Grimes Weaves Weaponized Pop

Once in a while, an artist comes along whose very unwillingness to bend to industry rules or creative expectation leads to their success. Prince and David Bowie both come to mind. It’s far too early to tell if Grimes’s career will have such an impact, but like St. Vincent and Janelle Monae, she’s certainly off to the right start. Née Claire Boucher, Grimes is one of the very best producers working today, an astonishing songwriter and creative mind who is only beginning to reach her own potential at the age of 28. In her music, she grapples with fame, our relationship to technology, self-doubt, sexual violence, and anxiety, and spins it into her own unique web. If you’re not on the bandwagon yet, now would be the time to board. 

Grimes burst onto the scene in 2012 with Visions, her third LP overall, but the first to garner widespread attention. She recorded the album alone in Montreal, primarily using Apple’s GarageBand, and the results were electrifying. It’s a dense, atmospheric record, full of throbbing beats and spectral vocals. At its heart sits “Oblivion,” which Pitchfork deemed the best song of the first half of the 2010s, wrestling the very human fears of one’s long-term impact and legacy:  “Are you going to age with grace? Are you going to age without mistakes?”

In the months and years after Visions, her reputation and fame started to take off. Grimes went from clubs to amphitheater stages, joining forces with Lana Del Rey on her 2015 summer tour, as well as Bunbury headliners Florence + The Machine’s massive 2016 North American outing. There would be hints of new music (2014 single “Go”), but fans thirsted for a new record. What they got was a masterpiece. Released last winter, Art Angels is a chameleon of an album, shapeshifting from one song to the next while always wearing the cloak of Boucher’s masterful production. Once again, she was responsible for nearly all of the music, including the haunting violin work, and her impeccable ear for melody has only improved. She takes the sounds and textures of 90’s pop and bends them to her own whims, weaponizing synthesizers and acoustic guitars that once buoyed vapid boy bands. Where Visions was insular and atmospheric, Art Angels is sunny and explosive, but behind every bouncy hook is a set of fangs.

The reach of Boucher’s creative vision extends well beyond the music. Her videos are elaborate, high-concept affairs, and she creates all of the artwork for her own albums. She is equally important for her role in combatting sexism in the music industry, and has documented instances in which male producers have demanded sex in return for work. In a 2015 FADER interview, she expanded on her exasperation: “The thing that I hate about the music industry is all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Grimes is a female musician’ and, ‘Grimes has a girly voice.’ It’s like, yeah, but I’m a producer and I spend all day looking at fucking graphs and EQs and doing really technical work.”

When you think about current artists who have the potential to headline arenas and festivals in the future, Grimes is near the top of that list. She marries art school conceptual work to infectious pop hooks, and her appeal is nearly limitless. Early reports from her Art Angels tours (cheekily dubbed “March of the Pugs”) have been phenomenal, and her Bunbury appearance should be no different.

Grimes performs at 6:15 PM on Sunday, June 5th at the Yeatman’s Cove Stage

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