Music

Grimes and Female Celebrity

Photo: Tommy Chase Lucas

Grimes's Claire Boucher is the indie heroine of the year, which makes it all the more interesting that she's using her newfound celebrity to subtly challenge what we expect of women in the entertainment industry.

Grimes

Visions

Label: 4AD
US Release Date: 2012-02-21
UK Release Date: 2012-02-20
Website
Amazon
iTunes

It’s been a good year for Claire Boucher, the Montreal-via-Vancouver songstress whose breakout LP, Visions, finds the heretofore undiscovered middle ground between Mariah Carey and Cocteau Twins. At 24, Boucher—who makes music as Grimes—finds herself the toast of not only Blogtown, but the rusting, creaking capital cities of the Old Guard.

The New York Times hails Visions "one of the most impressive albums of the year", while the hard-hitting trendsetters at Entertainment Weekly call the record positively "dreamy", likely right up there with other dreamy entities like Channing Tatum and the piece of interchangeable, anonymous manmeat who recently played Captain America in those films. Of course, Pitchfork and its indie ilk got to Grimes first, with the ‘Fork awarding Visions its potentially game-changing Best New Music tag, with the AV Club, Filter, Cokemachineglow, Gorilla Vs Bear, XLR8R and—right—PopMatters giving Visions more digital and print fuel for the buzz fire.

And rightfully so. Visions is a bewitching, shapeshifting record of surprising heft and emotional weight, given all this talk of dreams and Boucher’s airy, adolescent voice. The album manages to be both immediately gratifying in the best tradition of pop music and a challenging, viscous blend of elliptical structures and bursts of serious, almost malevolent darkness. Visions is weird, beautiful, and always captivating, the work of a young artist hitting her stride and joyfully sharing the results with the rest of us.

Grimes’s crossover from indie of-the-moment heroine to mainstream critical darling sees Boucher following the path previously trodden by Sufjan Stevens, Panda Bear and Animal Collective, and—most recently—Bon Iver. This isn’t to say Grimes is selling out, or even playing, venues of the size now demanded by the crowds flocking to see those artists play. Rather, it places Grimes and Boucher into the context of a zeitgeist spirit animal, to use a metaphor at once ironic and sincere enough for an artist who seems to delight equally in both attitudes.

In other words, the maelstrom of accolades churning around Boucher and Visions isn’t new as a phenomenon itself, though it’s certainly new to her. The New York Times and NPR anoint a new crossover indie savior every year. The strangeness lies, in part, in the pure weirdness of Grimes’s music, a dissonant bleep for every melodic bloop. But for my purposes, the stranger—and more exciting—element of Boucher as 2012 Poster Artist is that this rainbow of media delight, from obscure blogs to the paper of record, shines on a female artist.

True, Grimes isn’t the first female singer-songwriter to face such an intense wave of attention in the aughts or teens—think of Joanna Newsom or St. Vincent’s Annie Clark. (For that matter, it seems the handful of women who reap this level of critical praise often make more challenging and, plainly, more interesting music than their similarly celebrated male peers. I would take Clark’s gnarly guitar work over Grizzly Bear’s flaccid chamber pop or Newsom’s incredible intricacies over Sufjan’s twee exhalations any day.) What Boucher does differently than Clark or Newsom expresses itself in her irreverent public persona, the sort of exuberant silliness that could read as either a breath of fresh air or as the mothball smell of the Urban Outfitters sales rack, all hip affectation and little substance, depending on how you inhale. Whatever the case, it’s nice to imagine Bob Boilen watching the new L$D video.


In this way, does Grimes represent a new sort of female celebrity? In the indie rock world, politics of gender and sexuality are supposed to be more sophisticated than those of the broader, more "traditionally"-minded entertainment culture, right? So, what happens when an indie heroine crosses over into the hyper-(hetero)sexualized world of the mainstream entertainment machine? Joanna Newsom went for the upper crust, street style blogs. Annie Clark has made similar forays into fashion, modeling for Madewell and playing with St. Vincent at up-and-coming designer Rachel Comey’s 2009 New York Fashion Week runway show.

I don’t at all mention these two artists’ pursuits as slights against their integrity, some sort of punk holdover anti-commercialism still prevalent among many writers and fans in indie rock circles—the worlds of fashion and music are obviously both vast, complex artistic spheres, and we should find it interesting whenever there’s an instance of confluence between the two (hi, Kanye). I do, though, find it worth pointing out that, by using their increased exposure in the mainstream musical press to segue into the world of mainstream high fashion, Newsom and Clark are expressing their femininity in a very straightforward, uncontroversial manner. They are very beautiful women, and they are modeling very beautiful clothing for a wide commercial audience.

Again, no judgment there. I mention it as a matter of contrast to Claire Boucher’s experimentations with fashion culture, which is neither better nor more worthy of attention than Newsom or Clarke’s—just quite different. Grimes makes pussy rings. Supposedly for sale in the near future, these are rings made out of molded plastic designed to look like the vulva. Chanel, they are not. But a fashion statement? Most likely.

In designing the rings with Montreal artist Morgan Black, Boucher takes Newsom and Clark’s fashion forays a step further, actually helping to conceptualize and produce the item she models. The pussy rings—and that name should clue you in, if you weren’t clued in already—are of course intended to be provocative in a way Margiela and Madewell are not. Yes, Boucher does wear Givenchy on a recent magazine cover, but she wears it in her nose. Boucher, then, seems willing to take the piss a bit, to do the requisite fashionista dabbling but to do it with tongue planted firmly in cheek. That Hipster Runoff, the often hilarious and always inscrutable (half?) parodic website that turns indie celebrity into the tabloid fodder of mainstream celebrity, has made Boucher a veritable poster girl of late speaks both to her rising success and the notion she shares an attitude similar to Hipster Runoff’s Carles, participating in while also skewering the sexualized inanity of so many culture and style sections.

Wherever Grimes’s success takes Boucher in the future, it’s simply nice to see a young female artist having fun with the media’s idea of a young female artist. Boucher’s ebullient, stream-of-consciousness persona in interviews is anything but preachy or overly intellectualized in her discussions of music, gender, fashion, and all else—perhaps I’m taking too much of the bait here. Her music would be enough on its own. But Boucher is on her way to being a celebrity, and her facility in sculpting that celebrity to suit her own ideas—and to challenge ours—is icing on the cake.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image