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Poppy and Grimes’s “Play Destroy” Is Spooky But Sweet

Poppy feels like self-fulfilling prophecy. Though her first studio album, Poppy.Computer, was released late last year, the YouTube personality formerly known as That Poppy has become one of pop’s most 2018 figures. Behind the robo-bubblegum hooks and the wink-wink of her stage name lie a passion for the shellac production of J- and K-pop, combined with a sincere fascination with the internet’s vast cultural fragmentation. And where Poppy.Computer might’ve easily been dismissed as a kind of vanity project—a video performer fleshing out a character—today’s new full-length Am I a Girl? establishes Poppy as a bizarre and captivating recording artist.

Of course, Poppy’s rise to mainstream recognition has been accompanied by the kind of scandal only found online: Accusations that elements of Poppy’s persona were lifted from another YouTuber, as well as criss-crossing allegations of abuse on the part of each artist’s respective creative partner. The parties have since settled their legal dispute out of court, which hardly makes the underlying events less perplexing.

So who, then, is Poppy? Am I a Girl? openly interrogates her identity, as Poppy lays out on the title track. “Am I a girl? / Am I a boy? / What does that even mean? / I’m somewhere in-between,” she concludes, a realm that, in Poppy’s case, seems to open a wide range of possibilities: android, alien, avatar, brand? Her emergence from the preposterous environs of YouTube celebrity have enabled her to land co-signs from perpetual trend-jumper Diplo (she’s signed to his label, Mad Decent) and likeminded femme technofuturist Grimes. The latter collaboration, “Play Destroy,” is a sugar rush of chaotic evil that shares the glossy surreality of Art Angels’ pop experiment “California.”

“Play Destroy” is a game, I imagine, akin to “playing doctor,” with all its attendant potential for deviant behavior and doll mutilation. Opening on a paint-by-numbers nu-metal riff in place of a verse, the song rapidly melts into into a sinister, candy-sweet chorus: “Gonna cut your face and break your favorite toy / Drop a match in the gas tank, blow up your neighbor’s pool,” the pair chant, voices glittering like wet spiderwebs. The lines would be too singsong to be truly threatening—except for that shuddering metal riff, now overlaid with an otherworldly, digitally processed warble. Then the churn abruptly drops away and they’re transported back to Candyland, cooing about burning down Wal-Mart, colliding tropes of disparate genres in a relentless, dissociative ping-pong, as if to ask: Wait, can we really do that?

 Am I a Girl? is out in its entirety today, a Wednesday and Halloween, which seems appropriate. Listen to “Play Destroy” below.