Photo: Mac Boucher & Neil Hansen
Grimes' Non-Violent Utopia
There is no current artist quite like Grimes. From making a science fiction-inspired album (2010's Geidi Primes) in her Montreal bedroom to becoming an alt-pop favorite with 2012's Visions (also made in said sleeping quarters) to becoming celeb gossip fodder because of her famous CEO boyfriend, she has always remained 100 percent herself. On each of her five albums, she's stayed true to her D.I.Y. and experimental ethos—writing, singing, producing and engineering all the music herself and pushing creative boundaries every time, bringing us further into her enticing, otherworldly dimension. She also created each trippy album cover and directed every wild music video, collaborating with her brother Mac Boucher on the more recent visuals.
Back on Feb. 21, before COVID-19 shut the world down, before the killing of George Floyd by police sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the globe, Grimes (a.k.a. Claire Boucher, a.k.a. just "c") released the follow-up to 2015's Art Angels, the fittingly futurist, dystopian Miss Anthropocene. Recently, we caught up with the "IDORU" singer to talk about the album, the chaos of 2020 and motherhood. She also gets real about her best friend and frequent collaborator HANA, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's "WAP" and her interest in more humane technology.
So how have you been doing during quarantine, especially as a new parent?
It started really shitty because one of my best friends actually passed away on the first day of quarantine. And then I had to go right into having a baby. She passed away in a pregnancy-related issue so it was four months of not good, the least productive I've ever been. It was basically terrible until about a month ago. But yeah, I feel like a lot of people are on this path. I mean, granted, the whole is a shitshow and terrible and I'm really worried about everybody. And that's the other thing: I feel like it's getting worse and worse on the outside, so I don't know. Wait, maybe I'm getting too dark. Positive. Anyway.
No, you're fine. You can be real.
I have PTSD from being terrible in interviews. So please excuse me for constantly second-guessing myself. But yeah, I'm not really sure what to do, especially with being Canadian, because I feel I should have a vote in your election and I can't even say much about it. I didn't realize I'm not even allowed to donate to candidates and stuff. So it's a whole thing where I feel weirdly helpless about it. I feel American in my vibe and energy, and all my friends and family are American. But yeah, it's a weird situation. There is actually a lot of stuff to do, it's just not directly political stuff.
It's an interesting point you made, that things seem like they keep getting worse. I think it gets to place where we have to focus in on ourselves because at the end of the day, some shit's always going to be crazy. When we're able to be like, "Well, what can I do to take care of myself?" or, "What can I do to deal with what's feeling crazy for me?" it makes it seem more manageable. I'm sure that having another human to take care of adds a different layer to that.
Another human kind of helps. Although I disagree that it's unfixable or whatever. But when I look at it, another human is nice because it's very hard to go on social media when there's a baby. It's just hard. When are you going to do it? And then when you're not dealing with the baby, you're like, "Okay, I've got to do something actually useful." The baby caused me to not be on social media and I am very grateful for that.
Regarding society though, which I feel like the craziness of the moment is that the internet is forcing us to become a single unit. I was reading this thing about how the internet forcing us to become a single unit is basically forcing everyone to acknowledge everyone else's suffering at the same time. And even though it sucks so much, I feel like this is the only way to actually fix human suffering. And I also feel like we're at this weird junction in society where we're getting to a place where we can technologically have the ability to destroy civilization and destroy humanity—crazy. But we also have the ability to, theoretically, fix humanity. Not 100 percent solve suffering, and I don't know if we even want that. But I do think it's probably possible to an extent to end violence and extreme inequality.
And so, I feel like it just f***ing hurts, because we're in this moment where it's no longer possible to ignore those things. If you want to engage with society, you have to engage with suffering. And so, obviously, I feel like in the short term, this is super shitty. And especially anyone who has mental illness or depression or is predisposed to that at all, is having an extra hard time. This is existentially painful.
