Grimes is easily of the most weirdly lovable artists I’ve ever come across.
Born Claire Boucher, this tiny pixielike Canadian began mixing and recording electronic music in her bedroom, where she created her first three albums, Geidi Primes, Halifaxa, and Visions.
With her first two albums, Grimes came into her own creating electronic atmospheres to surround her high, sharp voice. This time spent working on her own allowed Grimes to adopt a free-spirited attitude about her tastes, as evidenced in her extravagant, weird art and fashion choices.
In 2013, Visions was Grimes’ breakout hit. It spawned a dedicated fanbase of weird introverts like herself. Throughout the album, Grimes sings sweetly, mournfully, and sometimes angelically. This, though, is not a sweet, angelic record. She uses mechanical electronic textures, heavy reverb, and vocal looping to keep the listener on-edge, fuzzed out, and constantly at a distance from her own voice. On some songs, you get the sense that you are hearing Grimes through someone else’s radio on the other side of a window into wonderland. That’s really the best way I can describe it. Grimes’ voice echoes across walls and open spaces, sweet and beguiling, leading the listener into the rabbit hole of Grimes’ reality.
This all sounds new-agey, atmospheric, and spacey, all descriptors that aren’t usually associated with fun or accessibility. That’s why “Genesis” and “Oblivion” the albums best two tracks, are so amazing. They show that being surreal, distant, cloudy, and spacey can be a total blast! Grimes isn’t afraid of the real world, she just prefers her own. Her music video for Oblivion is perfectly captures this.
It features Grimes, this tiny, young, Canadian weirdo, attending
super-macho mainstream events, like a football game and a Moto-Rally, plugging in her headphones, and just loving it!
Watch the video. Seriously. It’s amazing 🙂
In the wake of Visions Grimes received a large online cult following that waited anxiously to see this queen of the introverts buckle down and make even more cloudy, murky, deep, solo-listening music. But, in an interview with Pitchfork in 2013, Grimes described that what she really loved to write was totally mindless, vapid pop. Katy Perry-type stuff. Wow.
Grimes fans were split in 2014 when she released “Go” a radio ready pop hit originally written for Rhianna. It felt like a betrayal to some, who thought that any move out of the navel-gazing space Grimes had owned was a step in the wrong direction.
Fast forward to ArtAngels. Grimes’ second LP is my favorite record in the world right now. If Visions was like waking up fuzzy and seeing the world as a beautiful blurry and grey mass, ArtAngels is like putting on your glasses and having everything snap instantly into sharp focus. Grimes lets herself SCREAM on this album, and it is full of straight-up pop melodies, bright guitar licks, and clean synthesizer backdrops.
ArtAngels could be seen as Grimes selling out to modern music, but nothing could be further from Realiti (one of the standout tracks). It is Grimes busting onto the center stage of pop music in all of her bizarre glory. She didn’t sacrifice her weirdness for recognition. Instead, it’s one of the best pop albums in years, and a major victory for weirdos breaking boldly into the mainstream.
In her “Oblivion” video, Grimes danced like nobody was watching while in the heart of American culture. It was cute, and quirky, and easy to love. Compare this to her “Flesh Without Blood” video. She still has the crazy costumes, colors, and off-the wall images (Angels! Blood! Glowing Eyes!), but both the music and the delivery demand the spotlight.
ArtAngels is a major victory for the idea that a unorthodox female artist can make the exact kind of music she wants and earn the love and respect of her listeners. It has an opener that is basically classical music, a song by a Taiwanese rapper sung in Mandarin backed by Grimes growling like a tiger, “Kill vs. Maim” which is basically a Korean-Pop anthem, and “Venus Fly” a song that accuses those who objectify famous women, challenging them to keep up their gaze as she tears out her teeth and cuts off her hair. I won’t be the lovely pop star you want, Grimes says, but I’ll still make you love me. She says it eloquently on the album’s closer, “Butterfly”:
If you’re lookin’ for a dream girl, I’ll never be your dream girl
She may not what anyone wished for, but by refusing to compromise and creating an aggressively unique reality for listeners to enter into, she’s become a dream come true for her many fans, myself included.
How to Listen:
Like pop music? Start with “Flesh Without Blood”. It’s a beautiful, confident pop anthem with Grimes’ signature style throughout. I love her shouts of of “Uncontrollable!” on this one.
More of a moody, reflective sort? Go with “Genesis”. It’s my standby for night driving, and has arguably the most hypnotizing melody she’s ever written.
The Masterpiece: “Realiti: Demo”, the first version of the song to come out, is my current favorite Grimes song. It has a full bright, airy production that is playful and inventive, and supplements some of Grimes’ clearest, most beautiful vocals. The chorus is one of the most relatable pieces of music she’s ever written:
Oh baby every morning there are mountains to climb taking all my time
Oh, when I get up this is what I see, welcome to Realiti