Grimes has become all things to all people. To certain internet music nerds, she’s sold out. To top 40 radio, Billboard, the Grammys, she might never be pop enough. In 2012, Grimes became an internet sensation overnight, almost by accident—and she’s been railing against it ever since. The more critics raved about Visions, the more she refused to be defined by an album she recorded in three weeks on GarageBand. She wasn’t some depressed witch house ingenue, or a Tumblr pastel goth, or part of any other half-forgotten 2012 trend. 2015’s Claire Boucher is still the same self-proclaimed nerd who wears socks and sandals in her music videos. Her music’s finally caught up to her sense of humour. Art Angels doesn’t give a shit about your expectations, except for one thing: it proves once and for all that Grimes is no fluke.
It’s a miracle Art Angels feels as effortless as it does. In the three and a half years since Visions, Grimes taught herself to play the guitar, violin and ukulele, and wrote several hundred songs—including an entire album that was scrapped for not being good enough. Most reviews have reached for absurd comparisons to describe the way it sounds—Len’s ‘Steal My Sunshine‘, Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road—because it’s so difficult to deconstruct each song’s actual influences. That’s partly because the album feels deliberately out of time; Grimes stopped listening to current popular music for a year while recording it. If Art Angels reminds me of anything, it’s The Jetsons: a vision of the future from a time before cynicism set in. In some alternate universe, all pop music is weird and vivid as Grimes.
Underground music doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as it used to. Which also means it’s now free to be dumber than pop. Most of today’s pop deconstructionists—think PC Music, vaporwave—have little interest in writing traditional verse-chorus songs. Sincerity is overrated; their records deliberately sound cheap and artificial. But if Grimes has one talent, it’s taking sounds that might come off as kitsch—the country/hip-hop swing of ‘California’, ‘Kill V. Maim’ and its vampire cheerleader chorus—and imbuing them with genuine emotion. She doesn’t do anything ironically.
In 2015, the distance between the underground and mainstream is blurrier than ever. The Beyoncés and Kanyes of the world want hits, but they crave indie cred. Tastemakers are so desperate to anoint artists as the next big thing that we forget how few ever actually become household names. The internet connects us, but sometimes it feels like it’s splintered music into a thousand tiny niches. Artists can make music for their own little subgenre forever, with no need to make a living from it, or expand their audience. It’s why music fans collectively hold their breath every time a Lorde, Lana Del Rey or the Weeknd makes that leap. Whether they fail or succeed, at least you never know what to expect.
Will Art Angels make Grimes famous, like, for real? Does it matter? She’s still doing pop on her own terms. It’s exactly what made her so compelling in the first place. She might be too unique to truly be influential, but would it hurt if more artists tried to copy her anyway? If you can get with Art Angels, you’ll follow Grimes anywhere. If Visions felt like a dream, Art Angels feels like the first day of the rest of Claire Boucher’s life.
Words by Richard S. He. You can tweet your grievances to @Richaod.