Poppy’s YouTube videos feel like Twin Peaks’s famous Red Room scenes. Her contrived speech, often dubbed over surreal electronic soundscapes, serves to critique cliché, fake and overstated online social interactions. Though some give her less credit than this, her rise to fame nonetheless demonstrates how much we continue to encourage artificiality and naiveté in women.
Poppy’s childish and wide-eyed appearance and behavior is a large part of her initial appeal. Listening to her mesmerizingly high-pitched, monotone voice forces you to stay. And to click on the next video. And the next. She constantly holds over our head the promise of finding out where she came from and who she is while never revealing more.
And you can’t “find” her identity with a quick Google search either. She was born Moriah Rose Pereira in Boston, and moved to Nashville as a child before moving to LA to start her career. When asked where she’s from, she simply replies, “I came from the internet.”
Many of her videos are nothing more than her listing things. In one she lists historical figures. In another she lists things she likes. In another she lists some phrases she’s found on the internet:
“Young girl makes crazy video on Youtube, what happens next you won’t believe your eyes!”
“Thank you so much for all of your support.”
“I wish I could explain to you how happy I am.”
And, when she’s not robotically regurgitating information she’s found online, she’ll make an off-kilter comment that makes us wonder if there’s something more to her (or if she’s okay?):
“If it’s on the internet it’s ~reaaal~. Do you believe in the internet?”
“Am I a girl?”
“This planet makes sense to me.”
So where does she come from? Where is she coming from with these videos? The only hint we’re ever given is a plug for her creative director, Titanic Sinclair. Sinclair has videos of himself doing much the same thing as Poppy on his YouTube channel, but his videos only garner a fraction of Poppy’s video’s views.
This suggests Poppy’s appearance is a pivotal part of her persona. Why her? Well, her petite, doll-like qualities and unassuming expression all play into disturbingly idealized notions of the female figure — all notions that have come to be fully integrated into our construction of actual robots.
Gendering robots has existed long before we could make any functional beings of the sort (“I’ll be your freak-a-zoid, come on and wind me up”) — but now we can. In recent years in Japan, all sorts of efforts have been made in integrating robots into society. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has backed all sorts of efforts to have humanoids become integral parts of society, from automated housewives to policemen.
While there are perks to making robots our pals, much of the gendering that’s already happening is highly problematic. It directly follows Japanese anime’s fetishization of youth and large-breasted, slim waisted women. It also reinforces gender roles not just in the workplace, but also in the very way we expect people to talk and behave according to their respective gender.
Considering these things, Poppy seems to be asking us, “Am I the girl you want?” Her speech is reminiscent both of the uninspiring instagram captions of today and of the idealized voices of the humanoids of tomorrow. It’s disappointing but not surprising that this artificiality doesn’t hold up for Titanic Sinclair. Do you really think the it-girls of Instagram got famous off their wit?
At this rate, we’ll one day have automated Barbie dolls sweeping our floors. Whether you believe Poppy is actually critiquing these ideals or basking in her newfound popularity (which she always knew she could have cause she’s pretty!), she certainly makes us think about what we value in identity, and, more importantly, just how much of this needs to be carried over to our future robots.