Whatever you think she is, you’re wrong.
Claire Boucher, known professionally as Grimes, is controversial, to say the least. Previously an indie darling after her major-label debut Visions and 2015’s experimental pop Art Angels, the provocative songstress has found herself embroiled in mainstream controversy over the past few years.
It’s not a stretch to say that the general public knew little to nothing about Grimes up until around 2018 when she and Tesla billionaire Elon Musk made their debut at the Met Gala. The two apparently became a thing after her “Flesh Without Blood” video contained an AI pun which he was planning to tweet. (Typing that sentence was a wild ride.) In the almost two years since their relationship went public, they’ve become one of the most talked-about and universally-mocked celebrity couples in the world.
Since the genesis of their relationship, talk around Grimes has shifted dramatically, and for good reason. Being associated with one of the most notorious billionaires working in the business world isn’t exactly the best look, and it’s extremely incongruent with her “outsider” aesthetic and narrative which surrounded her previous releases. Moreover, she’s gotten herself in some less-than-desirable situations as a result of this relationship, as when she defended his labor practices in this deleted tweet:
Far bigger and more infamous than that snafu, though, is her legendary (and still ongoing) spat with fellow provocateur Azealia Banks. In perhaps my favorite bit of celebrity drama of all time, Banks and Grimes made plans to collaborate, with Banks heading over to Grimes & Musk’s house to record.
And then Elon (on a bad acid trip, according to Banks) decided to tweet about taking Tesla private. This is somehow one of the less absurd components of this saga.
In the one situation that will likely ever inspire sympathy for her, Banks was left to her own devices in the couple’s home for three days. As she is prone to do, she took to her Instagram story to give a somewhat-credible exposé of the experience, which she dubbed “a real life episode of Get Out.” The fact that Get Out is a film and not a television series and thus does not have episodes aside, this was…bold.
Things were not yet finished for the unholy trinity, however, as the instance’s close relationship to Musk’s Twitter blunder led to a lawsuit (because taking a company private is not a thing you tweet about) in which both Banks and Grimes were subpoenaed. It was also supplemented by the release of some choice text messages between Banks and Grimes which only managed to make both of them look bad. These texts deserve a Pulitzer. When I am rich and famous, I will develop a museum where they can be preserved forever. They are the best things I have ever read. If someone said I smelled like a roll of nickels, I would thank them.
This all meant that in November 2018, when Grimes kicked off the rollout for her upcoming album, things weren’t looking great for her. What’s more, the single she chose as the lead — “We Appreciate Power” — was a controversial choice in and of itself. The track is built on the concept of a propagandist girl group and showcases the singer and featured artist HANA delivering urgent commands to “pledge allegiance to the world’s most powerful computer” and, ultimately, “submit.” It’s an exercise in method acting which isn’t really that off-base for Grimes, but in the context of her relationship with the AI-obsessed Musk, it didn’t land like she probably wanted it to.
Or, in a more likely explanation, it was the first step in her large-scale performance art project.
Ostensibly, Grimes’ fifth studio album Miss Anthropocene is “a concept album, about anthropomorphizing climate change…[making] climate change fun.” It’s a really bizarre concept in which the titular character apparently represents “like, this death god” who functions as both an advocate and harbinger of inevitable heat death. Around two weeks ago, she kicked off the tail end of her album rollout with a poem (of destruction!) declaring, in character, that Global Warming Is Good.
At this point in her album cycle, the poem didn’t seem out of place. Early singles “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth,” “Violence,” “My Name Is Dark,” “4ÆM,” and the aforementioned bonus track “We Appreciate Power” all fell in line with this kind of emo-nihilistic concept she was showcasing. The lyrics were dark, the sonic landscape was aggressive, and nothing about the album sounded remotely human.
And then she dropped “Delete Forever.”
It’s a really stunning track, one that recalls guitar-fueled reflection somewhere between Joni Mitchell or Oasis, as contextualized by the death of rapper Lil Peep. Moreover, in a way we hadn’t seen in the prior releases, Grimes communicates her humanity here. It turns out that the death god who taunted audiences on “Violence” is terrified of mortality, saddened by the opioid crisis, and stuck deep in mourning.
Not only is “Delete Forever” the best track on Miss Anthropocene, it’s the first piece we get of the heart of the whole thing. Sure, the album can be abrasive, and it succeeds with flying colors when doing so (as in the singles or new track “Darkseid”). But really, it’s about what’s left when Grimes sheds this exterior.
On Instagram, Grimes labeled each track, barring “New Gods” (more on that later) with its corresponding demon or goddess, listing MISS_ANTHROPOCENE last as the Goddess of Climate Crisis. Looking at how she processes the album in this way, it’d be tempting to place a “weird” label on it — and she’s certainly pushing listeners to do so.
But hidden in that bizarre pantheon is “New Gods,” which she dubs the ALBUM THESIS. There’s a whole lot to unpack in that assertion, but at its core is the unshakeable idea that everything that’s come to represent Grimes in the past few years — the antics, the romance with Elon, the digital avatar baby War Nymph which, contrary to popular belief, is not her unborn child — are all a deliberate distraction. She’s playing the general public, and she’s in full control.
“New Gods,” when framed as the ALBUM THESIS, speaks to this notion on a sonic level as well as a lyrical one. It’s remarkable that she listed this as the album’s centerpiece, as it’s probably the simplest on the album in its arrangement. There isn’t a ton of production or processing on her vocals, and it is essentially a piano ballad. Her vocals are the thing that sets this track apart, and it’s absolutely stunning to see her so willing to expose them the way she does here.
