Culture

The Internet Doesn't Deserve Grimes 4.0

For all the bad-faith readings and general hostility, her new era around album 'Miss Anthropocene' is full of ideas – and inevitably good.
21 February 2020, 10:00am
Grimes album review Miss Anthropocene
Photo by Mac Boucher and Neill Hanson

Miss Anthropocene was the perfect album title for Grimes v.4. Gone is the Montreal hipster start-up of her first two releases, the producer genius of Genesis and the pop revolutionary who surprised everyone with Art Angels. Now she is the female villain – the full album title is a play on misanthropy, while nodding to the grimness of the anthropocene era (our current one, marked out by humanity’s impact on earth). In truth, she had to embrace this sidestep towards the villainous. Otherwise, everything she created under ‘Grimes’ in future wouldn’t have a chance to be seen on a clean slate.

Grimes is one of few artists – a rarity in people generally – who convincingly holds multiple, partially contradictory opinions at once. Since her earliest Tumblr posts and interviews, she’s shown herself as mercurial above all else: someone who deals in ideas, pivoting around options at framing the truth. That can take the form of off-hand stabs at concepts (making climate change ‘fun’). Or it can look like a classic mercurial Grimes one-two punch: says one statement, follows up with something that complicates it. Take a glance, and it makes no sense. She’s a socialist but into free markets. She feels ease in expressing herself but also immense pressure to withhold. She hates these songs but thinks the album may be the best she’s done. Even when saying what she thinks on a given topic, she deals in complex ideas, leaving philosophical answers pending.

This constant movement between concepts, coupled with the speed at which her mind seems to flit, has hurt her. It’s caused misunderstandings, bad-faith readings, reducing quotes to soundbites or simply by people taking her ideas as firm opinions. Post-Musk, her ideas have yet another frame of reference – everything she says and makes is influenced by her proximity to one of the most famous billionaires in the world. So when she offers an interesting but miserable idea about the end-point for the AI takeover (“I feel like we’re in the end of art, human art” she told the theoretical physicist Sean Carroll on his Mindscape podcast in November) even that is received negatively, despite her previous track record engaging intellectually and creatively with AI and technology. When she writes an album looking to make climate change something people want to engage with, it translates poorly as an inflammatory idea via the soundbite she’d later troll: “climate change is good”. In short: ‘the internet’ isn’t incapable of digesting Grimes.

Her personal life was always going to be this delayed album’s primary text. Her indie household name status might have encouraged another pop-anthem heavy Art Angels, albeit more villainous. Instead, she went insular – she stewed on losing control over her persona, and pulled from rave and nu-metal. Miss Anthropocene is a cinematic companion to getting stoned, meditating or making your own art. It’s music to lay down in a dark room and ohm too while the world burns. This is a bleak album about total annihilation in all its forms: drugs, waste, partying and, yes, the human impulse for cancellations.

Each song represents a nymph to tell the story of how we destroyed the planet. Ancient Greeks would’ve had fun using mythology to explain our planet’s current predicament to us, and future generations. Nymphs, the impossibly seductive nature goddesses, brought the vengeance and retribution, starvation and drought that humans deserved. If nymphs existed in any form now, they’d be delighting over taking humanity to task over the minor issue of our impending destruction of the planet.

Grimes portrait by Eli Russell Linnetz

Standout track “Delete Forever” is a touching response to drug deaths and an interesting example of how 2000s emo pop-rock threads itself through TikTok and current music. Grimes wrote the track on the night of Lil Peep’s death, triggered by it since she recently had lost a friend to opiates. It has something of the feeling of Juice WRLD’s "Lucid Dreams" – of course, Juice WRLD died of an accidental overdose, in December 2019, Grimes was a fan – and many of Lil Peep’s earlier heavily sampled Soundcloud rap releases. The acoustic guitar is also reminiscent of his track “walk away when the door slams,” the gutting sign-off music to the Peep documentary, Everybody's Everything. Despite being a sonic outlier, ‘Delete Forever’ permeates the thrust of the album. “I start a lot of songs and throw them out because the energy is not right,” she told Now Toronto in the Visions era. “It’s almost like the file becomes cursed. I have to delete it.” In its total annihilation, the world, like “Grimes” the artist, has been corrupted and is in need of destruction to start again.

As the album reviews come in for Miss Anthropocene, Grimes is widely praised. Still, she is framed as a “problematic fave”, someone “hard to idolise” – odd, because Grimes has always aggressively evaded that role. Critics may wonder how the politics of the album square with Musk’s, rather than judging her on her own merit, as they've been arguing for her to be for most of her career (Again we assume a clear political stance rather than ideas.) “Maybe climate change does seem more fun if you can escape on a spaceship to Mars,” concludes the Telegraph, in a review that also uses Elon Musk as an entry point.

The narrative arc of her life as a public persona was clear before this album’s release. Her music was always going to be brilliant because she’s one of the greatest innovators of popular music and a rare truly interesting person. After a reminder of that, we can call her a “problematic fave,” an artist whose elusive politics we hate but in an era of cancellations we’ve deemed acceptable, just. So when the album finishes on IDORU, meaning Japanese idol, the earth is reborn. Grimes' psychic toll can rest. Birds tweet and the sun rises; when she sings “You cannot be sad / Because you made my all-time favourite music” you can imagine her laughing at the idea of being this to anyone anymore. What would more lyrically cryptic Grimes 2.0 think of words so bold and self-aware, or even 3.0, from the standpoint of being so universally loved, the creator of our favourite music?

“I love trying to win somebody back by writing a song,” she told Lana Del Rey in a conversation for Interview magazine. Miss Anthropocene was an attempt to do that in ten – she may have a shot at succeeding.

@hannahrosewens

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