Titanic recommends the scrambled egg bruschetta, which he orders, too. Poppy asks for mint tea and a fruit bowl. It’s strange seeing these humans, avatars of the alien and ethereal online, ordering food like mere mortals.
Between the two of them, Titanic is the talker. Poppy watches Titanic gesticulate as he answers questions, occasionally murmuring something. She yawns several times.
They recently finished her album, which is out October 6. Poppy plans to go on tour by the end of the year. Plus, their first longform video project, The Poppy Show, will be announced soon (whether it’ll be a web series, a TV show, or released on a streaming service has yet to be decided). Titanic says his goal with the project is to give fans the immersive feeling he experiences when watching David Lynch films, when seeing Andy Warhol’s art, when going to Disneyland.
And they both agree, even as they roll out all this new material, that keeping aspects of the project hidden is the best MO. “If everything’s been revealed, then what’s there to know?” Poppy asks. “There’s no mystery, no intrigue.”
I ask about how that translates to her real-world persona, how Poppy acts in interviews—using the third person, letting people be thrown by uncomfortable moments of silence. “Poppy doesn’t really like interviews,” Poppy says with a laugh. I can’t see her eyes, but I have the sense that she might be rolling them at me.
“Just that they’re always trying to get to the bottom of something, and I just want them to stay at the top of it.”
“There is no bottom,” Titanic says. “That’s the crazy thing.”
“Just stay at the top,” Poppy adds. “It’s never-ending, but don’t go looking where you shouldn’t be looking, just let it be what it is. Let it excite and then leave it there.”
Maybe she has good reason to leave the past behind. I remember an old video I saw posted in the Uncensored subreddit. A pre-fame Poppy sits in a bathtub wearing combat boots. One shoe is held together with duct tape. She talks about going home for the holidays and complains about running into old school bullies. “We need to not pay attention to those losers who tried to push us down the stairs when we were in middle school,” she says to the camera. “We need to not pay attention to those stupid kids who would drop their food trays on me in the cafeteria. Because, you know what? They don’t matter anymore.”
I look at the woman in front of me. Poppy transcends her former life. Poppy engages as much or as little as she wants. Poppy is entirely in control. Poppy is warm or icy, as it suits her. A crowd boos her at a county fair and she isn’t shaken; someone leaves a nasty YouTube comment and she doesn’t care. She lets Titanic do the talking while she yawns.
I recall something she told me on the phone the month before: “It’s more fun to just be Poppy. I don’t try to make things mysterious on purpose, I just try to make them interesting.”
Make them interesting. Maybe that simple notion is the key to understanding Poppy’s obsessed fans. I suddenly flash back to a sliver of conversation I’d had with Titanic a few weeks earlier, when our talk turned existential. “We’re on a planet spinning around a giant sun for some reason,” he says. “We’re flying around in space. And every night I look up and I look at the moon and I wonder, just like anyone else, why are we here? And I don’t know. Nor does anyone else.”
He pauses for a moment, perhaps thinking about how, to him, the strangeness of our reality is more bizarre than any video he and Poppy could ever dream up. “What I do know,” he continues, “is that something inside of me feels OK when I’m creating. And when it’s honest and it’s coming from a pure place, even if it’s veiled with sarcasm, it’s still real. And I think that’s why it resonates with people.”
The magic of Poppy is that, even as you know you’re being manipulated, you go along with it. You see through the narrative of her being “entrapped” by larger, terrifying forces, and yet you still wonder how much Titanic has her under his thumb. You know she’s making intentionally simplistic earworm pop music, but it gets stuck in your head anyway. Poppy’s videos are so empty and repetitive, they dare you to look away—but you can’t, because you’re certain no one would make a video that empty and repetitive without a reason. She and Titanic are openly mocking and copying everything celebrities do to become famous. And Poppy is becoming famous for it.
The magic of Poppy is that, to understand Poppy, you have to keep watching Poppy. And soon you find yourself watching her everywhere: YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. Before long, you’re swimming in a sea of Poppy. The water is cool and pink but eventually you wonder if Titanic will start turning up the heat and that, before you know it, you’ll be boiled alive or choke on the Pepto-Bismol taste and drown. You dive deeper anyway.
Poppy means nothing. Poppy means everything. Poppy is exactly what she purports to be. She is Poppy.
We say goodbye, and Titanic and Poppy both hug me. Tomorrow they’re going to Japan to finish recording their album. As they walk away, I have a sinking feeling. I’m closer to understanding Poppy than I’ve ever been, but I am also more confused than ever. The paradox continues.
There she goes, I think. Back inside my computer.
Lexi Pandell is an assistant research editor at WIRED.