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‘I’m Poppy’ is proof that YouTube Red can be great

Let YouTube forever be weird

Poppy YouTube/Poppy

I’m Poppy isn’t going to compete with Netflix, Amazon or Hulu originals at the Emmys later this year. It’s not trying to, either.

YouTube’s newest Red series stars the internet’s delightfully mystical bubblegum pop star, Poppy, as she steps away from the internet and into the real world. Well, into the slightly more manicured world of Hollywood, where and everything rides on popularity. For Poppy, a human-pretending-to-be-an-android, fame is everything; her happiness is dependent on comments and likes. She understands that the internet treats the most talked-about influencers the best; the sport is walking the fine line between treasured queen and avoiding the internet’s cacophony. As Poppy makes her move from corner of the internet goddess to become the new face of Hollywood, Poppy learns just how far she’ll go to secure notoriety. Would you sell your soul to the devil to get everything you’ve ever wanted?

Poppy will. The half-hour pilot (the only episode released so far) offers more than a nuanced take on our obsession with popularity. That’s played out, and Poppy is anything but irrelevant. I’m Poppy pivots to the transactional happiness we find online; the more we released onto the internet, the more likely it is someone will give us a little heart or star for our efforts. We’re validated by the comments left by strangers and people we admire. The little burst of confidence we get with every new like or comment reinvigorates us. Like taking a health potion in a game, it spurs us forward. It’s addicting. Why would we ever stop ourselves from acting out for attention?

I’m Poppy satirizes that mentality wonderfully, relying on the schtick that made her popular in the first place on YouTube to carry a 30-minute series. What’s most impressive about I’m Poppy, however, is the fine distinction between traditional fame and infatuation driven by online comments. Commentary on feeble fame fixations is passé; Poppy knows this. She strives to point out the ludicrous environment YouTubers thrive in. Like and subscribe, rate and review, comment for follow-backs are all nonsensical sounding terms that we’ve built businesses around. How bizarre is it to sit down and think about the ecosystem we’ve created for ourselves? A world where Twitter and Facebook helped get a president elected, and YouTube creators are modern day heroes to millions of kids growing up?

That’s why I’m Poppy is the perfect YouTube Red series. There’s been some debate lately over what exactly YouTube Red is. Most subscribers see it as the only way to get an enjoyable, ad-free experience. Creators regard it as a sign of success and recognition on the platform. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wants to build it into a music service that can compete with Spotify, Apple Music and, to an extent, Tidal. Wojcicki wants to build upon the success of music content on YouTube, but admits when it comes to YouTube Red, the company doesn’t want to create its own Handmaid’s Tale or House of Cards. YouTube wouldn’t go out of its way to find actors for a high caliber show when its creators are building successful series in areas that more traditional networks can’t seem to crack.

YouTube is still an anomaly. It’s home for millions of creators who want somewhere to publish their quirky ideas that probably wouldn’t be accepted on network television. YouTube succeeds on being able to appease niche interests, serving millions of people looking to fulfill their desire of finding content that seems to be created with this in mind. Poppy found an audience through her art-experiment-turned-commercial-success ploy, and YouTube managed to twist that success into a Red series.

YouTube Red isn’t ever going to be a Hulu or Netflix competitor, but that’s good. Letting creators work on projects that align with the thematic concepts they explore in their own videos, like Poppy, is much more important. It proves that YouTube, to an extent, understands what its audience wants. There have been missteps along the way — I’m still not sure who The Thinning was supposed to appeal to — but I’m Poppy feels like the company rediscovered its grounding. I’m Poppy is enjoyable and feels authentically YouTube.

Wojcicki suggested last week that more YouTube creators will get their own Red series as the company bulks up its original content for subscribers. If future projects are anything like I’m Poppy, there may finally be enough of a reason to justify the hefty $9.99 a month price tag. YouTube’s creators are some of the most imaginative, and Poppy is a good example of that. Letting them create their own premium content by building upon the empire they’ve already created clearly works.

I’m not sure when the next episode of I’m Poppy will be released, but I can honestly say it’s one of the few times I’ve been excited for a YouTube Red series to continue. Let the peculiar and funny be nothing but themselves; let them continue to produce whatever brilliance their minds conjure up; let them breathe free without the restrictions of a regular network. Let them keep the vast majority of YouTube fun by allowing them to remind us of why we love YouTube in the first place.

Let YouTube forever be weird.

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