Sounding Board

Deconstructing: Grimes

[Welcome to a new feature on Stereogum! Consider it an op-ed: In this space, we’ll issue spot, and we’ll argue. And so it’ll be like every other post, just more specifically engineered to engage you in the sort of commentary and criticism we’re seeing in the comment section these days. Every Tuesday we’ll turn to Julianne Escobedo Shepherd to frame an issue, and most decidedly to take a side. Julianne is the culture editor for AlterNet, who has served as the Executive Editor of FADER and has contributed to SPIN, Billboard, VIBE, New York Times, Interview, Pitchfork, and MTV Hive. She also blogs and Tumbls, just like you. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Stereogum. But the views herein are worthy of dialogue and discourse and inspection, and to that end, we present you with DECONSTRUCTED. Today, Julianne offers her thoughts on the gender aesthetic of Grimes.]

Grimes is stuck inside a mobius strip, but it’s not totally her fault. The latest musician to patch niche signifiers and visuals into her retro-reaching computer music, the pared-down project from Montreal-based singer/producer Clare Boucher was bound to be blog catnip from the jump. Rife with pastiche and a requisite analog vibe, her album’s as Tumblrfied as Jeremy Scott’s A/W 2012 line — and as we all know, the internet loves to chew its own tail. While no one loves the pastiche-iness of the web more than I do — the freedom to access an infinite spectrum of ideas is liberating, and broadens everyone’s potential for invention and reinvention — the gestural narrative behind Boucher’s project and the actual sound of the music does not compute. She’s a product of her own environment — all of our environments — but is coming at it like a self-contained meta-link on a web forum designed to look like 1998.

Cannily, the fourth first track on Visions, Grimes’ latest album, is entitled “Infinite Love Without Fulfillment,” and it’s also the shortest. It’s built on loops of her impossibly lithe voice, which sounds like the glittering wings of a pink-and-purple My Pretty Pony pegasus gliding above Blingee clouds, over a fairly rudimentary beat and a bit of arpeggiating synths. Like most of her album, that song bridges the distance between cat-loving J-Pop star Takako Minekawa, Final Fantasy X, and Wikipedia mysticism. It’s not totally the fact that I don’t like the music — people like music I dislike all the time, and vice versa — but it’s what people purport to love about Grimes that’s irksome. On one hand, it’s great that she’s this new hot blog thing, because she is a woman who creates her own beats in a space that historically is not that friendly to non-males. On the other hand, her elevation been a case study in the values people consign to the music they love — in this case, thin representations of ideas, that people have praised her for her “naive” and “elf-like” qualities, as though by filtering her voice into wispiness to the point that she’s almost a specter (as she does), she becomes more admirable, a negation of herself. It’s not just that I feel the music is basically thin and charmless — there are sweet spots, as in the melody of single “Genesis,” or the rickety bass hits on “Be a Body” — but because it is also so infantilized. Grimes has a host of recent-vintage contemporaries who approach their music with a similar concept, like Lykke Li and Fever Ray and Bat For Lashes and even fellow blog star Charli XCX, all of whom do similarly conceptualized music but tap into their womanhood and sexuality as a source of power, some might say THE DARK ARTS OF WOMANNESS. Her thoughts on Mariah Carey, as illuminated in this Pitchfork interview, are telling; she says Carey’s voice is “not even a human voice; it sounds almost mechanical,” and that it is the voice of “someone who has never done evil.” The strange binary of robot vs. person, of good vs. evil — particularly when talking about the oeuvre of a master and mega-complicated pop icon like Carey — gives the impression that Grimes aspires to some kind of unattainable purity that doesn’t register on an emotional level. That flat worldview translates to her sound, whose many layers are compressed into solitude. Grimes seems bent on negating her humanness and operating from robot zone, herself. Yet others who’ve embarked on such pursuits — Bjork, for example — have recognized the paradoxical intertwining between nature’s ether and that of the web. Grimes’ music feels like it’s operating in a vacuum, and while internet-referencing internet music is zeitgeistical, eventually the vacuum’s gonna run out of air.

Of course, Grimes’ cyborg unicorn stance is an updated ideal on the continuum of the asexuality that a certain strain of indie rock values, up to and including twee. Ultimately, though, Grimes’ blog prominence is more rooted in a quest for meaning: We understand that our fractured existences are increasingly moving from the corporeal to the computer-ether, but as we’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to step back and see how we’ll be impacted. That Boucher seems perfectly manufactured from this cyber ether is certainly exciting on paper, but just like the constant feed that filters through on your dashboard, tomorrow there will be another song to reblog. In other words: We don’t believe you. You need more people. Dot gif.

Tags: Grimes