But at the same time, [maybe we need that] in order to get into, I don't want to say a utopian, but a future where we can just achieve and not be fixing. Right now, because of our own f***-ups, we're still just having to Band-Aid instead of solving physics and colonizing space and solving medical stuff. Instead, we're just still fixing the broken things.
Anyway, I feel like the thing that sucks is that we're becoming a single psychological entity. But that is possibly the thing that can save us, because if we're one thing, people are selfish and people want to fix themselves. And I am seeing people want to fix the world more than I've ever seen. It's what everyone's talking about and what everyone's focused on. So maybe that's a good thing? Sorry that was so long.
I feel that. The fact that people have to pay attention is big. Also, people need to feel like there's something that they can do. Obviously, not everyone that lives here can vote, but it is something that people are mobilizing around. I haven't seen people this excited for an election other than for Obama in 2008. So that's definitely something.
The other thing I keep seeing helplessness. But it's like, man, we're talking through the internet through space and time. And if we wanted to, we could video chat. We can kind of accomplish whatever we want. It seems normal, because we're stuck in this world. But that's all really new shit. And that's like magic. I feel like we can frigging solve things.
The themes and aesthetic of Miss Anthropocene feel so reflective of the chaos of 2020, it's wild that you released it in February. Do you feel like the album and its themes offer any messages of how we can prevent the demise of humanity?
I was trying to be provocative at the time I made the album. Because I made it a lot more in 2018, 2019. When I started making it, I was still like, "Why don't we care about the environment?" And in time since I made it and released it, the world totally changed. And even though I'm really proud of it and I think it's great, I feel like it is not the time to be provocative and trollish. That ended kind of almost before the album came out. It feels insensitive now.
I still actually like it. When I think about the anthropomorphic goddess of climate change and the anthropomorphic goddess of addiction, those things are compelling to me. I even kind of get anxiety talking about it. To myself, I feel like I made something effective, but I get why people found it to be kind of cruel now. But that's art. It goes back and forth.
Sauron sucks and gives me anxiety too, but I don't think Lord of the Rings was problematic, but some people might say it is. I don't know. I'm talking in circles again. Maybe that's the point. [Laughs.] They should not let me do interviews. I'm really bad at interviews.
Sometimes I feel like the most awkward interviewer. I'll ask a question and I'll giggle.
The giggling is good. When people are monotone and so bored with you, you're just like, "Oh, god. I'm sorry I'm keeping you from going home."
Also if it's more of a normal interviewer thing, you're kind of repeating the same thing. You feel like kind of like a phony. I'm always like, "Uh-oh. This question again." And then I'm like, "Oh, no. If any fans see this, they're going to know I answered this the exact same way. I'm such a fraud." You want to give a genuine answer, but it becomes disingenuous just by being forced to answer the same question again and again. It's a trap no matter what.
"Violence" is your only song you didn't produce yourself. What was it like working with i_o on it, and what did it feel like to let go of that specific element of creative control?
I mean, frankly, people need to realize sometimes collaborating is really hard. But when it's easy, it is incredible. There are no drugs that are like sitting in a room with someone when you're on the same page creatively. And it's your art. I've always been like, "Oh, the art high, the art high." When you make something good and the night after, you close the computer and you're like, "I made a good thing," it's literally the best feeling in the world. And when you're working with someone else, it feels like it's double.
I'm very conflicted right now, because for political reasons and reasons of self-worth, I want to make stuff on my own. But I'm really vibing creating with other people now. With i_o, he sent me stuff and I just wrote a vocal over it. By the way, "Violence" only took about an hour to make. I was like, "Oh my god. Why am I spending tons of hours making songs when it should really just take an hour?"
"Violence" sort of broke the barrier, because I had done so little collaboration before that. Well, "We Appreciate Power" was actually very fun. It was with my best friend [HANA], so it was much easier. It was almost like having a sleepover and writing it. It was not like a work situation.
