By Troy Hasselman, February 28 2020 —
I regret to inform you that the new Grimes album is good. In the five years since the release of the Montreal art-pop provocateur’s previous album — 2015’s Art Angels — Grimes has undergone one of the most spectacular heel turns in pop history, a burning of goodwill rivalled only by Kanye West’s recent years. In the spring of 2018 she began dating billionaire tech-overlord Elon Musk and has made recent comments that have aligned her with the curious position of being pro-climate change. Grimes’s alignment with Musk has been seen as a betrayal by many of her fans, with her image previously associated with progressive causes it was a hard contrast for her to publicly defend his actions such as his hardline stance against unions.
Grimes has spoken of the hit taken to her public image, saying in a recent interview with Crack Magazine, “without me doing anything, just by random association with other people, I’ve watched my career and my reputation get totally fucking smashed.” The self-pity in Grimes’s statement is evident and it can be hard to empathize with a renowned pop-star taking a hit to her image after dating an eccentric billionaire with a history of less-than-ethical labour practices and donations to the Republican Party. In the same interview she says that her personal politics are “literally insane” and incoherent, this echoes much of the confusion and incoherency that has followed Grimes’s career since well before she began dating Elon Musk.
There is a strong precedent of artists taking stances that are problematic or incoherent with their other views on important issues. One only has to look at Common’s since disavowed stance on interracial relationships or virtually every public statement Morrissey has made in the last two decades to vind fiews that are reactionary, incoherent or even hurtful amongst artists that have fanbases widely sympathetic to social progress. This goes to show that artists ultimately are just as guilty of having problematic and incoherent worldviews as any other group of people and in spite of the impact it has on so many, making or consuming art is not something that you can build a coherent worldview around.
That leaves us with the album, Miss Anthropocene, a loose concept record where Grimes attempts to personify climate change by having Grimes narrate the songs from the perspective of a Goddess that brings about the end time. She has said that her inspiration for this is “To make climate change fun.” If this sounds ridiculous and out-of-touch that is because it is. But this is far from the first album to be built around an out-of-touch political stance. Kendrick Lamar’s 2017 album DAMN, perhaps the most acclaimed album of its release year, was built around a loose concept that linked the historic oppression of black people to the book of Deuteronomy from the bible which is a ridiculous and wrongheaded way to look at historic oppression but he received a fraction of the blowback that Grimes has gotten.
But like DAMN, Miss Anthropocene is an album that is still brilliant in spite of its vacuous concept and is at its best when Grimes veers away from that concept and points at her still-intact humanity. Opening track “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth ” takes a look at Grimes’s anxieties surrounding her impending motherhood as she became pregnant with her first child. Album highlight “Delete Forever” is built around a bluegrass-sounding sample to create an achingly beautiful song where she memorializes her friends lost in the opiate crisis. Closing track “Idoru” is one of the most hopeful and joyous tracks in Grimes’s catalogue.
Musically the album takes off where Art Angels left off, but in a darker direction, with the album taking influence from darkwave electronics and nu-metal like its predecessor. The album also features another collaboration between Grimes and Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes on the track “Darkseid” who previously worked with Grimes on two songs from Art Angels.
While the album is wrapped up in a concept that doesn’t hold up against scrutiny, Grimes remains as inventive as ever on Miss Anthropocene. The album serves as a reminder of what made her music so exciting in the first place.