Grimes: The fantasy project of Claire Boucher enters ‘Realiti’ head first on her breath-taking album Art Angles. Blurring the lines between dream and awake, this (anti) fairy tale is a bold and blooming mixture of Boucher wishfully constructed persona and the raw emotions that surface in her music.
Grimes has gone a long way. Starting out in the underground DIY scene surrounding Lab Synthèse in Montreal, Grimes had two albums under her belt before surfacing into the public eye with Visions. Speaking of the process leading up to the release it can seem almost otherworldly. Locking herself up for weeks behind blacker-out widows, Boucher rode a creative flow fuelled by speed and lack of sleep. The creative process, however extreme, apparently worked as Visions created a – not entirely unforeseen – circus for Grimes. Boucher has admitted that she used to see the devil a lot in her tarot cards in the time prior to Visions release.
Maybe she was not all wrong. The devil in tarot can symbolise that ‘You may be tricked into believing that you are being controlled by external forces,’ and since her breakthrough, Boucher has had to fight for her work of art. Male producers basically stood in line to take creative control over that ‘new cool indie chick’. Following Visions, she went to a few California ‘writer camps’ sessions, only to find disruption of her creativity as well as disrespectful and de-grading male colleagues. “I went into a work situation with people being sexually creepy. It was more the engineers at the studio. You might be in there with someone cool, and then an engineer says, ‘Here’s my number.” ‘Flesh Without Blood’ is the Art Angles track that most directly takes on this issue and according to Jessica Hopper at Pitchfork it is “the sweetest fuck-off of 2015”. “You hate, you bite, you lose // After all, I just don’t like you // It’s nice that you say you like me // But only conditionally”. “The fact that I have to fight to be allowed to do my own work is crazy,” she says. “I became super-feminist in reaction to the industry”. In spite of this she wants to specify that this is a reaction for her, and that feminism is not her main motivation in music, so hold your horses before claiming her to be the new Kathleen Hanna.
Though her craft and career bloomed at a staggering speed, by late 2013 the life of non-stop touring had gotten the better of Grimes. Physically exhausted and mentally collapsing, she admits to Fader that “It was at the point where it was going to destroy Grimes.” Drawing back and letting management steer for a bit was essential as she took care of her health and started focusing forward.
“Becoming a healthy person—that’s a really hard thing to do.” Boucher stated. Getting downtime also meant that long suppressed things surfaced, and she struggled finding an escape. “You cannot escape into drugs, you cannot escape into alcohol, and you can’t really escape into music because music is now your job.” Grimes has earlier spoken of Visions as her escape from reality, yet there is no doubt that Vision was a much-needed emotional outlet. “I eventually realised that by making songs I could work through these things that had been plaguing me for years” she said to The Guardian around the release.
As music became a job, the escapist perspective withdrew slightly, yet this primarily ignites the coming-of-age for the outstanding artist. “Visions didn’t really acknowledge reality, but this record is more about looking reality in the face” she explained to Dazed, around the release of Art Angle. Yet the emotional outlet music provided her would still be a defining feature in her creative process. “For me, that’s the best motivation for music. You’re turning emotional existence into a product that people can understand, and you get a high off that. I think the first reason I make music is that it’s a therapeutic way to deal with things. I always make the best shit when I’m upset. If you start off really upset and you work and work till the sun is rising and you are finishing, you can tell it’s really universal and it’s this great thing… That high is unbeatable; that’s the greatest fucking high on planet Earth.”
This natural high makes huge contrast to her speed fuelled start. Even though Claire Boucher always has both been honest about, and faced up to her past, the public seem to have a hard time letting go of the image of her as ‘drugged up chick’. On her Wikipedia page this quote about her Visions period is featured: “I blacked out the windows and did tons of amphetamines and stayed up for three weeks and didn’t eat anything.” The quote is has been deleted and added back several times. And finally she had enough. In a longer post on her Tumblr page she stated that “whoever keeps putting the few quotes I said early in my career about drugs back into my Wikipedia page is an asshole. I don’t want that to be part of my narrative, and if it has to be I want people to know that I hate hard drugs. All they’ve ever done is kill my friends and cause me to be unproductive.”
Art Angle is not just an album, it is a representation of all the work Claire Boucher put in every step of the way – from the production, the vocals, the lyrical aspect and the visuals. It is a work of art, yet adapting it in music terminology is hard… Aggressive pop? Poppy indie? Cute electronica? It is simply impossible to pin point the unique style that Grimes possess. Bold yet dreamy, angry yet soft, angsty yet fearless. Art Angles is the perfected juxtapose, possessing all this yet still manage to stand out as a provocative, and musically enchanting, statement.
“I don’t make pop music. I’m on an indie label. I don’t want to feel pressure to be a world-class singer, or a professional-level dancer, or super beautiful. I’m not good at any of those things, and I’m very shy. I just want to make what I want to make.” Claire stated to NME after being named the best album release of 2015.There certainly is a conflict there. Pop brings in certain stereotypes that usually neglect females into specific characteristics. However outdated this is, it is still something that you will have to face up to as a successful woman in music, and Grimes is clearly a bit fed up. “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.” (The Fader)
“Art Angels is a gilded coffin nail to outmoded sexist arguments that women in pop are constructed products” Jessica Hopper states in Pitchfork, yet I beg to differ. Yes, Art Angles stands clear against the sexism that permeates the music industry, yet Grimes is a construct. She is the brilliantly constructed persona taken by a female, showing empowerment by taking back the right to define herself. “I think the real world was always just this thing I had to deal with, and then Grimes could be a thing which was how I wished it was.”
Alongside reflecting the evolution of Grimes and taking on Boucher’s personal life, the lyrical content is less abstract and contains quite a few bold political statements. From lashing out against creepy male produces in ‘Flesh Without Blood’ to visualising climate change, “There’s a song that’s from the perspective of a butterfly in the Amazon as people are cutting down trees”, Grimes is truly, as she says, more connected to reality on this one. “I feel like nobody’s angry at our parents’ generation. Everyone’s so f***ing apathetic about everything. Our apathy will lead to the world becoming unliveable in our lifetime. It’s on us. It’s on my generation right now.” Her statement about society’s apathic attitude is much needed. It might make older people cluster their own ambivalence even harder, yet Grimes appeal to young people will hopefully bleed through.
Letting go of the shielding escapism can be rough, and as the floating feel of Visions descent, Art Angles shows more aggressive vulnerability and honesty. One hard hitting tune is ‘Kill V. Main’, “You gave up being good when you declared a state of war”, a song Boucher made after being told she only made ‘cute music’. Wanting to prove she could sound harder and more aggressive she laid the basis with a pithed down guitar. Though there are several guitar layers on the track she claims to Song Exploder that “everything with guitars in this song is the bi-product of me just knowing nothing about guitars”. She also recorded about 40 layers of drums, declaring her love for kick drum, something you can hear on other Art Angles tracks as well.
“I hate singing it’s just something I don’t identify with at all. I always pretend I’m someone else when I’m singing.” Grimes stated. This is an aspect that distinguish her from merely a ‘pop star’ – Claire Boucher is a producer and artist as well. After everything she has been through, and all obstacles she so openly speak out about, Claire Boucher finally got it all right. 2015 was Grimes’ year, and looking forward we can only dream of being prepared for what comes next. If one thing is true it is that if she keeps evolving at this pace she is soon to be the real ‘World Princess’.