That's super cool. I'm always really interested in collaboration and the process of it because, like you said, sometimes it's easier than others.
I feel like I'm starting again, because I've always made music by myself and I feel like 19 again. It feels like the first time I first started making music all over again. The human brain is a very amazing thing. And when you can find a brain that works with yours, it's better than any tool. It's also very hard to find. Maybe that's some argument for humans getting along.
When "We Appreciate Power" came out [in November 2018], I had it on repeat an embarrassing amount. When I learned what it was about, I'm like, "Oh, wow. This AI propaganda totally would work."
Here's the funny thing. It is now this so less-controversial "WAP," which I find so funny. When we made "We Appreciate Power," I was like "WAP" is such a random title. No one will ever make a song title like this. And this will definitely own this title forever. And then Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion came out with their "WAP" And I'm like, "Damn, they actually defeated us with making the more controversial song with this absurd title." Our "WAP" has been owned.
What did you think about the backlash that Cardi and Megan got for literally singing about their p*ssies, when other people sing about p*ssies all the time?
I actually didn't notice the backlash for about a week because, as I said, I haven't been online. So, I didn't watch the music video and I didn't even know the title. I thought it was "Wet and Gushy," or whatever. I had no idea what was going on. And then, my manager said something later and I was like, "What? Cardi B's in trouble for the song?" And [when I learned about it], I was like, "Oh, wow. This is kind of crazy." I'm still surprised it was so controversial, but then that just proves that I'm in sort of in a bubble, I guess.
I've been thinking about this in general, going through being pregnant, no one understands what's going on at all. And you're super unprepared for it. Sex ed is not comprehensive enough at all. And our society does really need to work on—I feel like everyone's way overusing the word "normalized"—normalizing [laughs] women's bodies because it's a huge problem.
"I'm a producer. My war zone is mostly a men's war zone. I get in the ring with the boys. And that seems easy compared to having a baby. I was shocked by how hard it was. I thought I was so tough."
It's so true. I feel like that is such like a valid parallel to the fact that women singing about their body parts is still found offensive. And I haven't had a child or been pregnant, but I've heard conversations around women feeling like they can't talk about the difficulties of being a mother or being pregnant. It's supposed to be like, "Pregnancy is beautiful!" I'm sure it's both, but I wish there more spaces for these conversations.
Yeah. I'll say this. I'm a producer. My war zone is mostly a men's war zone. I get in the ring with the boys. And that seems easy compared to having a baby. I was shocked by how hard it was. I thought I was so tough. It's almost the indignity of it and all the things that go along with it and just being so volatile. There were numerous meetings where I would puke. I was puking all the time. It was really humiliating.
And people are like, "Oh, yeah, morning sickness, well it's like 12 weeks, three months." If you were vomiting constantly for three months in any other kind of illness, it would be really serious. But it's not even considered. It's like, "Oh, yeah. Whatever. It's only a couple of months of puking many times a day." It's like, whoa. That's not even the hard part. That's the beginning. And then you kind of feel like a teenager. Teenagers are grumpy and crazy because of their hormones. Pregnant women are literally going through the same thing but they're supposed to act normal and stuff.
And then f***ing having the actual baby—if I didn't have nannies, babies are literally 24 hours. Being a stay-at-home mom with no help, or especially a single mom, is significantly harder. It's extreme sleep deprivation. As a society, it's possibly the hardest job, and it's not even a paid job. We devalue it and we expect it to be free labor. And the fact that we expect to be free labor gets women into situations where they have no financial freedom and if it's abusive or something they're just stuck.
I mean, other countries at least offer several months of paid maternity leave, and in Sweden [and many other countries] both parents get leave. The U.S. is the only—I hate this word—"developed" country that doesn't have mandatory maternity leave. It totally is devaluing, like you said, the actual labor and time that goes into it.
