It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (November 22), and all through The Sinclair fans were attempting to vault over the stage barricade to literally drink the Kool-Aid. Sweaty teenage palms reached out to grasp the few clear cups filled with mystery red liquid that had been “blessed” at the beginning of the show.
All in the name of Poppy, who is not a cult leader.
“Do you trust me with your life?” Poppy asked in her signature silvery whisper of a voice as she bestowed the cups to her most devoted pop disciples. “Drink the delicious Poppy beverage.”
Before the show, an announcement nonchanlantly stated “Poppy is not responsible for any fatalities.”
It’s as Jim Jones as a concert can get without calling anyone father.
Pop stars and conspiracy theories are inextricably bound — Katy Perry is JonBenét Ramsey; Avril Lavigne was replaced with a double in the early 2000s; Lady Gaga pushed fellow musician Lina Morgana from a roof to take her place in music stardom — especially in the information overload of the Internet age.
But no singular singer has so intensely embraced yet ignored the rumor mill like Poppy. Leaving a breadcrumb trail of satanic imagery, Illuminati symbols, and force-fed artificial intelligence-like dialogue in all of her short but decidedly off collection of YouTube videos, the singer lets fans and Internet sleuths connect the dots on their own. Which they have, a million times over; Poppy is a pop-minded pre-programmed robot, Poppy is a victim of Monarch Mind Control.
But more accurately, Poppy resembles a benign dark web nightmare come to life.
Up until now, Poppy has existed solely on the Internet, releasing music from behind a computer screen with her artistic partner Titanic Sinclair. In fact, she’s practically set out to be a human embodiment of the Internet, songs like “Interweb” and “Computer Boy” mapping out the technology motif on her debut album Poppy.Computer.
Her carefully planned out aesthetic registers somewhere between playful tween and Sanrio, flashing pastels, platinum blonde locks, and a smattering of eyeballs on every other outfit she dons. Ask her about Moriah Pereira, Poppy’s legal name, and she’ll tell you she doesn’t know who you’re referring to. And while Poppy has performed live before on a handful of occasions, seeing her sing on her first ever tour in the flesh (or whatever material she has covering that robotic skeleton) is almost as bizarrely difficult to digest as watching her videos.
Onstage at The Sinclair, Poppy’s phone trilled and she answered reluctantly, turning her back to her fans. “No that can’t be. I’ll prove you wrong. They do love me,” she said, turning back around to face the crowd, who offered an obligatory yet enthused roar of approval.
Many of the starlet’s videos hinge on this idea of a certain unknown “they” micromanaging her — “I don’t know if they’re going to let me tell you,” “they told me I was in so much trouble,” “they have taken control,” — making Poppy seems like a pop star in captivity, totally subject to the will of her “handlers” (her word, not ours). Some highlights include Youtube uploads “Am I okay?” and “What Rhymes with Breath” (pssst, the answer is death). In real life, she’s not all that different.
“P-O-P-P-Y I’m Poppy,” she recited, starting the show in the most obvious but hypnotic of ways, her petite self decked in a cotton candy princess dress coated in sequins and juvenile glitz. Two Sia knockoff background dancers follow her every move, from the J-Pop influenced “Moshi Moshi” to the more subtly suggestive “Software Upgrade.” The pop is bubblegum in its purest form, but it’s also thoroughly and innocuously weird.
“Poppy is an object/Poppy is your best friend/Poppy will break your neck/Poppy will be your pet,” she chanted in third person in “My Style,” later casually mentioning a starting a cult, the same one she insists she’s not a part of.
At one point, Charlotte the mannequin, another recurring character in the Poppy universe (who, by the way, opened the show by sitting behind a DJ booth and doing zip), asked to participate in the main act and Titanic Sinclair retaliated by draping her decapitated head over the crowd and scalping her of her wig. Later, Poppy brought out a carton of donuts from Dunks and carefully selected ones to toss into the crowd as fans leapt to catch them as if they were the body and blood of Christ.
When an old Poppy video played onstage, showing Poppy with blood dribbling from her mouth, select fans hollered “where’s Mars Argo?,” Sinclair’s prior Poppy-esque musical partner who dropped off the face of the earth when the two spilt (which is another pop dissertation altogether).
“You don’t even know what do with me,” Poppy cooed on new tune “Bleach Blonde Baby,” another Poppy.Computer track. Even after seeing the whole pastel package in real life, aside from the knee-jerk reaction of blind consumption, still no one does.
Photos by Victoria Wasylak; follow her @VickiWasylak.