Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, has been known since her MySpace days for her dark, eclectic, self-produced pop and aesthetics created by using looping and layering techniques in production. Her image, maintained by her unconventional approach to music and art as well as self-proclaimed “anti-imperialism” via Twitter, spurned an array of reactions to her announcement of her relationship with Elon Musk in 2018 ranging from mildly disgusted shock to amusedly raised eyebrows. However, the dichotomy between her eco-conscious alt-punk space princess aesthetic and her continued relationship with, and defense of, a union-busting billionaire casts her latest album “Miss Anthropocene” in an interesting light, prompting us to question the overall political value of “resistance” aesthetics in pop culture.
The title “Miss Anthropocene” was announced a year ago in March 2019, when Boucher explained that the work would be a concept album about an “anthropomorphic goddess of climate change” in which “each song [would] be a different embodiment of human extinction.” Her explanation of the concept confirms the title’s pun alluding to “misanthropy,” or contempt for humankind and human nature. As per usual for Grimes, the album’s lyrics are relatively cryptic and meaning is comprised by the layers of production and systematic creation of a mood meditating on a theme. While she is clearly exploring the imminence of environmental degradation through ominously titled tracks including “Delete Forever,” “Violence,” “Before the Fever” and “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around,” her value judgements, assignments of blame and calls to action are unclear. That is not necessarily a bad thing and does not even render the album apolitical; art, even political art, should not have to be painfully obvious. Perhaps the work is intentionally vague with the intention of encouraging listeners to meditate on the topic rather than being handed an answer. Regardless of Grimes’ ambiguous political and artistic intentions on “Miss Anthropocene,” it still feels principally aesthetic. Even if the album were a clear, poignant, compelling and intelligent commentary on ecological destruction that could be solidly considered both good and true, her positionality as an obscenely wealthy white woman virtually completely sheltered from the effects of the extinction she is setting to music dilutes the message.
All that is not to say that we cannot enjoy Grimes anymore or that “Miss Anthropocene” cannot be a good album; we can still enjoy things post-Musk. Isolated musically, “Miss Anthropocene” is definitely not my favorite Grimes album, but I enjoy it as a concept. It is an enjoyable album; the ethereal 50-vocal track layering Grimes does is as cool as ever, space is fun, I do not have any serious complaints, but maybe it is no deeper than that. Which again, is not to say that political art and music cannot be effective and striking, but just that it cannot be separated from the context that created it. In NPR’s review of the album, Boucher was described to be “poeticizing ecological suicide,” something that she seems, at least by my judgement, to be a little suspiciously enthusiastic about considering her relative safety compared to the rest of the masses. Maybe my conviction that Grimes is subtly trying to indoctrinate a subculture of alternative girls with Kånkens into virulent yet palatably sanitized ecofascists is just me thinking too hard about how much I hate Elon Musk, but hopefully other listers without this problem are able to enjoy “Miss Anthropocene” more thoroughly and with less guilt than I do.