Yeah. I mean, I guess that's a very capitalistic viewpoint. So people could take issue with that. But I just feel like it's very weird that the hardest job I'm doing is free labor. Before I had my baby, I was always like, "Oh, I don't want to be a stay-at-home mom." And I was sort of rolling my eyes. And I had this bad vibe for stay-at-home moms. I was definitely internalizing misogyny. And now I'm like, "Man, I was such a f*** up. I can't believe no one ever corrected me on that f***ing shitty line of thinking." Being a stay-at-home mom is quite hard, I would say. Maybe it gets easier when they get older.
Long story short, "WAP" is productive towards society. Let's get more used to addressing anatomy.
How would you describe your creative relationship and friendship with HANA?
Oh, she'll be so mad you called her "Hannah." [Laughs.] It's the bane of her existence. I just feel so bad that she's trapped in this nightmare where everyone calls her Hannah and her real name is HANA. I thought an A that's ah is an imperial A, and I was telling people that for years. It turns out that was from a dream and that's not a real terminology. But it sounds real. So, it's HANA with an imperial A. And I'm coining that term, because it sounds right.
Anyway, she's great. I feel like HANA taught me about feminine energy or something. I did not have a lot of girlfriends previous to her. And going on tour with someone is kind of like being married to them. We toured for like three years or something.
HANA's underrated. Check out her latest release, HANADRIEL. It's great, and she produced on Twitch, which I thought was a really cool idea. She livestreamed her album creation on Twitch, which I would not be able to do that. And I think people were able to comment as well and stuff.
What's it like working with your brother Mac? Because you've worked together on pretty much all of your music videos, correct?
To an extent, more or less. The early stuff I did more on my own. I feel like I started working with him because he's probably the best working partner I've ever had. The one thing I think we would say is, don't judge the Miss Anthropocene music videos, because I was pregnant during them. The reason they're less crazy is because I couldn't be throwing my body around for 16 hours straight when I was super pregnant. So we feel slightly self-conscious. Please do not judge either of us.
I'm not talking shit, but it's just they're obviously single scene. They're just very, very simple comparatively to what we normally do. And that's just because what we normally do is not good for your body. Also, it's been Mac and I this whole time and it's just not big budget. So usually, we literally take the whole workload on ourselves. We color. We edit. We do post-production. Literally, when it's animation or something, it's like me and Mac literally doing it ourselves. I mean, we're excited to get to the next phase too though, because ideally, we can access bigger budgets in the future. And Mac's also been learning how to do CGI literally on his own. He probably never talks about this though. He's kind of like a private dude and doesn't want to be too discussed.
I really like the "Violence" music video. It feels sort of like the opening credits from a movie where you're getting the vibe of it and wondering who the characters are. It definitely drew me in.
I feel like even though that video is simple, it's like one of the best performances I've ever done in a weird way. I mean, the thing with "Violence" is we were like, "F*** hiring random people. We're just going to hire our friends." The stylists and dancers were friends. My brother's girlfriend is one of the dancers. HANA's there [as the "nude corpse"]. Another friend of mine was helping with the styling and ideas. I'd rather sacrifice some physical proficiencies for an incredibly good vibe on set, because performance-wise it's like you're in front of a bunch of random people you don't know who are bored, versus being with all your friends, cheering and doing stuff. It makes a huge difference. Our roommate did the hair. And we wore masks, which seemed weird that was before the pandemic.
But I thought really, what would modern gods look like? All religion is referencing pre-technological existence. And if you just go by logic, if intelligent design is real, which is not out of the question, if we're either in a simulation or if there are gods in any capacity, they have technology. You know what I mean? There's a law [from scientist/science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke] that says, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." And my inverse law is any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. Let's say, we're in a Matrix situation, it's possible that everything condescends this extremely advanced technology. I mean, it kind of is biological technology if you just go on baseline level that life spontaneously occurred and the Big Bang happened.
