Poppy’s sophomore record Am I A Girl? was supposed to be cold, technical, and eerie.
And why wouldn’t it be?
The YouTube-based persona has crafted her year in music to be as mechanical as the lore behind her, from the fairly obvious ways in her cover of the Gary Numan tune “Metal” to the fabricated-in-a-factory theme in her singles “Hard Feelings” and “Time Is Up.” Her debut album Poppy.Computer was steeped in the same imagery of hardware and ubiquitous social media obsession. It makes sense then that “Am I A Girl?,” at least the title track, would be a man versus machine narrative.
Poppy’s dynasty has been built on ambiguity — creepy, robotic, dark web nightmare-worthy ambiguity – but “Am I Girl?” literally blurs the lines amongst gender roles instead.
“Don’t evaluate me as woman or man/It’s keeping me awake/Can’t differentiate,” she coos, never straying from her dilemma, a genuine discourse on gender identity.
The topic of gender repeats on “Girls in Bikinis,” where she, for the sake of equality, casually mentions “I wanna see boys in bikinis too/They’d look good on you.”
Societal commentary isn’t a new world to Poppy and co. — her whole musical project stems from artistic partner Titanic Sinclair’s vision of the world’s Internet addiction, amongst other woes — but her new messages on Am I A Girl? will hit far closer to home for many of her fans.
Up until now, Poppy’s depth had been rooted in her vapidness. No one had to look any further than “I’m Poppy,” an overly-simplistic pledge to a future paradise of “computers, Internet, videos, cameras,” to see the critique. Her bubblegum debut record even ironically refers to “dumb pop songs” next to tracks about achieving beach blonde perfection and catching your good angles on camera. Revealing all the shallow practices of modern society by embodying all of them — and, ironically, subsequently profiting from them – was the whole point.
Am I A Girl? packs in many of the same traits, idolizing wealthy lifestyles, the overwhelming pressure to be constantly “iconic,” and being a woman who’s in control and knows it, the last of which yields the instantly classic line “I am busy and important / you wanna bill me for it?” The lyrics still swing between absurd (how can wrists be “terrorists,” exactly?) and apocalyptic (see: “Time Is Up,” “The Rapture Ball”). And, of course, it’s a pop record through and through, even when it facetiously brings in heavy metal elements on “X” and “Play Destroy,” which brilliantly features Grimes.
But Am I A Girl?’s strides in the gender identity narrative brings Poppy to the next level of pop stardom. Telling your fans they’re too hooked on Youtube is one thing; offering relatable perspective on a deeply personal issue is another. Other contemporary pop artists have made the same connections on their rise to the top — Lady Gaga, Halsey, and Katy Perry have all dished on LQBTQIA issues in their music, consequently firming up their fanbase. Ultimately, no artist in any genre can reach any brush with fame without a sense of relatability, and matters of relationships, gender, and sexuality are among the most sensitive subjects to flesh out in music, but the quickest way to make a legitimate connection with listeners.
Poppy’s fostered her cult thus far based on bubblegum hooks and conspiracy theory fans, but Am I A Girl? opens the door for more engaging themes than her usual illuminati imagery. Whether or not this goes with her critique of pop music is another thesis altogether, and in this moment, doesn’t really matter.
What matters right now is that Poppy doesn’t need to know if she’s a girl or not; being a goddamn superstar goes with any gender. POPPY — AM I A GIRL? TOUR :: Monday, February 4 at The House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St. in Boston, MA :: 7 p.m., all ages, $20 to $39.50 :: Event info :: Advance tickets :: Facebook event page