Pretty vacant: meet Poppy, YouTube’s pastiche princess
The Meming of Life: She’s meant to be a parody of Instagram emptiness, but there’s a void at the heart of this internet star
Art-pop: Moriah Rose Pereira aka Poppy
For people who live on the internet, YouTube phenomenon Poppy encapsulates many of its more inscrutable trends: the crafting of a persona that’s at once glamorous and lifeless, weirdly soft speech pitched somewhere between CBeebies and Babestation, and hyper-stylised video content with the tipsy visuals of Wes Anderson directing a migraine.
Poppy, a pale blonde “character” portrayed by 23-year-old Moriah Rose Pereira, is masterminded by writer-director Titanic Sinclair. It’s a straight-faced pastiche of Instagram vacancy, of empty-headed sloganeering delivered as a nebulous art/satire/prank/commentary on internet culture.
In 2014, her channel released the first of over 300 videos in which she looks to, or near, camera while delivering disconcerting bromides, orphaned catchphrases or just the same few words over and over again. Her most popular release to date is just her saying “I’m Poppy” for 10 minutes, scored, like all her works, by a nearly-there bed of discordant synths.
Having released a book and now an album on Diplo’s Mad Decent label, perhaps it wasn’t long before the web enigma fell under the microscope of the internet’s more analytical organs. This week, New York Magazine’s fashion site The Cut tried to demystify her cult appeal – a term used here most advisedly.
We hear that among the people who have viewed her videos over 200 million times, there number those named “Poppy Seeds” – diehard fans who adore her as ardently as any boyband heartthrob or K-Pop princess – and “Poppy Truthers” – those who want to poke deeper under the surface and work out what’s going on.
Unfortunately, what’s going on doesn’t seem that captivating (although considering more than 10,000 people have watched her read 50 minutes’ worth of the bible, there really is no accounting for taste).
With her milkshake pastels and hyper-mannered speech, Poppy is grating but somehow compelling in small doses, but, when analysed in further depth, you feel the lens has perhaps cracked too wide, revealing . . . nothing. In person, her rote conversation feels flat and arch, her mannerisms strenuously stage-managed. As irritating as she may appear on video, in real life it appears a tedious sense of effort breaks the spell completely.
In a video accompanying the piece, art critic Jerry Saltz pauses between eyerolls to give his take on the phenomenon. “Is it art?” he asks, “If it is. It’s bad art, derivative art.
“It looks like a lot of contemporary art-about-art-about-art; art that makes fun of art”.
And here might come the rub for an internet oddity like Poppy. Perhaps, in the world of internet “satire”, it’s better to let people presume nothing exists beneath the surface, rather than to speak up and put it beyond all doubt.