Review: Poppy demonstrates growth in new album “I Disagree”

by Jack Hargrove | 1/14/20 2:00am

In many regards, the advent of the Internet has changed the landscape of music more than anything since the invention of the phonograph. From the explosion of microgenres such as vaporwave and cloud rap in the 2010s to streaming services allowing immediate access to just about every song ever recorded, the music industry is almost unrecognizable to what it was pre-Internet. One of the more significant aspects of the new music industry is the now meteoric pace at which stars can rise through the use of websites such as SoundCloud, Bandcamp and even YouTube — all of which allow anyone to find an audience much more easily than in the past. 

Moriah Rose Pereira, better known as Poppy, is easily among the best and most interesting artists to emerge from the Internet, getting her start posting videos on YouTube in 2014. Her early videos were bizarre but artsy, consisting of Poppy performing unnerving and absurdist skits with sterile backdrops and mood music playing in the background. Her most famous video, garnering over 20 million views, is “I’m Poppy,” in which she repeats the phrase “I’m Poppy” over and over from various positions for 10 minutes.

Through these videos, Perreira managed to effectively cultivate the character of Poppy, a humanoid robot with consciousness that eerily approximates the way a human acts. As the character Poppy, Perreira released the albums “Poppy.Computer” in 2017 and “Am I a Girl?” in 2018, both featuring futuristic and electronic art-pop songs. However, her sound recently shifted to a peculiar blend of pop and metal and her new album, “I Disagree,” is the culmination of this new era. In this project, Poppy finds a perfect blend of the two genres and makes her most captivating and experimental music yet.

The album kicks off with the lead single “Concrete,” immediately putting the dark musical and lyrical themes of this era on display. After an alarm sounds at the beginning to announce Poppy’s arrival, she begins to whisper-sing, “Bury me six feet deep/Cover me in concrete/Turn me into a street.” The disturbing lyrics continue throughout the song, with the lines “I tried to eat ice cream/I tried to drink tea/But I need that taste of young blood in my teeth”; however, these lyrics are sung with a joyful, cheery inflection, in direct juxtaposition to the lyrical content. This duality is reflected in the music itself, alternating back and forth between saccharine pop and harsh metal. The quiet-to-loud motif is used extensively throughout the album, with Poppy alternating between sounding like a classic popstar and a coarse, growling metal singer.

The next song is the album’s title track, “I Disagree.” The opening lines are “Watashi wa anata ni dōi shimasen,” roughly translated from Japanese as “I disagree with you,” calling to mind Japanese kawaii metal acts like Babymetal. Musically, this song is the best blend of pop and metal on the album; instead of going back and forth between quiet pop and loud metal, this track features Poppy’s sugary vocals over a consistently metal instrumental. The hook on this song is easily the catchiest on the project and this track is the best representation of the album as a whole.

The third track, “BLOODMONEY,” contains the fewest pop elements of any song on the album. Instead, this track contains a combination of killer guitar riffs and a hardcore EDM breakdown. The song also features some of the sharpest lyrics on the project, such as “Your soul can’t be saved from the sins you’ve ignored/And the devil is well aware he is adored/Never forget the excess of a man/Because the grabbing hands always grab what they can.” These lyrics, as well as the rest of the song, chronicle the hardships that music artists can face and the hypocrisy that is present within the industry.

The following track, “Anything Like Me,” is the most indicative of the way the character of Poppy has changed over time. The title is in direct opposition to one of Poppy’s earlier songs, “Everybody Wants to be Poppy,” and the lyrics detail how Poppy has coped with fame and her desire to be unique. The song begins acoustically, but quickly transitions to abrasive synths and heavy guitars. With a quiet rage, Poppy sings, “Sorry for what I’ve become/Because I’m becoming someone,” before repeatedly growling, “You shouldn’t be anything like me” in the chorus.

The fifth track, “Fill the Crown,” is the final single and closes out the first half of the album. This track features the greatest diversity of sounds on the album, alternately containing sections of synth-pop, electronic music and metal. It is also the only track to prominently feature vocals from someone other than Poppy; throughout the song, an uncredited artist growls the lyrics in a deep voice alongside Poppy’s singing. I, along with many others on the Internet, believe this uncredited singer to be Marilyn Manson, as Poppy has made their friendship known on social media. As the last of a string of five singles, this song ends the more unified sound of the album’s first half.

“Nothing I Need” begins the second half of the album with a much-needed breather. It is the first non-metal track of the album, and with its airy production, soft vocals and quiet drum beat, the track makes for a relaxing listen. The song also features a synth line that is heavily reminiscent of the vaporwave music genre, popular on the Internet early last decade. “Nothing I Need” is one of the strongest tracks on the album and really stands out against the other songs.

The next track, “Sit / Stay,” returns to the heavier sound found in the first half of the album. However, this song is much more complex than any other on the project with an irregular time signature, chaotic electronic production and a cyclical guitar line. The chorus contains the line “Godspeed to the radio star,” which I interpreted as a reference to the Buggles’ 1979 hit single “Video Killed the Radio Star.” This lyric is very fitting, as Poppy got her start making videos on YouTube. This track also features the most effective utilization of the quiet to loud music structure on the album.

The eighth track, “Bite Your Teeth,” is perhaps the strangest song on the album; sadly, it is also the weakest. While the song is still an enjoyable listen, it is hindered by weak lyrics and too much frantic back and forth in the production. Despite the fact that the rest of the album uses this technique very well in most of the songs, it comes across as too over the top in “Bite Your Teeth,” with the song never really finding a groove. Luckily, the flaws in this track are a result of Poppy being too ambitious rather than lazy, rendering the song more of a flawed experiment than an actual bad song.

The final two tracks, “Sick of the Sun” and “Don’t Go Outside,” are a departure from the style of the rest of the album. Musically, both are quiet ballads and, lyrically, they seem to be two sides of the same coin. The lyrics detail the depression that Poppy feels, causing her to isolate herself from society. “Sick of the Sun” contains a more pessimistic take on the situation with Poppy singing in the chorus “I’m sick of the sun/It burns everyone/I want it to go away/I just wanna float away.” These lyrics, alongside the line “Everyone told me that it would get better/But every day feels exactly the same,” spoken in the bridge, convey a crushing sense of hopelessness and loneliness. The reverb-heavy guitars and melancholic synths combine with the depressing lyrics to make a stunning yet haunting song.

“Don’t Go Outside,” the final track, contains many of the same lyrical themes as “Sick of the Sun”; however, it contains a much more optimistic take on the situation. While the lines “The TV says we’re out of time/Suck the fear in through your eyes/Everyone is bland and blind/Don’t go outside” are as depressing as anything in the previous track, the repeated refrain of “Everything will be okay” near the end paints a picture of hope. The first verse and chorus are entirely acoustic; after the first chorus, however, an electronic beat appears in the background. After the introduction of a heavy guitar riff, the song ends with a medley of lyrics from the earlier songs on the album. This track is a perfect and satisfying end to the album and makes it feel cohesive.

From beginning to end, Poppy’s “I Disagree” is a well produced and experimental project that takes the Poppy character in a compelling direction. Its main flaw is the overuse of the quiet to loud song structure, but the album’s tight track listing of only 10 songs, running for 35 minutes, ensures that the style never overstays its welcome and that none of the tracks feel like filler. In addition, the shift in both musical direction and overall aesthetic is refreshing. The evolution of Poppy’s character is perhaps her greatest strength as an artist, and her refusal to ever remain stagnant keeps her constantly interesting.Originally, Poppy was just a robot who made unsettlingly cheerful pop music. Now, that robot has said the most terrifying thing any robot can say: “I disagree.”