Poppy Digs Into the Entire Rock Canon at Once on 'FLUX'
Published Sep 22, 2021Poppy has changed her musical style. Again.
When Poppy introduced herself to the world with debut album Poppy.Computer in 2017, the singer gave us neon-bright pop songs that reflected (and satirized) the digital culture through which her persona was built. With her second studio album, 2018's Am I a Girl?, Poppy started dabbling with heavy songs: "X" and "Play Destroy" fused candy-pop and thrash in a style reminiscent of Japanese kawaii metal.
When Poppy's partnership with producer Cory Mixter (aka Titanic Sinclair) ended after Am I a Girl?, her exploration of metal continued — and culminated — in 2020 album I Disagree and this year's EAT EP, both of which are avant-garde explosions of heavy metal and gritty industrial, frequently juxtaposed against Poppy's classic, sugary sweet pop melodies.
After enjoying critical acclaim for this unique sound, Poppy decided it was time to move on. Earlier this summer, she dropped singles "Her," "Flux," and "So Mean," three pop-grunge songs that drive home catchy hooks to which listeners can sing along after the first listen. The rest of the songs on FLUX follow a similar pattern: moving away from gimmicky, shock value approaches to song writing, she maintains a more traditional form. In vast contrast to her work on I Disagree and EAT, almost all the tunes on FLUX follow standard verse-chorus-bridge construction. In some ways, this record is Poppy's most commercial work to date.
The song "Hysteria" draws on tense post-punk; the shoegaze, space-trip soundscape in "Strange As It Seems" seems to be a love letter to Billy Corgan's work in the early '90s; and "Lessen the Damage" is a throwback to '80s punk. But every genre and convention from which she borrows is refurbished with a Poppy twist.
First, there's the vocals. Fans of Poppy's heavier work may be disappointed by the fact that FLUX contains none of the purely animalistic screaming of I Disagree or EAT. But on top of clean vocals, in the crescendo of songs like "Her," "Flux," and "Never Find My Place," Poppy adds a layer of "soft" screaming — something between being in key and making noise. Then there's the lyrical content. Perhaps not a "concept" album, FLUX is still unified under the central theme of self-understanding, through Poppy's reconciling of personal identity with the world's perception of her.
She begins the journey of self-discovery on the title track, wherein she takes stock of her musical career to this point: "For your amusement, for your confusion / I guess I'll do it 'cause I'm bored / There's no attention span shorter than mine or yours." Poppy's journey also takes her to a moment of existential questioning — "how did I get here?", she sings on the third track, "So Mean." Eventually, the journey concludes with self-acceptance: "I will be fine if I never find my place," she sings on the aforementioned closer.
FLUX situates itself in and around the broad category of rock and its derivatives, but what it really does is encapsulate Poppy's desire to evolve through genres. She's identified that her constant need for change — for flux — is, ironically, the very thing that gives her consistency. With this album, Poppy very clearly says that her new niche is to not have a niche. (Sumerian)