Poppy - I Disagree (Cover Artwork)


I Disagree (2020)

Sumerian Records

As I sit down to write this, I’m conscious that it may well be one of the more confusing tasks I’ve attempted, journalistically speaking. I also imagine that, Poppy being something akin to a corporeal (and artistic…?) realisation of the entire canon of criticisms levelled at the millennial generation, just attempting to review this is putting a target on my own back, but fuck it. You’d be hard pressed to argue that Poppy isn’t at very least of pop culture significance and with this foray into guitar music (of sorts – don’t get the knives out just yet), then maybe it’s time to talk about Poppy through a musical lens that she has hitherto had very little to do with.

There are baffling stories and theories surrounding Poppy on the internet that are frankly too numerous and bizarre to even begin discussing, so I’m just going to look at this record without too much background context. Feel free to read more about Poppy and her history/characterisation if you wish, but prepare to be confused. To the matter at hand, I Disagree is the third album from Poppy since 2017, or even fourth if you include last year’s I C U (Music to Read to), which is 23 minutes of instrumental electro-ambience. I mention that record more as a bit of perspective against what Poppy has delivered with I Disagree. Poppy is not, by design, an artist associated with guitars, or certainly not metal. But that is the genre she has apparently aimed at here. Precisely what type of metal is debatable, but you only need to look at the album artwork to see the aesthetic theme. Ironically, the photoshop corpse paint she’s sporting on the cover pertains most traditionally to black metal of course, one of the only metal sub-genres not really touched on in the album’s 10 tracks and 35-minute runtime.

This is where I feel only partially-equipped to analyse the record. It goes into a lot of different places, style-wise. Many of those I’m very familiar with. There is metalcore, there are moments of industrial, there are hardcore-esque breakdowns and even moments that could feasibly pass as doom, believe it or not. But Poppy herself is distinctly not any of these things. Her delivery is so absurdly sugar-coated and willfully bubblegum in most places that it simply comes across as jarring and bizarre. As an example of how ADHD the record is, I’ll take the opening track “Concrete” as a case study. It opens with an air raid siren, Poppy whispering to ‘Bury me six feet deep / cover me in concrete / turn me into a street’. Then comes a high-end, rapid guitar trill that serve as a micro pre-chorus…and then the chorus itself. ‘Chewy chewy / yummy yummy yummy’ Poppy repeats over a saccharine, major key melody, complete with pop punk double time drums. Then out of nowhere comes a thudding breakdown, which then gives way to a jaunty, sparsely jangly middle eight where Poppy talks about eating ice cream and candy. The song also manages to fit in Brian May-style lead guitar lines and sampled chants of "Poppy! Poppy!” All of this in a song of less than 3 and a half minutes. It has to be heard to be believed, really.

Now, I don’t want to be the grumpy metal gatekeeper guy and I don’t want to suggest that this level of experimentation should be criticised, but here is my problem with the record. It just isn’t good. It’s poorly executed almost throughout. Also, the moments where it becomes painfully clear Poppy’s strengths lie outside of the world of metal become so frequent that the ‘metal’, when it does arrive, doesn’t make me cringe so much as physically wince.

But it’s not entirely without merit in the case of some constituent parts. “Don’t Go Outside” is a lo-fi pop ballad essentially, and for the most part is perfectly pleasant. But halfway through, a chunky, yet entirely uninteresting riff kicks in for all of 10 seconds before disappearing entirely again. The next time an electric guitar turns up, we’re treated to an outlandish, noodle-heavy solo that just has nothing in common with the tone of the song it’s been crowbarred into. In total, the song is over 6 minutes long. About 5 minutes pop, 1 minute entirely dissonant hard rock. The two exist entirely separately and there is seemingly no attempt to make them coalesce.

This is the prevailing story of the record. Poppy does her pop thing and on occasion does it quite well. But then she apparently remembers she’s trying to do a metal record, so chucks a glittery, inexpertly crafted metal trope into the song with no interest in whether it is necessary or to the benefit of the song itself with what feels like a "Yeah. That’ll do." approach before returning to her comfort zone of kawaii-tinged pop.

The irony is that I’m sure this will get a lot more exposure than any number of superb records released this year from the world that Poppy is currently trying to elbow her way into. The best thing I can say about this record is that it’s an occasionally-proficient pop star (albeit one who isn’t to my tastes), making a poor attempt at filling a gap somewhere between Bring Me The Horizon, Billie Eilish and Babymetal. To my mind, it’s a real mess. I find it grating, annoying and zeitgeist-chasing. But then let’s be honest. Poppy doesn’t care what I think, and she certainly hasn’t made this record for me or the demographic I exist in. Or I certainly hope not.