Grimes is ready to play the villain
Words: Kevin EG Perry
Photography: Charlotte Rutherford
Photographer’s Assistants: Morgan Kranston, Christopher Joseph
Production: LMC Worldwide
Production Design: Kaycee Tarricone
PD Assistant: Travis Fischer
3D Artist: Metapoint.xyz
Styling: Jessica Worrell
Makeup: Anthony Nguyen
Hair: Chanel Croker
Five days before her 31st birthday, Claire Boucher is sat on a pink suede banquette in the Terrace Room of the Sunset Tower Hotel facing out towards a glistening swimming pool. Beyond it is the humdrum brilliance of another sun-bleached day in Los Angeles. If she looks like she’s just rolled out of bed it’s because she has. She’s decided to postpone her birthday celebrations until summer, but whether you acknowledge them or not, birthdays have a special way of making you reflect on the year just gone.
Boucher has had a lot to reckon with. She’s been better known as Grimes since she started making music under that name in 2007, but in the past 12 months the power to define her creation seems to her to have slipped from her grasp. “Without me doing anything, just by random association with other people, I’ve watched my career and my reputation get totally fucking smashed,” she says. “I worked my whole fucking life for this and now everyone thinks I’m so stupid. I was just sitting there incredulous watching my life’s work go down the drain.”
It was in May last year, a couple of months after she turned 30, that Boucher and her partner decided to make their relationship public by appearing together at the Met Gala in New York. This decision was complicated by the fact that her partner is Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX who, depending on your perspective, is either humanity’s last hope to colonise Mars and save the species or a union-busting, megalomaniacal James Bond villain in waiting. They made a striking pair: him in a white blazer and an inverted notched priest collar, her in a Musk-designed white marbled high-cut corset paired with a metal collar which looked, as online commentators were quick to point out, not entirely unlike the Tesla logo.
Dress: Discount Universe
Platforms: JF London
Grimes first emerged from the Montreal warehouse scene as a fiercely independent artist, putting out a pair of hypnotic electronic albums in 2010 on DIY label Arbutus Records: Geidi Primes, a concept album about Frank Herbert’s fantasy novel Dune, and Halfaxa. Her mainstream breakthrough came with third record Visions in 2012, which was met with such critical acclaim that two years later Pitchfork named Visions track Oblivion as the best song of the decade so far. Genre-bending 2015 follow-up Art Angels proved, according to this magazine, that it’s “okay to like what you like, even if you’re a Dolly Parton fan who’s into J-pop and medieval Mongolia.”
Alongside her artistic output, Boucher has consistently proved herself unafraid to speak out on the political issues that are important to her. In 2016, in the face of a Trump presidency, she recreated a 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson advert in support of Hillary Clinton, stating that in the coming election: “The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” The following year, after President Trump announced a travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries, she tweeted that she would match donations up to $10,000 for the Council on American-Islam Relations. Last year she joined protesters in British Columbia against Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
It was in this context that Boucher and Musk’s relationship was swiftly and mercilessly dissected in the press. Many publications were quick to link Musk to Boucher’s decision to remove the phrase “anti-imperialist” from her Twitter bio. In an article headlined The Trouble with Elon Musk and Grimes, the New Yorker painted their pairing as nothing less than the final collapse of indie culture. “What if ideological distinctions still mattered and were not so easily swept away by a levelling torrent of information and capital?” asked staff writer Naomi Fry. “What if anything still meant something?”
Boucher, it’s fair to say, does not agree with this characterisation. “Seriously, fuck the New Yorker,” she says, growing agitated. She makes unwavering eye contact. “Fuck the New York Times. Fuck Vice. You guys think you have journalistic integrity? What the fuck? Now I can’t read the Guardian because they’ve written things about me which are completely false. We really do live in a post-truth society. I know it sounds right-wing of me, but the majority of things that have been written about me in the past year were not true.”
In this case the truth, according to Boucher, is that she’d removed the phrase on a whim long before even meeting Musk. “I change my Twitter bio every week,” she says. “I took ‘anti-imperialist’ out literally three or four months before I met Elon. I changed it from ‘anti-imperialist’ to ‘baby wolverine’. That means I love colonialism now? Seriously, what the fuck?”
Boucher argues that in truth her politics could never be easily defined. “I didn’t realise everyone thought I was such a by-the-books socialist,” she says. “My politics are literally insane. I’ll probably go down for it in the end.”
“I think AI is the natural evolution”
Corset dress, brass bra: Elena Velez
Tights: Collina Strada
Rhinestoned claw: Wesley Berryman
Headpiece, jewellery: Vintage
She elaborates: “My Instagram bio was: ‘I pledge allegiance to the robot overlords’ for, like, two years. I thought people understood that I ultimately probably believe in an AI dictatorship. I mean, I don’t think humanity is going to survive anyway. We’re fucked. I think AI is the natural evolution. It’s just like we killed the fucking Neanderthals, and now they’re going to kill us. I don’t think democracy really works. These are the kinds of things I think. I actually, for the short term, am a bit of a socialist, but not economically. I’m into free markets. What can I say? I think capitalism can solve some things.”
