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I Disagree Liam Inscoe-Jones , January 22nd, 2020 09:22

Poppy's metal turn is an intriguing twist of the narrative for the blank-faced YouTube alien, finds Liam Inscoe-Jones

Yes, this thrash metal hellion named “Poppy” is the same twee, girlish enigma who gained internet virality through sheer confusion over her expressionless YouTube uploads from a world of candy-floss pink. In the same way Daft Punk kept their audience at an unnerving distance by affecting an alien blankness, Poppy’s mask is her face. In her online curios she wore peroxide blonde-hair and had a pristine aesthetic which bordered on the aryan: anticipating an AI-infatuated future while parodying the angelic dream-girl it’s easy to imagine a man would choose for human form. Her early music was equally bright; an AG Cook simulacrum with a surrealism indebted to Lynch. Bathing her kitsch avatar in bloodlust, thrash metal and bondage gear makes I Disagree a thrilling twist in the narrative.

These songs are loose and wild: like her videos, they thrive on absurdity, and are often exhilarating in the way great rock songs are. The title track is a genuine thrill, while ‘Anything Like Me’ features both a ripping guitar-solo and one of the sweetest passages on the record. There are moments which veer towards pastiche – the screamed vocals on ‘Fill The Crown’ sound less like an alien playing at being human and more like a twenty-five year old playing at being Slayer – but largely she avoids imitation. Opening track ‘Concrete’ swings from thrash, 2000s radio-pop and a gorgeous section where the Poppy algorithm is hacked by Brian Wilson. She sings the lyric “bury me six feet deep / cover me in concrete” unperturbed: the words ominous in one phase and surreal in the cherubic next.

Clearly, Poppy’s discovery of nu-metal doesn’t come with an interest in operating solely in that mould. Rock isn’t dead, but its function has changed. When ascendant, its sonic attributes were so universal they leaked into even the jazz of Miles Davis. Ironically, now on the back-step, from pop to hip-hop it’s deployed in a similarly equivocal way: just another palette to be painted with. Several artists from Grimes to Rita Sawayama have recently adopted nu-metal aesthetics to rage against those who define them by one single aspect of themselves; now Poppy joins them, retaining sweeter sounds amongst the fury.

This juxtaposition is the thrill of I Disagree. Nick Cave famously opined that the key to great songwriting is counterpoint: “you send in a clown, say, on a tricycle and you wait and you watch. And if that doesn’t do it, you shoot the clown”. Counterpoint is at the core of Poppy’s appeal: here she roles out her bubble-gum persona, and she shoots her with metal, power electronics and rage. The result is very convincing; as much a young artist finding her voice as an AI besting the machine.