Published Mar 11, 2020"I feel like two people," muses Grimes. "My online version — that's just a different identity."
If anyone knows about juggling different personas, it's Grimes. Just a couple of years ago, she was a cult indie musician, beloved for her exploratory synth-pop songs and lavish cyber-fairy aesthetic. Now, she's a full-blown celebrity, inspiring headlines with her billionaire boyfriend and controversial claims about artificial intelligence rendering live performance "obsolete." She even changed her name, ditching Claire Boucher and going simply by c (the symbol for the speed of light).
The Vancouver-born artist has been called "the voice of silicon fascist privilege" and is curiously flippant in the way she talks about climate change and A.I. takeover.
"I'm probably digging my own grave here, but they're kind of my hobbies, discussing these topics," she says with a laugh. "The climate change stuff is a bit more psychologically painful, but A.I. is super intriguing to me right now, and it makes me excited to talk about it."
Controversial as she can be, it's hard not to be charmed by her restless creative energy. Speaking with Grimes on the phone from her current home base of Los Angeles, she answers questions in mile-a-minute monologues, stumbling over sentences as if her brain is racing and her words are just trying to catch up. At one point she says she's in a "a very calm state of mind at the moment" — but if this is her being calm, what's she like when she's on edge?
She's clearly hyper-aware of her ability to stir up debate with an offhand remark, which is why she frequently corrects her own wording or makes a self-deprecating crack about being "pretentious and annoying." At one point she concedes, "There's no way to say anything without it being a problem." Despite her caution, she seems to have made peace with her status as an A-list provocateur.
"I think I had to go through a good ego death throughout this whole thing. Stuff gets so out of hand, and the internet version of yourself becomes this unrecognizable thing with each new controversy," she reflects. "I separated my humanity from the way I'm perceived, and it actually has been a really healthy mental exercise."
She moved past the worst of the shitstorm in February with the release of her fifth album, Miss Anthropocene. After all of the frenzy that had surrounded her personal life, Miss Anthropocene finally put the focus back where it probably should have been this whole time: her art.
The album illuminates some of her favourite themes, namely the apocalypse and artificial intelligence. The album title refers to a hypothetical "Goddess of Climate Crisis," while the songs are personified by their own deities: country-pop banger "Delete Forever" reflects the "Demon of Addiction," the heavy-lidded dream-pop of "So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth" is the "Goddess of Gender Roles," and so on.
Miss Anthropocene's heady concept enhances the album, but doesn't define it, since the songs are excellent regardless of context; "My Name Is Dark," for example, mashes up Grimes' signature reverb with her budding interest in sinister-sounding nu-metal, and it ultimately doesn't matter all that much that it represents the "Demon of Political Apathy."
"I worked my ass off," Grimes says of the LP. "I was like, 'Whew, this album better be fucking great, because it's definitely going to be super fucking scrutinized.' But I feel really relieved and really good about how people are taking it. I'm really thankful that people are attempting to understand it and talk about it."
The album's positive reception, as well as Grimes' dual-identity outlook on fame, means that the artist is eager to keep on keep on pushing boundaries.
She's been exploring something she calls "corporate surrealism," a concept exemplified by last year's Adidas ad campaign, in which Grimes claimed to have "eliminated all blue light from my vision through an experimental surgery." She now admits that the Adidas statement was ghostwritten by her brother Mac, and she likens it to the 1938 radio play adaptation of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds — another piece of outrageous science fiction that was misinterpreted as real.
"It really inspired me artistically, because it was really evidence of the state of reality," she offers. "Everyone is so confused about what's real and what's not real. You kinda can just say something fucking crazy like 'I did eye surgery on myself' and people believe it. We were totally tripping out when that started going viral."
As is so often the case with Grimes, the Adidas campaign opened up a whole new batch of ethical and philosophical questions.
She asks, "Is there a moral imperative to tell people when something is fiction? That's an interesting thought. Is there something wrong with not saying it's fiction? Is it destabilizing to democracy if people start doing stuff like that, or is it an extension of reality TV?"
Grimes is further blurring the lines between reality and fiction with the persona WarNymph — a cherubic digital avatar from straight out of the uncanny valley. Even though WarNymph resembles a baby, the character is unrelated to Grimes' real-life pregnancy; rather, it's a commentary on the artifice of social media. The next step is a WarNymph gallery show, which she plans to bring to Los Angeles in April, followed by exhibitions in other countries (including Canada).
"Digital art is considered very disposable right now, and it makes me kind of sad. I think a lot of the most groundbreaking art is just shit I see from people on Instagram with 20,000 followers," she explains. "We're trying to take the WarNymph Instagram and put it in a gallery setting and make giant wall-size prints and projections. Where it's like you're completely immersed in the world."
Between her music, her digital avatar and her "corporate surrealism," Grimes has basically turned her public life into one big art project. And if some people don't like it, well, that's part of the point.
"I don't mind people being mad at me if the end result is entertaining for them or it leads to a cool discussion," she says. "I feel like that's the point of being an artist."