THE OUTNET’S Head of Content, Claudia Mahoney, got to catch up with Singer Songwriter and goddess of truth Poppy Ajudha. In case you missed their live interview, we made sure to save some of the best bits…
Claudia: How are you? How have you been coping in lockdown?
Poppy: I’m good, yeah. I feel like I’m always re-adjusting to a new plan, now that we’re kind of coming out of lockdown – are we out of lockdown, are we in lockdown? I’m still not very sure.
Claudia: I don’t know. What does ‘Stay Alert’ really mean? Alert for what?
Poppy: Especially as musicians, because we’re the last to be considered in terms of live shows and doing events and stuff. So, I’m kind of not ever really sure of when I’m going back to work work or can I do studio sessions yet? Yeah, it’s still a bit ambiguous.
Claudia: If in doubt, don’t do it. But that must be such a strange feeling that if you’re use to performing and having an audience there to feed off to not have that at the moment…
Poppy: It is really weird. I did a live stream the other day I’ve done a couple while we’ve been in lockdown, and because I do a lot of shows and tours and stuff, I’m so used to performing. It is really strange setting up a camera in a studio and doing like a half-an-hour gig with no one to clap at the end. Maybe I should clap for myself or?
Claudia: And I think also, because the way that you write, there’s such a sort of narrative going on, do you want people to always be properly tuned in and listening to the message you’re trying to give?
Poppy: Yeah, it’s kind of a balance between having a good time, like I have upbeat songs that are dancy and I want people to enjoy them but obviously my lyrics are very important to me, I’m very political and I want people to engage with them… that’s the point of the song in the first place, to make people think and talk about stuff.
Claudia: I was reading that your dad had a night club and you grew up with music and so, when did you first realize that you had this talent and skill? Was it just something that was always with you or can you remember the moment?
Poppy: Yeah, I’m laughing because I don’t know if my family would have called it a talent when I was like singing Britney Spears at the top of my lungs like 24/7. But I was always singing, I’d like run out of the shower at 6 years old and be like ‘I have a song in my head, I have to write it down!’ So, it’s just kind of in me.
Claudia: So, famously, Barack Obama put you on his playlist in 2018. And that must have been a crazy moment of like explosion of your name being out there in the public.
Poppy: Yeah, it was really weird. I think I was in London at the time, I was in the studio when I was tagged in an Instagram post by Barack Obama and I was like ‘is that a real account? Does Barack Obama even have Instagram?’
Claudia: You also said that you are quite political or are given the tag of being political in the way that you write music. Does that bother you in any way or do you just think well, we’re all political or should be in the way we live our lives?
Poppy: I mean, I did a degree that was based around politics and gender and anthropology. So, it’s always been something really important to me and it’s also things that affect me to do with race or to do with gender or sexuality. But, I think I realized the reaction I was getting from people and it’s actually how I was helping them, which surprised me. Even on my last tour, I have a song about toxic masculinity, and I had a lot of young men coming up to me and talking to me about masculinity, which was amazing, and I felt that I had opened a conversation.
Claudia: Do you ever feel vulnerable by addressing these sort of potentially touchy subjects or things that are so personal to you? But it sounds to me like you get some sort of strength from speaking your truths.
Poppy: I think it does always feel scary and vulnerable when you first do it. Because, you know, writing is therapy for artists as well, that’s why we do it in the first place. So, sometimes it’s like ‘oo, can I talk about that? I don’t know, how’s that gonna go down?’ But it’s important, for me anyway, to get that strength, to own it, to be unapologetically yourself, that is so important. For anything that you’ve ever been ashamed of or insecure about it’s really important to own it because no one can say anything bad about you if it’s just who you are and you’re super strong about it and you’re just like ‘this is me, accept it, or not.’
Claudia: I was doing my research, before we were chatting and I found this quote, and you said something like ‘we have to be patient for growth whether it’s personal or political and know that when change comes you have to work towards more change.’ And given the current global movement and Black Lives Matter, do you feel like that patience for change is paying off and it’s finally becoming a movement rather than a moment?
Poppy: Yeah, I think that word patience felt relevant for me at that point because it always felt like quite a gendered term, patience, like that idea of being passive and waiting. But, actually for a lot of people who face oppression, not only is it fighting, but it’s also enduring, and progress does take a long time, it doesn’t have to take a long time, but it does because people don’t always get on board with it. So, I think yeah, for sure with the Black Lives Matter movement, people are like ‘finally, you’re acknowledging something that black people have been experiencing their whole lives.’ And I think there has been a feeling of like, ‘well, slavery happened a long time ago so racism doesn’t exist,’ and actually it’s been really amazing to finally have an acknowledgement in the mainstream media and the commercial world and globally that racism isn’t slavery, racism is so many different things that can be small and large and it’s also not just an American problem. I think it’s really important that this is happening now, and I just hope that it’s a catalyst for more change because, you know, as I said in that quote – there’s always more work to do, there’s always more.
Claudia: We interviewed Clara Amfo the other day and what she takes hope from is the fact that all of these people that put up these black squares, they’ve all acknowledged it now, so you can’t shut the door on that, you can’t turn around anymore.
Poppy: Yeah, well now you can be held accountable, I think the first step is always acknowledgement because I think that’s why British history and American history hasn’t wanted to acknowledge it, because to acknowledge it, you have to take action. And actually, the world is going to be better for everyone as we become more equal.
Claudia: I want to ask you as well about your style. Do you wear clothes as sort of a persona? So, Poppy on stage has one kind of look and then Poppy at home is a different person or do they mix together?
Poppy: Hm, I think it’s a bit of both. I do like to dress up on stage because I feel like I perform better when I dress up, not perform better but like you kind of rise to the occasion and you’re like ‘here I am.’ Whereas, if you’re really dressed down I find it a bit harder to get into it. I think when I’m not performing and not doing those kind of things I’m a lot more boyish. Because gender is such a stereotyped thing, when you dress like a boy you kind of get perceived differently. I like not fitting into one type of style.
Claudia: Have you got projects that have been put on hold that you’re looking forward to doing?
Poppy: Yeah, I’m working on my album which was basically finished before lockdown, but kind of having to rethink how I want to do that because it’s an odd and unprecedented time to know how to release music, I released a song already during lockdown, Strong Woman, and then I’ve got a song coming out, actually in a couple of days that I’m really excited about with Blue Note Records, which is a compilation with lots of different artists from the UK covering old jazz tunes. I think people really wanna hear music at the moment.