Grimes, A World Princess (A Belated Paean)
by Elias Tezapsidis
There was a time, exactly a year ago*, when Anthony had not heard back from me for too long. Accurately, he suspected something was wrong, and, indeed!, there was. I had really fucked shit up. Yesterday, I received a text from Anthony: “Happy comaversary!”
Anthony is a very close friend of mine. We met on Twitter and we talk almost every day, sans this rapport ever seeming nor feeling conditional; we both respond in our own understanding of time, respectfully not putting our lives on pause in the time we have not heard back from each other. It is a privilege to encounter people whose creative opinions and views one respects. Spatially we are separated, for a large chunk of our friendship each representing a coast—I, the neurotic one, he, the vaingloriouser one.
As in most friendships, this one too, featured a sharing of certain interests: musical, intellectual, visual. We both really enjoy, and frequently vocalize this, artists who use the internet both as a part of their process and in their construction of the public person they desire to present to audiences. An inimitable paradigm of such an artist is Claire Boucher, famous as Grimes.
In Search of New Time
The idea that the sole way to matter in a literary capacity is to become overly aware of topical ephemera and produce timely responses that generate strong reactions is one I am no longer pursuing. I am certainly not above it, I definitely attempted it for a year, maybe even two. It is just not possible for me to experience daily existence with such vigor and intensity. If I were to attempt merely an introduction that links to semi-current events, I would probably write on Frank Ocean, but it seems too easy to relate to a queer album for its erotic vulnerability. Tonally—and creatively—I have always preferred to present a stronger front: appear sharper, more aggressive. Thus far, anger has fueled me more than sadness in my writing. In a more honest “doing things in my own time” fashion, here is a compilation of ideas I began gathering before this year even started on Grimes and her last album, which I can no longer call “new.”
Working on writing that seems pertinent during the Zeitgeist of its lifespan seems meaningless, but returning to this piece over an entire year, maybe even more, I realize two things. They both seem extremely relevant to the piece itself: (1) to attempt to create something for the moment that it seems most relevant makes me feel cheap, and (2) my affinity for Grimes and her album Art Angels is not impulsive nor a result of the buzz; it is genuine at its core.
Grimes: The Proto-Liminal Hyperreal
There is no reason to add to the already-extended online literature on the making of Grimes: she built a pop-persona pairing sharp lyrics with incredible beats, slowly gaining a fairly broad audience: she “happened.” What is particularly striking to me about Grimes’s Art Angels is its defiance to be an all-inclusive effort; that to me is an admirable creative project. I do not consider Boucher’s alter ego one that is centered on pleasing everyone, and with this record this becomes foremost evident, to everyone. The thing about making some creative project accessible, one needs to afford the consumer of the medium some sort of intimacy in terms of approaching the art, whatever the medium.
I understand the efforts that Boucher initially–and when I say “initially,” I mean sophomorically in a more literal sense, since her beginnings were actually the more experimental sounds of Geidi Grimes and Halfaxa–made as Grimes to be very conscious in regard to sonically appeasing the listener.
Relatability has elevated into the primary challenge in regard to most artistic pursuits worthy of critical acclaim and merit, it seems. Obviously, this functions on a dual level: on the one hand there is the desire on part of the artist to find an audience. On the other hand, this has created the illusion to potential audiences (“consumers of music,” in this case) that they are a part of creative pursuits. That ought to not be the case, at least not on a universal niveau. Sure, some art might be public in both its reach and its conception, but there should be sufficient space for artists to claim what their art is, sans needing to respond to their critics, or at least sans that holding any power in their creative process.
If Art Angels were a manifesto the aforementioned stance would be at its epicentre. Beyond the undeniable prowess of Boucher to be aggressive on a level very few artists have successfully bordered on as their creative energy—hi, Kanye!—, she also manages to be more than that: she makes herself vulnerable. There comes a point artistic pursuits where the one pursuing them makes a choice between whether the person behind it is tangible. Is there a real person, with feelings and emotions behind it? Or does the creator choose to be less of a person and more of a God—hey again, Kanye!—which makes the central piece of the work the work itself, rather than the person behind it.
