IN CONCERT: Poppy’s Pet Sounds

This “one woman Faith No More” is wowing young crowds across the country on her latest tour

Poppy in Philly (Photo: Pete Gotta)

My editor Ron called Poppy a “one-woman Faith No More” but don’t take Mr. Bungle off the table. And there’s traction to that “American Babymetal” thing, too, though she’s more enamored with ‘60s psych pop breakdowns. And why not Queen?

Her opener at Philly’s TLA theater earlier this month was “Concrete,” the same sweeping genre-blender epic that begins the YouTube sensation’s pretty great new album I Disagree, zipping spotlessly through — in order — Slipknot, J-Pop, Pet Sounds, some quick Brian May squall, and uh, “That’s the Way It Is”-era Celine Dion. She maneuvers through these genres as nonchalantly as Snapchat filters, but she also naturalizes them; boiled down, I Disagree is simply a tight and exceptionally tuneful metal album. It’s more replayable than you’d expect from the stylistic whiplash; perhaps Tierra Whack’s outstanding, highly unpackable Whack World is an even better flashpoint than System of a Down, whom the second number, “Bloodmoney,” highly resembled.

Poppy in Blue (Photo: Pete Gotta)

But Poppy is the rare genre skipping artist whose hebephrenia is meant to propel the songs to get to where they’re going. They Might Be Giants match her encyclopedic energy and, judging by the headset-adept crowd at the TLA, probably have fewer nerds in the seats. And she plays to the comedy in her absurd sonic about-faces just like Sleigh Bells. Don’t let her fool you into thinking she puts anything but music first, but sure, her nihilism is exceptionally funny and often taken to its logical conclusion (“Turn me into a street,” she beckons throughout “Concrete” as the music shifts shape). Her live show was more stripped down than expected, with less emphasis on her AI robot schtick. She wielded a mic that stayed in its stand.

Poppy’s a good fit for 2020 pop because of her music’s least trolly elements: carefully plotted guitar solos, showcases for instrumental components, harmonies, transitions less jarring and lazy than (yes) your favorite prog band. She knows her shit three different ways, highlighting the beginnings of an actual oeuvre when she oscillated between the Rammstein and Wilson Phillips parts of “Play Destroy” (sans estranged duet partner Grimes), shuffled through “Anything Like Me” like a Marilyn Manson hit, and sprawled out on the pre-encore “Don’t Go Outside” like a cross between early Weeknd and “Hotel California.”

Poppy I Disagree, Sumerian Records 2020

Of course, now that actual AI is writing hit Travis Scott songs, why shouldn’t a human being beat tech at its own game and mimic AI? For all their celebration of technology and love of the entropic Devo, They Might Be Giants never really imagined their song machinations would overtake their humanity, and their death drive was never quite as explicit as Poppy, the rare pop artist whose music is only coming into full focus as she embraces metal. But with nihilists, it’s always worth noting that the high quality of the output negates the death drive by default. She creates (well), therefore she’s alive. The robots haven’t changed that just yet.


AUDIO: Poppy I Disagree (full album)

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Dan Weiss

Dan Weiss is a freelance writer living in New Jersey.

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