Meet Poppy: The Face Of A Post-Genre World
Absurd, mysterious and highly controversial – you will find many colourful stories about Poppy online. As she herself says, coolly, of such speculation: “There are lots of public contributions that don’t always tell the truth.” We’ll let you plunge into what fans obsessively call the ‘Poppyverse’ in your own time. Try to make sense of the convoluted nature of all things Poppy, however, and you risk getting sucked into a tangled mess of conspiracy theories.
To say that the vocalist has had an unusual yet meteoric rise would be simplifying things. This is a woman who has been a YouTube celebrity, a fully-fledged pop star, a successful art project, a model and a comic book creator – all before shifting her artistry a little further in 2018 to become a full-blown rock star, and one of the most talked-up musical prospects of this year. It’s a CV that would make someone in the twilight of their career, let alone in their mid-twenties, feel proud. Yet Moriah Rose Pereira is someone who doesn’t want to hide any aspect of her career, her past, or her journey. Every step on the way has been under one artist name – well-considered and all with a careful plan to add to the unique legacy of her project and character.
But who the hell is she?
Today, speaking from her home in Los Angeles, she’s delighted to be covered y an outlet she has a reader of for a long time. “I’m very familiar,” she says of Kerrang!. “All of the Kerrang! covers are very iconic.” It is why she has chosen this opportunity to speak candidly and offer a rare peek behind the veil. A character “born on the internet”, her explosion into the public consciousness first came via videos that featured a pale, skinny girl with long blonde hair speaking to plants or mannequins in a softly spoken inflection against a white screen. Today, that high-pitched, ASMR voice has been replaced with Moriah’s real mid-tone LA drawl. She’s fairly inscrutable, but flashes of a surprisingly dark humour demand your attention every minute or so.
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Originally, Poppy amassed YouTube followers with videos of her – Moriah – singing. “My videos made their own way, organically, into the hands of record label people, unfortunately. Or fortunately,” she laughs, drily. “I’m not sure.” She looks back on that time of Poppy as being “me in my purest form. I was innocent and wide-eyed. Over time you get exposed to more things, you become wise and equipped to deal with certain situations. That was before the world dirtied my thoughts and made me question everything…”
One of Poppy’s earliest memories is yelling into a microphone. She was sitting comfortably on the floor in her dad’s home studio and “screaming” for the sake of “just making noise”. As the drummer in a local new wave band, her dad was the person who first made her enamoured with music. For a time, Poppy trained as a dancer, but with Debbie Harry of Blondie and Gwen Stefani of No Doubt on her radar, she always kept a tight focus on her singing.
At 13, after becoming victim to a bad spate of bullying, along with a desire to focus on creative pursuits, she was allowed to be home-schooled. Like her character, Poppy “was pretty much raised on the internet because my program was based online; all the usual classes you have to take. I just locked myself away and finished school two years early, at 16.”
In between all of this, she would stay in solitude to create art. “I’d write a lot in that room. I didn’t have anyone other than one or two people I’d see occasionally. I liked to lock myself away.” That was how she learned to do things like make beats and write lyrics. When she did leave the house, it was only to drive around Nashville, Tennessee in a truck she bought, and take notes of things she saw on her trips. “I was definitely a loner,” she says. “I had a lot of time in my own head, observing the world.”
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Poppy was, and remains, an introvert. She says she took the infamous Myers-Briggs personality test online and found out she was a INTJ-type – analytical problem-solvers with an eye for the opportunity to improve themselves or innovate things around them. They’re a very rare type, and the group comprises few women. “The last word stands for ‘judging’ and that’s definitely something I do,” Poppy admits. “I don’t know if I find myself having a lot of empathy for people.”
By the age of 18, her tenacious thinking led Poppy to a record deal. She’d left Tennessee behind to move to Los Angeles to work with Island Records, the home of money-making pop stars like the late Amy Winehouse, Ariana Grande, Post Malone and The Weeknd. “I was young, but old enough to do it by myself,” she says, headstrong. “It taught me a lot: the way business runs and how a lot of people are. I was in that scenario for quite a lot longer than I should have been, and I could’ve had better people around to help me navigate. I think if you can survive being signed [to a major label], you can survive a lot of things in life.”
Does she have any regrets about tying herself to a big pop machine so early in her career?
“In retrospect I wouldn’t change anything at all, because I learned so much,” she says, “even though it was the most frustrating thing, and it made me question myself, question everything I do and why I do it, and question my sanity.”