It’s a difficult realisation for anyone who finds themselves in the public eye that they’re no longer in control of their own narrative. But it seems like a particularly cruel irony for Boucher after she worked so hard for so long to make sure she had complete artistic control over every aspect of Grimes. She self-produced every song on every Grimes album, drew her own artwork and directed her own videos, creating a distinct aesthetic universe influenced by Japanese manga and gothic dystopias but became something all of her own. She has never relied on anybody else. “For most artists if you’re not cool for 20 minutes then you can’t get in a room with a good producer and your career is fucking over,” she says. “I never want to be in that situation. I want to be in a situation like I am now where my reputation is at an all-time low and I can still make sick-ass fucking music because I don’t rely on anybody.”
Where does she go from here? The answer, to Boucher, is simple. “If I’m stuck being a villain, I want to pursue villainy artistically,” she says. “If there’s nothing left to lose, that’s actually a really fun idea to me. I think it has freed me artistically. The best part of the movie is the Joker. Everyone loves the villain. Everyone fucking loves Thanos. Let’s make some Thanos art.”
All of which goes some way to explain why the next Grimes album will be, in Boucher’s words, “an evil album about how great climate change is.”
Vivienne Westwood corset: Pechuga Vintage
Green dress: Collina Strada
Brass choker: Josh Wallace Jewellery
The record will be called Miss Anthropocene, named after a character that Boucher has created for herself to portray. Miss Anthropocene is climate change brought to life as an anthropomorphic supervillain. Her name, which casts her as a beauty queen, is a pun on ‘misanthrope’ and ‘anthropocene’, which is a proposed scientific name for the geological epoch we’re currently living through – the time period during which human activity has become the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
“Miss Anthropocene has got a Voldemort vibe. She’s naked all the time and she’s made out of ivory and oil. It’s going to be super tight”
“The way I figure it is that climate change sucks and no one wants to read about it because the only time you hear about it is when you’re getting guilted,” explains Boucher. “I wanted to make climate change fun. Miss Anthropocene has got a Voldemort kind of vibe. She’s naked all the time and she’s made out of ivory and oil. It’s going to be super tight.”
The album itself is, as yet, unfinished. “I just made a bunch of music this month and I’ll probably drop that as an EP first, honestly,” she admits. “Just so I can clear my mind to then go back and finish the goddamn album.”
Her most recent single, K-pop-meets-nu-metal banger We Appreciate Power, will probably be on the record. The song would fit thematically, because it deals with the possibility that an AI dictatorship might be vindictive and she wants “every song to be about a different way the world could end.” The only thing holding her back from confirming it’ll be on the record is that she shares production credits on the track with frequent collaborator Hana and producer and guitarist Chris Greatti. “I’ve never had any other producers on my records,” she says. “But I should probably just let that go.”
Butterfly top: Maroske Peech
Dyed shorts: Collina Strada
Boned lingerie: Aleksandra Kolanko
Before meeting Boucher I’d been sent three other new tracks which could appear on either the new record or the EP, each wildly different from the last in style and composition. The first is So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth, a slow-moving, chaotic tune made using the Google NSynth that will appeal to fans of her second record, Halfaxa. The second, Shall I Compare Thee, sounds like it’s been lifted from an anime soundtrack and is one of the more recent tracks that Boucher says she made in “like two hours” and could end up on the EP. The last, My Name Is Dark, is an overwhelming nu-metal monster in the lineage of Kill V. Maim and Medieval Warfare, which also serves to introduce another new character for Boucher to play with. “Dark is going to be my main alter ego,” she says. “It’s visually the best thing I’ve ever come up with. Everyone is very tired of me making metal and screamo and stuff, so that can just be Dark.”
Who is very tired of her making metal and screamo?
“Twitter. Fans. Honestly, my parents. I came out making beautiful, ethereal, chill synth music and I do still really like that, I just don’t like being pigeonholed so I had to react against it for a minute. Now I’m back to it. I honestly think Shall I Compare Thee is kind of Visions-y.”
She pauses to take a sip of her coffee, and it occurs to me that the more I listen to Boucher the more I realise she is talking to me above a background roar. The deafening cacophony of voices on the internet pulling apart every aspect of her music, her politics and her personal life is always there whether she engages with it or not. She tells me she quit social media for six months, and now uses it only sparingly, “because there’s just no point in knowing. It’s like in high school when I had major problems. People have always hated me.”
Boucher is turning 31 now and she has learned how to take in hate and convert it like fuel into defiant power. “That’s why I’m making this pro-climate change album,” she says. “I’ll just be a villain now, and that’s cool. I’ll find a way to make that useful to society.”
Miss Anthropocene is coming soon via 4AD
This is an edited version of the interview that appeared in Issue 99 of Crack Magazine. The magazine is available to buy from our shop now.