I’m down the rabbit hole, guys. By random happenstance, I fell through a portal on YouTube into an Internet I don’t recognize anymore. It looks just like the one I used to know, but there’s something ineffably different. In short, I met Poppy. Allow me to introduce you.
Poppy is a self-described “kawaii Barbie child.” In her YouTube videos, which number in the triple digits and are generally about 35 seconds to a minute long, the porcelain-skinned girl stands rigid in a formless white void and just… talks. Here, take a look for yourself. This is a video entitled “Gravity” that she released in July 2016.
These abstract pieces have drawn hundreds of thousands of viewers from across the Internet, and nearly all of them share the same UNDER THE SKIN-esque vibe. Poppy stares directly into your soul, talking to you about whatever is on her mind. I half expect to be swallowed whole every time she opens her mouth. Her perspective is cold and alien, reciting basic facts as if she’s just learning about them for the first time.
In this piece, “Popularity,” she ruminates about what it means to be famous as if she’s E.T. learning how to interact with humans.
Mostly, she just sits in that creamy void, alone, speaking directly to the camera. But when she’s joined by somebody else, somehow it’s even more skin-crawlingly odd.
Yep, Poppy’s friends are motionless mannequins who shout accusations in flat, robotic voices. There’s something so casual about her interactions with this bizarre, cold world she inhabits that makes it that much more unsettling. She’s the living embodiment of the uncanny valley. She looks entirely human, but there’s just something wrong about the whole thing.
Wanting more information about this mysterious figure that was sending chills down my spine, I clicked over to her channel’s home page, which had an introductory video titled “I’m Poppy.” Thank goodness! I was about to get to the bottom of this!
Guess how that went.
Yeah, it didn’t go well. If you didn’t have the patience to sit through it all, that was ten straight minutes of Poppy saying, “I’m Poppy” from various angles. Not helpful.
Well, I did some digging so I could try to avoid having Poppy haunt my nightmares tonight, and here’s what I’ve discovered: Poppy is a character created by an up-and-coming pop artist, also known as That Poppy. She released her first EP last year, and her single “Lowlife” has been making the rounds. According to an interview, she is influenced heavily by J-pop, Cyndi Lauper, and Elvis Presley. And her stuff is pretty catchy, if you’re into bubblegum pop.
Now this I can understand. Her “Lowlife” music video is still weird, but it operates at a sort of Lady Gaga level of comprehensible lunacy.
You’d think finding out that this is just pop music promotional material would make it easier to swallow, but it’s not that easy to escape from the spell of Poppy. The Poppy whose song was featured in an episode of MTV’s SCREAM is an essentially different figure from the one cocooned in the blankness of these videos.
And even that personality is shrouded in mystery. Nobody knows Poppy’s real name or age, and her completely inscrutable history has led to dozens of conspiracy videos on YouTube attempting to figure out anything about her.
This is where our investigation ends. We have every fact it’s possible to know. This is just a weird pop star being weird. It’s commercial. It’s understandable. Right?
Well, it should be. And yet… it just isn’t. Poppy resists easy classification. I’ll leave you with this challenge. Knowing all that you do at this point, try watching this one last video all the way through without feeling a chill sink deep into your bones.