Lyrically, “New Gods” discusses feelings of hopelessness with the world surrounding her and a yearning for, well, new gods. It’s a deeply sad and vulnerable idea, one that showcases the singer at a moment of pure weakness and desperation. What’s more, she addresses the idea of masking these insecurities on the second verse:
I wear black eyeliner, black attire
So take me higher and higher and higher
But the world is a sad place, baby
Only brand new gods can save me
If “New Gods” is truly the album thesis, I’d be hard-pressed to take any of her weird exterior at face value.
Boucher has recently adopted the moniker of c (lowercase and italicized, as in the constant standing in for the speed of light) as opposed to her birth name. “‘Claire’ is done and dead,” she told The Wall Street Journal. Adopting this name is freeing for her, and she’s equally sick of the notion of “Grimes.” From the same interview: “I think I’ll kill ‘Grimes’ soon. It will be a public execution followed by—by something else. I shouldn’t say yet.” This is all to say, she’s deeply interested in the notion of artifice, the significance of a name, and what it looks like to give up an identity you hold.
In an interview with Cultured magazine, c discussed the impact of holding the “Grimes” identity in the midst of all the drama surrounding 2018. “You just have to totally untether your personality from your public persona. I’m like, I don’t want to use that name anymore. I don’t want to use that face anymore. Because it now stands for something that I don’t agree with.”
c set out to explore what this looks like on Miss Anthropocene, using high-concept ideas to communicate very personal sentiments. “If everyone sees me as a villain, how do I make the best villain ever?” It’s a notion that recalls Taylor Swift’s reputation, which similarly tackled the villain angle in the wake of public controversy. The release structure of Miss Anthropocene echoes that of Swift as well, leading with the artists’ most abrasive singles to date and intentionally misleading listeners before (to quote Dua Lipa) doing a full 180 with a late-stage release (for Grimes, “Delete Forever,” for Swift, “Call It What You Want”) that got at the emotional core of the work.
In this light, Miss Anthropocene occupies a story arc parallel to c‘s own since 2018. The first half of the album, barring “Delete Forever,” is saturated with sonically aggressive “villain” tracks (most of them being, in her words, Demons) before “New Gods” expresses a moment of peeling back her persona. “My Name Is Dark” sees her putting on her black eyeliner and black attire one last time for a Smashing-Pumpkins-referencing 90’s-rock protest against apathy.
It’s followed by “You’ll miss me when I’m not around.”
This is one of the simpler tracks on the album, and that’s to its benefit: it’s essentially impossible for the lyrical content — a long-form suicide note — to get lost in any sort of production. It’s here that we see the death of the Grimes identity (coupled with the rise of WarNymph, I think this constitutes the “public execution” she discussed) in unambiguous terms.
If they could see me now, smiling six feet underground
I'll tie my feet to rocks and drown
You'll miss me when I'm not around
And after a quick trip to the end of the world in “Before the fever,” we arrive at the utopia of closing track “IDORU,” referring to the Japanese concept of an idol — J-pop stars heavily marketed to the public on the basis of their attractiveness and emotional connections to fans. They’re a significant pop-culture staple, with the focus being on showcasing them as examples of cultural values and archetypal stories.
Grimes plays most prominently with the wordplay of “I adore you” against the title and presents a seemingly innocuous love song. This could easily be a straightforward ode to the happiness she gets from Elon Musk.
But this is a Grimes track we’re talking about.
Between the deliberate cultural significance of the title and some specific details in the lyrics, it’s clear that a straightforward love song this is not. Take the bridge for example:
Unrequited love has reassembled me
I think it's crazy
And if you said I do, I'll reassemble you, baby
And you're so cool 'cause you don't think you're cool
You cannot be sad
Because you made my all-time favorite music
We’ve just heard the “Grimes” identity die, and it seems like whoever is narrating this song (c?) is speaking in the afterlife to the now-defunct Grimes concept. And based on the sonic atmosphere and general lyrical tone, whatever’s left seems to be free.
But because Azealia Banks is involved, this is not the end of the story.
Following the album’s release, Banks once again took to her Instagram story to air out her feelings. In a series of posts, she called Miss Anthropocene a variety of things such as “terrible,” “embarrassing,” and “trash.” She also noted that “good dick will produce great art in a woman but Elon’s is clearly not as good as she says it is.” (yikes!)
“The baby voice fairie shit is dead,” she went on. “Your [sic] 31. That vocal needs to mature ASAP. … All hate aside I was hoping to anger grimes [sic] enough to make a phenomenal album JUST to shit on me. But she barely pissed on my leg.”
And then! After posting all of these text-based Instagram stories, she proceeded to rant via video. I’m plugging my own Twitter because I screen-recorded it:
In the midst of this incoherent rant which was apparently recorded in a shared space (you can hear a man talking in the background at one point?), she begins to discuss her comeback, threatening to “body shit with business and pleasure.” She goes on to say she’s “just holding on to this heat rock,” presumably referring to new music.
c, meanwhile, has not responded to any of this. She’s been busy comparing herself to Shrek (see below), reconciling with Pitchfork, vowing to flip a table at Pitchfork, warning against the dangers of imperialism (“don’t do it!”), and scheduling her showers.
Also, whatever this is:
I think c‘s gonna be alright.