Ask Poppy who she is and the cybernetic, glassy-eyed human doll will respond with her idiosyncratic catchphrase: “I’m Poppy.”
Poppy is an anomaly. She’s an art experiment; a human trying to learn how to become an android. Her videos are short, sometimes less than a minute in length. They star Poppy in bizarre, creepy, serene situations. Every detail is mesmerizing, even when nothing really happens.
Poppy finds success in the juxtaposition of calming and disturbing. She plays on silence and creepy physical cues to exaggerate her schtick. Noticeably long periods of unblinking will pass, unsettling imagery will pop in and out as eerie side characters sporadically appear.
Poppy is a caricature and a glamorous observation of modern culture. With a new YouTube Red series, sold-out tours across the country, an appearance in YouTube Rewind and a rapidly growing YouTube channel, here’s everything you need to know about Poppy.
Start with the basics
By Poppy’s own admission, the pastel YouTube sweetheart materialized on the platform in 2011, but you won’t find any videos on her channel prior to November 2014. Part of Poppy’s intrigue comes from the mystery surrounding her character. She views our obsession with knowing every intimate detail about someone as a fault.
Her early videos don’t exist anymore, so the first Poppy entry we have is from 2014. It’s a genuine, but antiquated portrayal of the YouTuber who best personifies pastel-pop culture. The version of Poppy seen above is toned down from the manicured android we know today. She’s a little more carefree, a little less calculated, and evidently more human. The whole ploy of Poppy’s schtick is that she’s not human; or perhaps it’s more accurate to describe her as someone desperately trying to morph into an android.
Everything starts to change for Poppy in January 2015. A 10-minute video titled “I’m Poppy” is published. The video stars Poppy in an assortment of different positions repeating the phrase “I’m Poppy” over and over again. The monotonous overtone should be enough to scare people away after the first 20 seconds, but there’s something compelling about the video’s dubious nature. It’s almost impossible not to continue watching. It’s been viewed more than 14 million times.
This video introduced the Poppy we know today: a stoic but endearing byproduct of YouTube culture. It also introduced Poppy’s most popular phrase: I’m Poppy.
Poppy, meet Pee-Wee
As Poppy gained subscribers, new characters entered the fold and the bizarre world of Poppy took a turn for the better. Things start to get really interesting with the introduction of Charlotte, a deranged mannequin who’s jealous of Poppy. Charlotte’s drug and jealousy issues lead to encounters between the two that play out like a soap opera.
In April 2017, Poppy published a video called “I Am Not Sick,” that starred the YouTuber talking to Charlotte about her drug problem. It’s the type of indecipherable but undeniably appealing video that defines Poppy’s art.
Pee-Wee Herman is one of the better comparisons we can make when talking about Poppy. There’s an absurdity to their act, of watching grown adults pounce around like children, staying firmly in character. The whimsical nature of their acts is intoxicating. Pee-Wee Herman and Poppy take on larger-than-life characters that makes the mundane nature of their shows — talking into a camera, collecting the mail, doing errands — seem fantastical. Poppy comes across like a more subdued version of the experiment Pee-Wee led years ago, modernizing parts of her act for a YouTube generation.
Like Pee-Wee, there’s a desire to join Poppy in her playful, fictional world. They’re masters of escapism. The connection Pee-Wee and Poppy built with their audiences is crucial to their success, but Poppy’s fans are one of a kind.
Cult of Poppy
Poppy fans — they call themselves Poppy Seeds — are split between three groups: People who are in love with her, people who aspire to be her, and people who want to catch her in the act.
There’s an air of skepticism around Poppy’s persona. A subreddit created in her name contains dozens of threads pointing out inaccuracies with her videos or trying to decode a new message, all in the attempt to finally prove that Poppy isn’t just a magical creature on YouTube, but a working musician who needs to sell an act. The skeptics are some of the loudest, pointing to a lack of visible number for followers and possible hidden ARGs within her videos as curious to say the least. Some fans express concern about Poppy’s wellbeing.
“I’m just worried that this isn’t just a harmless project/art installation,” one fan wrote. “I’m just genuinely wondering if anything actually bad is happening behind the scenes. I would really love to be proved wrong about this.”
The skeptics, however, don’t make up the majority of Poppy’s fanbase. Most fans spend their time creating fan art and scrubbing through videos to learn everything they can about their favorite pop star. They host group meet-ups and, in the wake of Poppy’s somewhat recent music career, go to her shows together. They upload Instagram stories and concert clips to get better insight into Poppy as both a person and act, hoping to find some kind of intimacy in their obsession.
Poppy’s fans aren’t just bystanders, though. They’re constantly spending money on her merch, buying plastic pink triangle “membership rings” as a way to show their support. YouTubers selling merch isn’t new, but Poppy was quick to get in on the idea of creating a community around physical merchandise and apparel. Her performance as Poppy may be an act, but her financial success isn’t.
Poppy quickly became a “god” to the people who worship at her alter; a term that Poppy Seeds will use regularly to talk about the pop star. Her story is an incredibly successful one, spending years on creating the perfect persona to capture an entire audience ready to splurge on her merchandise to feel like they’re part of something.
But she didn’t do it on her own.
Titanic Sinclair is Poppy’s longtime collaborator, manager and producer.
Sinclair, whose real name is Corey Michael Mixte, not only directs Poppy’s videos, but also provides the chilling sound effects for Skeleton and Plant, two recurring characters in Poppy videos. He looks like a less neurotic Julian Assange, and acts like a character out of Black Mirror. There’s something unusual about the way he talks and acts; like he’s an android trying to convince people he’s human. It’s both exactly like Poppy’s persona and the complete opposite. The two are trying to figure out how to exist on the internet by embracing what they believe the internet stands for.
Outside of the YouTube universe Sinclair and Poppy created, the two are also collaborators on their own music projects. Sinclair has two albums of his own, but he’s most notable for helping Poppy produce her first studio album, Poppy.Computer, which was released in late 2017. Poppy’s bubblegum persona translates perfectly to her music, but the result is redundant, boring synth-heavy pop that’s immediately forgettable. Not even the likes of Titanic Sinclair can figure out a way to turn her visual personality into music gold.
The same thing can be said for her IRL presence during shows. Poppy maintains her persona on stage, but when she’s taken out of the single room we know her from, her act loses some of its edge. Gone is Poppy the art project that we’ve become infatuated with. This Poppy is a regular musician, embracing Lady Gaga and Katy Perry-style aesthetics while singing on stage. She’s only getting started as a musician, but the more she performs, the less magical she seems.
The reality is that Poppy isn’t just a strange YouTube kid anymore; she’s a musician and the star of her own YouTube Red series, I’m Poppy.
As Poppy continues to grow, more questions will be answered, but it’s clear that we’ll forever be left wondering about the “kawaii Barbie” who managed to change how we think of art experiments on YouTube. I just hope she doesn’t lose what made her Poppy, refraining from turning into what she fears most: a normal person.