Earlier this week, Grimes spent a bit of time on Twitter advocating for her boyfriend, infamous neo-colonial tech billionaire Elon Musk. It’s an activity she seems to be doing a lot of since her relationship with Musk became public––a few weeks ago she described reports of Musk’s union-busting as “fake news”––but this week’s tiff was particularly grating. When asked by a fan why she’s still dating Musk, considering the fact that he donates seven times as much to Republicans as he does the Democrats, Grimes responded “every aerospace company has to donate to republicans in order to function. […] it’s the price of doing business in america.” The price of doing business in America. The phrase is slick with repugnant double meaning, the kind of capo-speak that’s basically code for ‘ business and ethics don’t mix’. Noisey reached out to Grimes' team and, despite an openness to speaking on the topic, she has yet to comment.
It’s not my job to comment on the personal lives of the musicians I write about, and I think, for the most part, that it’s unhealthy on a discursive (and personal) level to expect advocacy for progressive politics from the stars we idolise. I believe it’s hard to separate art from artist, and all we as listeners, critics and fans can do is make our own decisions as to who we support and who we don’t. In the past, I thought Grimes was one of the musicians I wanted to support: her music is revelatory, and her politics, in my eyes, matched. Grimes is a self-taught musician who actively called bullshit on inequalities that she saw in the industry and in broader culture, a figure who once seemed intent on using her platform to push back on rising conservatism. For me––someone who spent his teen years surrounded by Tumblr culture, a community that, sometimes unhealthily, preoccupied itself with personal politics––Grimes was a perfect symbol, someone whose art and ideology aligned perfectly.
Visions, her breakthrough album, centred around a single and video that interrogated toxic masculinity, before ‘toxic masculinity’ became a central topic of cultural debate. She used her newfound popularity from Visions to direct people to causes close to her, like the rampant violence against Indigenous women in Canada. Art Angels was, in part, a response to the male-dominated music industry that tried to force Grimes to take a backseat and let men handle the production of her music. Rather than do that, she produced, recorded and engineered every inch of the record. It was punk as fuck; Grimes lived her politics. In a social media landscape that can be all talk and no action, that meant a lot.
Which is why, in Grimes’ case, it’s a little harder to separate art from artist, and a little harder to ignore her personal affairs, especially when her personal affairs involve very publicly defending Elon Musk. Over the past year-and-a-bit, Musk has donated various amounts of money to the Republican party through various means. $50,000 went to a committee California congressman Kevin McCarthy oversees ($5,000 went directly to his campaign, and $5,400 to his PAC Majority Committee), while an additional near-$40,000 was donated directly to Protect The House, an initiative designed to maintain Republican control of the House of Representatives. Grimes’ main defense of these donations was that Musk donates to both sides of the aisle, and that’s true: he’s also given around $13k to Democrats over the same period of time, or 1/7th of what he donates to the Right. And that’s “the price of doing business in America”, isn’t it? Sacrificing your morals––which, in Musk’s case, supposedly means environmental advocacy––in favour of donating a lot of money to a party that vehemently denies climate change, and a bit more money to a guy who wrote some legislation designed to destroy and plunder the few remaining natural resources that exist in America, and donating just a fraction of the same money to the party that might actually help uphold your purported morals.
There’s something so deeply, undeniably toxic about Grimes’ newfound capitalist rhetoric that grinds my gears. How can someone whose Instagram picture is Karl Marx defend a man who is actively trying to stop the unionization of his workers, who sees an active threat in giving his staff rights? How can someone who once espoused deeply felt radical feminist politics now be defending someone who donated to a committee overseen by Kevin McCarthy, a man who wants to strip Planned Parenthood of $500 million, a man who doesn’t believe same-sex couples should have the right to marry, a man who doesn’t believe in affordable healthcare? How can someone whose most well-known song is about violent sexual assault defend a guy who donated $40,000 to a party that is led by a man who brags about sexual assault, to a party that actively hates trans people and black people and poor people? Is that just “the price of doing business in America”?
When Page Six reported that Grimes was “quietly dating” Musk, the jokes wrote themselves. It was fun. She was using him, just so she could be the first to live on Mars! They like to drink rocket fuel together! When they made their first public appearance together mere hours later at the Met Gala––Grimes gothed-up and wearing a Tesla logo choker, Musk looking like he was attending a high school prom––the memes began. They looked like Dr. Drakken and Shego from Kim Possible! No, Janis and Damien from Mean Girls! Or maybe Gideon Graves and Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim! But the meme is over. Now, we have to remember that Elon Musk is a bad man.
I should probably be less surprised by Grimes’ somewhat-turn. This year, former heroes of mine have gone off the deep-end, collaborating with pedophiles and claiming that slavery was a choice. But considering Grimes’ longstanding ideologies, this one really stings. Grimes can’t delete the fact that she once seemed vehemently against this kind of capitalist-driven conservatism in the same way that she can quietly remove the phrase “anti-imperialist” from her Twitter bio. When you’ve built your fanbase as much on your feminism as you have on the strength of your music, a shift in politics like this isn’t going to go unscrutinized, and no amount of deleted tweets will change that. Whether she likes it or not, fans are bristling against her newfound conservatism. And, ironically, that’s bad for business.
Shaad D'Souza is Noisey's Australian editor. Follow him on Twitter .
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that $50,000 from Elon Musk went directly to Kevin McCarthy when instead it went to a committee he oversees. Noisey regrets the error.