In those “innocent” days of the original Poppy character, her music was an upbeat strain of J‑pop. Still, K! offers, it has a dark undertone to it that forebodes the heavier music to come.
“I think there’s real darkness in J‑pop and K‑pop,” she says, seemingly pleased with this observation. “A lot of those acts get signed really young and they’re forced to do things by people around them. Like the people who made me think that things were my idea that weren’t, just so they could get their way using manipulation. That’s very real. I think that’s reflected in the first version of the project.”
By the close of her second album, 2018’s Am I A Girl?, Poppy was beginning the transition to rock. On Play Destroy, a nu-metal pop song she wrote with electro-pop icon Grimes, she threatens in a saccharine voice, ‘This is how we play / This is how we play destroy / Manipulate the girls / Indoctrinate the boys.’ The EP that followed, Choke, was heavier still, featuring a collaboration with FEVER 333. On its cover, Poppy is bending over like a broken toy on the white background of her early YouTube videos.
And then came the rebirth and Poppy X. With a fully-formed heavy album completely finished and “tied with a bow”, she signed with Sumerian, home to Asking Alexandria and Sleeping With Sirens. The result is industrial music for a new generation: it’s dark pop meets Nine Inch Nails, similar in spirit, if not sound, to what BABYMETAL do. Synths collide with nu-metal riffs to create songs to soundtrack Armageddon. There’s a lyric from the title-track of the new album, I Disagree, that explains it all: ‘Let it all burn down.’ In its video, Poppy is in a boardroom with stuffy record execs in suits and pearls when she grins, dons a diamanté gas mask, and proceeds to burn those around her. “That’s acknowledging that’s it’s okay to start over. Don’t be afraid of the unknown and to burn it all down,” she says. “That’s very much the mood I’m in now.”
How strange, then, that Moriah’s own life began to mimic the conceptual existence of Poppy the character. “It’s a life imitates art, art imitates life kinda thing,” she agrees. “After I turned in the album I was like, ‘Oh, this is actually about everything that I’ve been going through for the past year and everything that I’m living.’ And I didn’t even know that that’s what had happened.”
So here she is, readying for 2020 tours of screaming and dancing in full latex and spikes, with her latest innovation – one that she feels firmly proud of. It’s a body of work that is equally as cute as it is threatening. Famous fans in the rock scene are already becoming ‘Poppy Seeds’ – the name for her fanbase. A few years ago, Marilyn Manson messaged her on Twitter with the intention of connecting with and advising what he saw as a like-minded younger musician. “We’ve become pretty good friends since,” she says. “He’s so intelligent. I’ve learned a lot from him.” The themes that the pair obsess over are similar, too: celebrity and media, to name but two. Poppy, after all, was satirising the idea that technology is reducing people’s humanity and making them ever more an android-like. She talks on the subject with an intelligent detachment not unlike Manson himself. “Celebrity and media and technology are a goldmine of inspiration – they’re always changing, there’s always new faces, new products and ideas. It’s fascinating to step back and see how other people react to those things.
“There’s a certain amount of time when somebody new comes to LA that they have to figure things out,” she continues. “They fall off the bicycle and get back on – passing all these tests along the way – and it’s really fascinating to see how different people handle that. Everyone has to fall and get back up. If you haven’t fallen, just know that it’s coming.”
She pauses to laugh.
“And that, I think, is a lot scarier than getting the fall out of the way.”
As someone who has fallen multiple times and always re-mounted the proverbial bicycle, Poppy should know. “I had a crash course in a very short amount of time, but I am grateful for it,” she admits. “If I was living a predictable and safe life, then I would be very dissatisfied.”
Her first proper entrance into the rock world came as recent support for Bring Me The Horizon – a band who, like Poppy, bridge the gap between the alternative and mainstream worlds. Like that band’s more recent work, Poppy sees herself as part of a movement of artists working towards a blurring of the lines, freeing themselves of genre classification and restriction.
“A lot of people who have written about the new music have said it’s metal and pop, but I think that’s because they like the juxtaposition of that,” she explains. “I’ve never said my music is metal, but I do listen to that music. To clarify: post-genre. Or prog rock or pop. We’re turning a new page.”
Whatever she is, recent years have seen an implosion of subculture, and a loss of the stratification of traditional ideas of genre. Poppy – Version X, at least – is the perfect artist to stand for the evolution of rock in 2020. Who wouldn’t be fascinated to see what innovation could unfold in the melting pot? To that, Poppy says, with another evil little laugh, “And we all live in harmony, happily ever after.”
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