Grimes is the real thing, because the tone does not give in to traditional paths of neither music nor writing patterns. To transform one of the most prominent dance tunes of recent—lol, this “recent,” too, is relative—times, Rihanna’s “Pon de Replay” into a depressing song about feeling sad post-moving to California it takes a certain type of creative bravado. Listening to her lyrics about “commodifying all the pain” is subversive and it is powerful, but above all it is tonally ingenious. While it might not be groundbreaking to the people who observe art and music from up close, there is some twisted reverence in her ability to be angry, sad or whatever else she truly feels—the trick, one I would love to eventually imitate with Grimes is that only she herself knows—without using the tone of the emotion she is expressing to define her art. There is a layered nuance in being less direct: by not being particularly specific she manages to get away with being truer to herself.
When DMX did album covers when he was covered in blood, the correlation between the depth of sadness and anger of the oeuvre and the visuals created felt too real. Grimes’s work is directly dissimilar to this. Still, this does not mean she is limited by the scope of her content. In my opinion she has not thus far succumbed to being told anything in a creative capacity: some of her visual content is almost graphic, but it never seems scary.
The idea of art as a language is of course nothing new. But tonally, what Boucher did was really provocative: she injected irony in pain, humor in sadness and ambivalence in bravado. In writing, that is almost an impossible task to take on, but with the help of tunes and music that rearranges the listener’s brain to her direction, she triumphed.
Art is more than communicating a feeling. Sometimes, it is literally a means to live; without the expression that the artist is trying to convey, s/he “loses” it. That is exactly where Grimes, as a musical prodigee goes beyond everything we have seen before. She, lyrically, spits on our face, while musically attains our participation in her party, one we are not aware is a pity one.
Blood and Guts, Too
Boucher is a force to acknowledge when it comes to communicating this message, too. While the songs are poppy and the sounds are catchy, the material is dark, personal and unapologetically aware: they know what she knows. She is always in control, even when the game becomes confusing the listener to the nothingness of the content. Her emotional intensity is visible, loud and even obvious: you have killed me, here are my guts and my blood. To construct a saga of this experience is the work of a great artist. Without much effort, Mike Kelley comes to mind: “woohoo, life is hell, here it is for you to see, too,” is a prescient feeling in her video for “Flesh Without Blood”.
I have come to believe that to topically connect to any piece of music for the sake of connecting with its audience is meaningless, hence this piece has been slowly written over more than a year’s time. I used to be able to write very fast and with quick conviction, but after I really hurt myself—the starting point of this very piece—my best friend at the time requested I do not turn “that” experience into another narrative. Not everything ought to be a story, one bigger than the next one. My reality is that I have been, since then, silencing my creativity, in comparison at least to the way I used to express myself via writing. Yet I started further digesting my life. The truth is: there is such a thing as being intentionally provocative and seeking a reaction, and my friend wanted me to stop being so. But there is release and relief in the dramatics of putting all the energy, be it negative or overwhelming, in work. Otherwise, an artistic pursuit differs little from a path in empty professionalism.
My favorite track on the album is the undeniably most intense too: ‘Venus Fly.’ Featuring Janelle Monae, it is an unbeatable anthem to hating being objectified. “Fuck you, I will look if I care,” is the primary sentiment, and Grimes gets the point across. Don’t talk shit about her: she defines her narrative, she chooses her pose, she controls the attention she receives and how to embrace/reject it.
Hey, what about me?
Oh, why you looking at me?
Oh, why you looking at me?
To be radically new, and different in an artistic way demands knowledge of structure and understanding of experiences. Yet, to be fresh requires to reappropriate style in ways different than our artistic predecessors. That is something that Grimes does, easily. Sometimes, creating the narratives we do make us feel like we are guided by something supernatural, something not human. Is it a couple of Art Angels or the familiar Demons?