Goodbye, synthy bubblegum pop. Hello, eardrum-bursting guitar-screeching grunge. The genre-hopping Poppy is taking us on a tour of yet another version of herself in 2021’s “Flux.”
“Flux” is the fourth studio album to be released by Poppy. The eclectic, seemingly shape-shifting musician got her start on YouTube. She initially took the internet by storm with her strange, oddly nightmarish videos. Videos like “You’re Too Close,” where a monotone yet clearly frightened Poppy shields herself from the camera and “She Is Lying,” which focuses on a disjointed conversation between Poppy and Charlotte, a recurring character whose defining character trait is being a combative mannequin head.
These peculiar and inexplicable videos brought plenty of internet sleuths to Poppy’s door, and it wasn’t long before the truth was uncovered: Poppy was actually an aspiring musician who had been performing since 2011. It was of little surprise, then, when Poppy began releasing music in conjunction with her performance art pieces.
Poppy’s initial sound was just as sweet and pop-influenced as her character. “Poppy.Computer,” the singer’s debut album, was filled with simplistic lyrics and a bubblegum synth-pop sound. This energy defined Poppy’s overall body of work until the absolute bodyslam that was 2020’s “I Disagree.”
This new album was aggressive, violent and rage-filled—decidedly not poppy. “I Disagree” was a blend of rock, heavy metal and electropop, featuring Poppy herself alternating between whispers and screams about themes like identity, forgiveness, betrayal and hurt.
Clearly making such a drastic leap from bubblegum pop to heavy metal wasn’t enough of an adventure for Poppy. “Flux” sees the singer jumping genres yet again, this time into a distinct fusion of alternative rock and punk. The album in its entirety is incredibly reminiscent of 90s grunge, as Poppy’s team pushes their guitars, drums and vocals to their absolute limits. But does it work in their favor?
Overall, the answer is yes. The album is personal, artistic and unique: a sound unlike any other in the modern landscape of music. Justin Meldal-Johnsen produced the album, his past work with Paramore and Beck shines through in the screaming guitars and intense drumming. The eponymous first track of “Flux” marries electronic shrieking to a classic rock sound without sacrificing the unique, intense energy that Poppy established for herself with “I Disagree.”
Each of the first five tracks feels like something that audiences would find in older media. “So Mean” could fit well on the soundtrack of an early 2000’s teen comedy, and “On The Level” evokes a warm, car roof-down feeling. “Lessen the Damage” feels as though it was plucked right out of the late 90s pop-punk scene.
Though Poppy’s lyrics have an intimate, personal edge from beginning to end, certain songs hit harder than others. For those familiar with the complicated and allegedly manipulative relationship between Poppy and her previous collaborator, “Her” will be a show-stopper. The song is one part rage and rebellion against a controlling, unnamed party and one part celebration of finding freedom from abuse and manipulation.
An Instagram post from the artist reveals just how important this song is to her. She described it as being “one of the most significant songs” to herself in her role as Poppy.
Ultimately, “Flux” is a must-listen for any fans of Poppy, alternative rock or grunge rock. Poppy’s genre-hopping may be confusing, but she hasn’t slipped up once.