Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, it’s likely that you’ve come across something related to the internet celebrity Poppy.
Poppy’s YouTube channel—and the subsequent empire that has formed around the slight, Barbie-blonde “pop” singer—is hard to sum up within a few sentences, though the channel has won a Streamy Award for Breakthrough Artist and has gained a substantial social media and YouTube following. The channel features videos of Poppy having conversations with plants or mannequins, but there’s also more detailed and sometimes unsettling content, including her fascination with a set of numbers that may or may not point to the Illuminati or her repeated insistences that she is not part of a cult.
It’s hard not to become fascinated by the Poppy narrative. Having loved conspiracy theories and satirical content for the majority of my life, I know that I’ve spent more hours on the internet then I dare divulge to the public scanning through the YouTube and Twitter feeds belonging to Poppy, her director Titanic Sinclair, and the ever-expanding cast of characters that seem to be intertwined with the Poppy universe. (And that’s not even mentioning a whole host of other YouTubers and writers who spend their time trying to figure out the meaning behind all of that far out content.)
This also isn’t the first time Titanic has been involved in projects related to a satirical view of the internet age and the kind of mass consumption that exists on the internet and in pop culture in general. Titanic’s previous YouTube channel, developed prior to the start of the Poppy Project, was called grocerybagdottv, and he shared the channel with Mars Argo, a character portrayed by Brittany Sheets. The channel, which focused on a running series by Titanic and Mars Argo titled The Computer Show, investigated many of the same themes that Poppy’s own videos do: the brainwashing of celebrities and people in the online age, the issues that are intrinsic to social media, and the concept of fame. Mars Argo also made music, with the same pop sound and catchiness of Poppy’s own music. Though much of this music has been wiped from the channel and from the internet in general, three videos remain on grocerybagdottv, two of which include songs by Mars Argo. The third video, titled “Delete Your Facebook”, above all else encapsulates some of the main themes of Titanic’s projects with both Mars Argo and Poppy: social media, the internet, and popular culture have changed the way humans interact and will continue to interact today, tomorrow and until the end of society.
Once Poppy came onto the scene, Mars Argo disappeared from much of the internet. Her last video, titled “Everybody Wants it All”, was an eerie and incredibly unsettling video of Mars Argo appearing to videochat with an unseen figure. The video ends with her pointing a gun to her own head as blood drips down out of her mouth. When played backwards, the very end of the video states the following message:
“You cannot be distracted by the illusion you've created. If you want it all, you cannot be distracted by the illusion you've created. Only when the mind is silent, you can see clear enough to enjoy your life and forget about your desires. Your desires are irrelevant.”
Incredibly interesting? Yes.
Additive to the public interest in the Poppy Project, Titanic, and the messages that they’re trying to portray? Absolutely.
Poppy, who is portrayed by Moriah Pereira, and Titanic Sinclair, portrayed by Corey Mixter, have managed to not only keep viewers interested in Poppy’s disquieting content but also use that following and fascination to help launch Poppy’s music career.
Don’t get me wrong, this music isn’t exactly for everybody. The majority of Poppy’s music (from her 2016 EP, Bubblebath, and her recent first full-length album, Poppy.Computer) features an ideology we don’t see in typical pop music.
Poppy tackles themes like obsession with technology (in songs like “Computer Boy” off of Poppy.Computer) and mass consumption (in “Money” on Bubblebath). Though the messages behind each of these songs can be seen as unsettling and quite heavy, the lyrics are set to bubblegum and Japanese pop beats, adding to the irony of Poppy’s anti-consumerist messaging. The music can be unsettling, to say the least, but it ultimately serves as a leeway to Poppy’s YouTube channel and corresponding theme.
Which is… what, exactly?
The best thing about the Poppy Project is that nobody can pinpoint exactly what it is.
And trust me: people have tried. One search for “Poppy” or “Titanic Sinclair” on YouTube, and you’ll be bombarded with results not only from their two channels but also from tens of thousands of other videos regarding the symbolism, conspiracy, hypocrisy, and satire behind Poppy-related content.
Some of the obvious themes that have always stuck out to me when viewing her content have been the dedication to the idea that pop culture and pop singers are carefully-curated, almost robotic versions of people. The messages behind Poppy’s songs are spoonfed to the public, making them easy to digest and, hence, accessible to a wider audience. With the rise in the internet age, fame is becoming more and more accessible, with people being able to craft themselves into figures of power and content creation without the middleman of an agent. Now more than ever, everyday people are able to become so-called “social influencers” and change the way that we think and feel about ourselves and others. We’ve become more and more validated by the numbers that reside beside our usernames and profile pictures on social media platforms, and we have become so attached to the promise of wealth and success that often we forget to look past each other’s carefully crafted realities in order to see the forest for the trees. Humans have found comfort in false idols and have increasingly turned to pop culture to cope with the reality of the world that we live in today.
"I think it's fun to be uncomfortable sometimes. Being able to have that kind of Goldilocks zone where you're not too hot, not too cold with comfort is missing a lot. It motivates a lot of what we make,” Titanic Sinclair said to NPR in a recent interview. Poppy followed up on Titanic’s point by refusing to say whether she is an act or a person. "It's a habit," she says of her identity. "I wake up, or do I even go to sleep? … Sometimes I get powered down, but that's it."
Ultimately, when considering Poppy and the Poppy Project as a whole, the point is not to look at Poppy and attempt to understand what she’s saying about herself. It’s to reconsider what she’s saying about us and society as a whole—and to give us all the chance to wake up before it could be potentially too late to turn back.
Ting Ting Chen