The new album from singer/songwriter Maddie Poppe, Whirlwind is an up-close-and-personal portrait of all the magic and joy and occasional hurt that comes from chasing your dreams. With her straight-from-the-heart storytelling—as well as the radiant vocal presence that made her the winner of American Idol —the 21-year-old Iowa native details her journey with both fearless honesty and tender sensitivity. And while there’s an instantly charming coming-of-age quality to Whirlwind, Poppe’s indelible melodies and sophisticated songcraft ultimately transcend all boundaries, resulting in an album that’s irresistibly timeless.
Her debut release for Hollywood Records, Whirlwind finds Poppe joining forces with producer/songwriters like Johan Carlsson (Ariana Grande, Charlie Puth, Demi Lovato) and Drew Pearson (Kesha, Pentatonix, Michelle Branch), building off her Americana roots and adorning her songs with elements of indie-rock and pop. “Making the album felt like one big experiment, where I kept learning so much and getting so many new ideas,” says Poppe, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, piano, and ukulele. “Instead of just limiting myself to any one genre, I wanted to try out whatever styles and sounds felt right for the song.”
One of Whirlwind’s most striking departures, “Made You Miss” imbues a new boldness into Poppe’s music, unfolding in serpentine rhythms, smoldering horns, and urgent guitar riffs. As Poppe explains, the track’s infectious energy partly stems from the playful spontaneity that fueled the recording session. “The guitar part to that song was actually recorded on an iPhone,” she points out. “It seems crazy considering we were in this studio with all this amazing equipment—but it sounded so good, so we kept it.” Meanwhile, Poppe stirs up a fiery passion in her vocal performance, belting with supreme self-assurance as she revels in the thrill of moving on from the one who’s done you wrong.
Poppe examines countless dimensions of love and relationships all throughout Whirlwind, embodying everything from the lovestruck determination of “Skeletons” to the long-distance longing of “Little Things.” With its hypnotic guitar tones and soulful Mellotron solo, “Take It Out On You” muses on the awe-inspiring generosity of someone loving you even at your worst, while “First Aid Kit” brings finespun melodies and beautifully lilting vocals to a delicate meditation on the healing quality of love. And on “Not Losing You,” Poppe delivers a heavy-hearted yet hopeful piano ballad that powerfully channels pure devotion.
“‘Not Losing You’ came from a conversation I’d had with Caleb the night before,” says Poppe, referring to her fellow Idol star and boyfriend, Caleb Lee Hutchinson. “He was having an off night and telling me how he felt, and talking to him ended up inspiring the lyrics. One of the coolest things is that it started with these random piano chords my producer was playing when I got to the studio the next day—it was just something he’d made up right on the spot, but I loved it so much that we turned it into a song.”
On “Wild Flowers,” Poppe explores an entirely different form of love: her boundless affection for her hometown of Clarksville, Iowa (population 1,439). With its warmly detailed reminiscence of summer nights and her childhood home, the folk-tinged track steadily unfurls into a triumphantly soaring anthem. Another look at growing up and forging your own path through life, “Postcard” finds Poppe penning a note to her younger self, setting her full-hearted reflection to a graceful arrangement of dreamy synth lines and brightly stomping beats.
Poppe’s fascination with home also informs “Nothing Good Comes Out of California,” a deceptively titled love letter to Los Angeles. “I’ve found that people often have negative ideas about what people are like in California, even if they’ve never actually been there,” says Poppe. “At this point I’ve spent a lot of time in California and learned that none of those stereotypes are true, and that there’s so much more to it than what you might assume.” Threaded with lyrics both clever and wistful (“They say you’ll get tattooed and purple hair/You’ll miss the Friday night lights and the county fair, and that’s a pity”), “Nothing Good Comes Out of California” ultimately speaks to the sometimes-lonesome glory in following your heart to faraway places.
To close out Whirlwind, Poppe offers up the quietly poignant “Roses,” an intimate look at the confusion of feeling bad in the happiest of times. “When we wrote ‘Roses,’ I’d been feeling a little off for the past few days, but I didn’t want to tell anyone about that and come across ungrateful for how lucky I am,” she says. “I wanted to write a song about how you can’t control things like depression or anxiety—sometimes it just happens for no reason, and the world outside doesn’t match up with what’s happening in your head.” Capturing that disconnect in starkly poetic lyrics (“Picking peaches with my hands/But still no roses in my head”), “Roses” merges its sing-song melody and swaying ukulele rhythms with a heartfelt message of understanding and solace.
Throughout Whirlwind, Poppe showcases the captivating vocal work she first began honing as a little kid in Clarksville. “My dad was in a band, and sometimes I’d get up and sing a Janis Joplin song or ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ with them,” she remembers. In seventh grade she learned to play guitar, and within a year started playing shows locally. And though she still has a songbook of material she wrote on her own starting in third grade, it wasn’t until at age 15 that Poppe fully immersed herself in songwriting, mining inspiration from the heart-on-sleeve sincerity of artists like Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson. “My best songs usually came together when my emotions were really high, like if I’d gone through a breakup, or if I was on top of the world with happiness about something,” she notes. In 2017—a year after releasing Songs From The Basement, an album she wrote and recorded alongside her father—Poppe auditioned for Idol, emerging as the season winner and soon landing her deal with Hollywood Records.
In bringing Whirlwind to life, Poppe refined her artistry by co-writing for the first time. “At first I was so scared to lay all my emotions out on the table like that,” she recalls. “But now that I’ve gotten used to it, I don’t have that fear anymore. These days I’d much rather write with other people, because I love that feeling of everyone sharing their ideas and creating something you’d never come up with on your own.” And as she’s evolved as a songwriter, Poppe’s made a point of telling her story with soul-baring vulnerability. “Two years ago, I never would’ve imagined I’d be where I am today,” she says. “I never would’ve thought I’d get out of small-town Iowa and play shows all over the country, or meet somebody so perfect for me—I never thought I could make my dreams come true like that. Making this album, I was really honest about everything that’s happened in my life during that time. I didn’t hold anything back, and I hope that people can feel how real the songs are, and connect with each of them in their own individual way.”