In a live performance that exuded almost as much sinister energy as her YouTube videos, the enigmatic Poppy presented her newest album, “I Disagree,” at U Street Music Hall last Saturday. Although the show was undeniably a display of the quirky and confident personality her fans have consistently loved, Poppy’s vocals occasionally fell short during the brief set.
Poppy, born Moriah Rose Pereira, began her journey to fame back in 2015, starting with the strangest videos the internet has ever seen — short and zany art videos featuring a recurring cast of mannequins — followed by the release of her first EP, “Bubblebath” in 2016, which featured cheerful bubblegum pop and satiric vocals. However, the Poppy that performed at U Street is far different from her pastel persona of the mid-2010’s. “I Disagree” is Poppy’s first collaboration with Sumerian Records, known for their roster of metal bands, and features a sound that is notably closer to screamo than pop.
Poppy is an unconventional pick for U Street Music Hall to feature. Her grunge sound stands out among their lineup of indie or alternative artists such as Anna of the North and Glass Animals. In spite of this contrast, Poppy certainly did not fail to draw a crowd to the venue.
Poppy boldly began her set with her title track “I Disagree,” prompting huge cheers from the throng of fans. The audience consisted of everyone from middle-aged fathers with their young child to teenage girls with brightly-colored hair. Poppy’s opening song got the entire group throwing up rock-and-roll signs and jumping to the music. Its chaotic percussion and heavy metal combined with Poppy’s high singing voice made for a dynamic opening experience.
The artist herself was dressed according to the macabre theme, with her hair twisted up into short, two-tone pigtails, black lipstick and an all-black leather dress. This look, alongside the grimy eye makeup and masks of the male lead guitarists, set the tone for the remainder of the concert just as much as the opening number did, which was a clear departure from her pop past and a heavy focus on her new metal direction.
Poppy’s third song in the set was “Fill the Crown,” also from “I Disagree.” The band got the audience clapping along to the beat, and, since the entire crowd knew the lyrics by heart, their voices ultimately drowned out Poppy’s airy vocals on this particular track. The futuristic beat combined with Poppy’s nonchalant and high tone spotlighted her personality more so than her vocal talent.
Predictably, Poppy had very few moments of connection with the crowd, as her cryptic nature is a major appeal of her performance. However, when she did acknowledge her fans, she used the same creepy, familiar voice of her YouTube videos. Hearing her say, “Hi, D.C., it’s nice and warm in here,” was chill-inducing.
As the artist continued with her set, the show became increasingly dynamic, including flashing red and white strobe lights during her performance of “Anything Like Me” and intense dancing from Poppy herself during “Sit / Stay.” Although her voice may have wavered during the concert, Poppy’s stamina never seemed to dim.
The strongest moment of the entire show came with yet another song from “I Disagree,” titled “Sick of the Sun.” This piece slowed down the concert, giving Poppy a chance to catch a breath and display her vocals at their best. Poppy’s whispers at certain points in the song and the vocal accompaniment of the male guitarists made this number a major highlight, which stood out from the fairly uniform theme and tone of the concert as a whole. The audience clearly felt the shift in energy too, as they waved their hands to the slow beat.
The end of the show came quickly since Poppy chose to highlight only songs from her newest album. Not one single note of bubblegum pop graced the ears of these concertgoers, and, although none of them seemed disappointed by the lack of traditional Poppy standards, it did mean that the show was relatively uniform. Poppy even closed with her opener, demonstrating how much the artist wants to distance herself from her previous genre. While Poppy did exhibit versatility and quirkiness, the short show did leave something to be desired with its complete focus on her latest album.
Ultimately, Poppy’s show was made by her admirers. The loyalty and enthusiasm of her fans carried her performance in spite of its shortcomings. Perhaps seeing their idol in person gave them slightly more insight into the puzzle that is Poppy.