But man, I just love the idea of there being teenage gods with cell phones who are bitchy. And this gods isplastic and she just looks amazing and she's got this crazy style and she's got this CGI all around her. Just why isn't there more kind of pursuance of this sort of idea?
Can you talk a little bit about your well, now, virtual art exhibit that you were planning with Michele Maccarone?
Most of the art exhibit has to be real. The thing that's online is just kind of my random art. I don't want to downplay it, it's stuff we've been making. But we have the whole installation and everything that took a really long time. We created these AI meditations where we send a bunch of meditative texts to this generative AI. If you feed an AI stuff, it starts making things, so it was making these meditations for us. Then we started making crazy meditations. We started feeding it dialogues from video games, for video game addiction meditations. And we fed it Kim Kardashian's Instagram feed, and it was making this weird kind of corporate poetry that was amazing. That kind of has to be experienced in real life. So the art installation is kind of in limbo until COVID is over, I suppose. But it's these AI meditations. I'm really interested in spiritual technology.
Okay, yeah, one thing I really want to talk about, coming back to the state of society and civilization and mental health right now. I'm really getting into pursuing humane technology. Why is technology so inhumane? Technology has not factored in human conditions, like human emotions, like the way our biology works, our cortisol, adrenaline and all this stuff. It's almost like a drug. It's sort of abusing our system to just make us addicted.
You should look up the Center for Humane Technology [who recently released the film Social Dilemma on Netflix]. There's all these charities and philosophies and stuff that are starting to pop up around making technology safer for the human brain, and trying to find ways to make it better for us, or whatever. The AI meditations sort of led me into that realm of philosophy. The meditations are kind of scary. They're not meditative, which is part of what's so interesting about them. We need to stop and consider how it's writing all this content that is beautiful and amazing but also scary and aggressive. Even though it's been fed all this information about meditation, it's unable to internalize what meditation is.
As a culture, we need to start getting more used to and more aware of technology safety. And by safety, I don't just mean, are you going to overdose and die? But are you giving yourself a serious mental condition? Are you getting infused with Nazi ideas? Are you growing to hate your neighbor? How do we stop those tendencies? I mean, fight-or-flight response is a powerful response. And most technology right now is giving us heroin and pulling us into darkness.
"I feel like we're at a crossroads right now where at least it might be possible to eliminate physical violence from our species. That's what enlightenment kind of entails."
What does a Grimes utopia look like?
Do know the writer Iain Banks? He's this obscure writer, for some reason. His books are kind of hard to read I guess, maybe they're just too dense. He wrote these books called the "Culture" series. And there's this book specifically, Surface Detail. I would argue that it's not a utopia, but it's edging towards a utopia. AI is this God, and saying conscious beings are existing with technology in a way that seems like there's mega structures in space for when there are no planets. It's like consciousness has been preserved and it is not in a dark and evil way.
When you look in the universe, there might not be any other consciousness, we might be the only thinking creatures. And right now, consciousness is under threat, obviously. Civilization is under threat. I mean, the ideal goal, I think about 10,000 years from now, [is that] consciousness is preserved and existence for those beings is happy. And it's not painless, because that seems like it could lead us through just nothingness. But overall, there's not massive suffering happening.
I feel like that involves a massive sort of philosophical and cultural overhaul. I'm not sure what that looks like. But obviously, reducing unnecessary violence. Physical violence should be unnecessary. I feel like we're at a crossroads right now where at least it might be possible to eliminate physical violence from our species. That's what enlightenment kind of entails. We get to a position where every child is educated in such a way where if they have violent tendencies, there's the ability to overcome those things and there's support systems get to a place where we can reduce that as much as possible.
And that's kind of the discussion of this moment in some ways right now. I feel like physical violence also includes not having enough food or not having adequate shelter and stuff. If we can get to a place where maybe there's still competition in a mental way—I haven't thought this through enough. But I feel like—I hope—utopia is achievable. I think a non-violent society is possibly achievable.