along side Poppy cringing in discomfort because fuzzy objects are stuck to her.
Buried in the static and white noise are odd and arresting ideas laced with parody and deadpan seriousness: “I breathe new life into my phone with every charge. My phone defines me. When it’s dead, I am too.”
Poppy seems to mock and jeer at social media narcissism and device obsession with her meaningless but highly meaningful statements and rhetorical questions like “If it’s on the internet, it’s real! Do you believe everything that’s put in front of you?” and “What percentage am I? What percentage are you?”
She denigrates her viewers dismissively, racking up millions of Youtube views in the process: “You haven’t thought in a while, have you? Am I making you think?”
She comments on current affairs and politics, sounding simultaneously cluelessly infantile and somehow condescendingly derisive, such as during this conversation with a plant:
Plant: “It hurts when you eat us. You just can’t hear us scream”
Poppy: “What do you think – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?”
Plant: “I guess I’ll vote for whichever one is gay.”
Poppy: “I think they’re both gay, hahaha.”
Elsewhere she proudly and righteously holds forth on how she will speak out for her beliefs, exposing the futility and misguided hopes of social media activism:
“I’m offended by something a famous politician said. I’ve chosen to use the internet to express my opinion about it. My beliefs were challenged and I will stand up for myself. I will mock the famous politician that I do not agree with on twitter. I’m doing my part by tweeting angrily at a famous politician. The famous politician will see my tweet and change their behavior. My followers will praise me for my beliefs because they should think the way I think. I’m making a difference. I’m doing my part. I’m part of the movement.”
Poppy regularly celebrates the emptiness of celebrity and popularity and the blind dedication of fans:
“Do you love me? Will you do anything I say? Is money the most important thing to you? This episode is brought to you by Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.”
“What does it mean to be famous,” she asks, “How many videos will this retweet get? Does that mean people will love me more?”
She effusively bubbles while partaking of social beautification rituals that are disconnected from the true value of the individual: “I am applying my make-up to become more beautiful. If I apply make-up people will find me more attractive.”
Poppy offers inspirational-meme-worthy life coaching advice: “You’re in control and you have the power to succeed! Take it from me: happiness comes from within. Success: you + opportunity = success. What does it mean?”
A cult of conspiracy theories and conjecture has grown around Poppy, with claims she is a puppet of the Illuminati (her and Lana Del Rey, I suppose) and is using gestures of the Illuminati and other secret societies to plead for help or communicate mind control cues. Poppy appears to playfully stoke these ridiculous ideas , such as a video featuring a robot voice ordering “You will pledge your allegiance to Poppy. You will do anything Poppy says. Poppy loves you and will always love you… Prepare yourself for Programming Sequence 2.”
Poppy even deflects commentary, such as her “Poppy reacts to kids react to Poppy,” in which Poppy takes the established Youtube concept where kids are shown anything from old computers to clips of Metallica and their hilarious and enlightening reactions are recorded, and somehow turns the experiment around by ‘reacting’ to it by layering herself back over the original audio until finally sitting motionless in a gradually darkening studio. The kids are disquieted and confused. “She’s like a creepy doll!” one of them accurately notes. This was my first introduction to Poppy, suggested by the Youtube “you may also like” machine after being entertained by kids reacting to rotary phones. In a subsequent video the kids were captured reacting to Poppy reacting to them reacting to Poppy. Most of the kids appeared perturbed and anxious to learn Poppy had been in the room they were in, sitting in the same seat. Just this month the kids were invited to a virtual Q&A with Poppy, the concept spawning offspring and multiplying in the vacuous content portal of the internet.
Reading back through the various blog posts and forums and trudging through the puerile poorly put-together ‘exposes’ and fan videos, one can begin to assemble a quasi background on the Poppy character. The brainchild of Titanic Sinclaire, Poppy seems to be a re-boot of a prior concept wherein both Titanic and pre-Poppy robot doll Mars Argo traded odd and nonsensical quips and earnest gibberish statements against a white background between 2009 and 2014. In addition to the strange videos about deleting your Facebook account and rejected Mountain Dew commercials, Mars and Titanic posted videos of incredibly well-crafted, decently performed, and catchy indie-pop tunes on their channel grocerybagdottv. Combing through the Mars Argo / Titanic Sinclaire backlog, you get the impression of a sort of art project aimed at parodying mainstream celebrities. Mars and Titanic parted ways in 2014. The music and videos ceased, and apparently Mars removed most of the back catalog, leaving only three behind, but much of the content has surfaced. It’s not bad music, and worth checking out.
Against this backdrop, many foaming-mouth online commentators have been straining at their leashes to accuse Poppy of fakery, plagiarism, and unoriginality. Those same folks will watch a Spiderman reboot tomorrow with no complaints. Other careful Youtube sleuths are excited as they shakily announce how they have followed the bread crumb trails to discover that Titanic Sinclaire is the director and producer of Poppy’s videos, as if this is some secret plot being uncovered. But it’s not a secret plot, just a continuation and revamping of an interesting concept with a new lead actress. Poppy is also a musician, yet comparatively her songs simply do not match up in any way with Mars Argo. Poppy’s covers and unreleased tracks on Soundcloud are, however, not bad, and much better than her official releases.
A phenomenon like Poppy cannot exist with the puerile gullibility of the viewing masses with their eyes wide open at the data sluice, ready to drink the unfiltered overload. Only in a world hooked on the emotion-quashing influx of networked mirror-commentary and fleeting online attention can Poppy inspire this kind of obsessive curiosity and drive to be expert fans, the mindless insistence on some great conspiracy underpinning her existence, the desperate clawing to uncover the deep-seated Meaning within the bubble-gum posts with their mild social commentary.
As a phenomenon, she’s fascinating. As an example of the odd corners of the internet, she’s illustrative. As pure content, it’s entertaining, I’ll say that much.