Grimes is made up of change. Her hair seems always to be the subject of a pair of scissors or a fresh box of dye. Her skin, by now, must be accustomed to the sting of a fresh tattoo. In my six-plus years of fandom, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her appear the same way twice. There’s a thread that ties it all together, but it’s impossible to follow. This is to say, the only concrete aspect of Grimes’s person is unpredictability.
But, this unpredictability isn’t born out of secrecy. She’s open in her listening practices, in her inspirations. Scroll through her Instagram, and you’ll find her drawings, links to curated Spotify playlists, and flashes of the lives of her friends, pets and travels. Despite this shot at transparency, each new release still comes as a surprise.
For most of their lives, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa existed largely in the depths of the internet, the musings of a self-propelled young artist. Visions had its own cult following. And Art Angels punched a hole in pop — angering a fair number of Grimes purists (if there can even be such a thing). Each album cover shows some kind of alien or possibly monstrous being. The images are often skeletal and prompt thoughts of things unseen. There are clear Japanese influences, and an inclination towards the self-made.
These similarities all hint towards that elusive thread, but they aren’t enough to firmly grasp it. The most we can do, those of us trying to pin down the inimitable, is track what has already been done. In Grimes’s case, that means four albums, 14 music videos and a lot of solid tweets.
“Oblivion” and “Vanessa” — two early music videos — revolve around Grimes emphatically singing into the camera. Each word, though somewhat shrouded in synth and echoes, lands. The surrounding happenings are beside the point; the focus is on Grimes’s ardent, lightly-lisped delivery. The simplicity allows for observation; of her thin limbs, jerky movements, kind smile. This craft peaks with the “Realiti” music video, which is just four and a half minutes of Grimes bopping around Asia while on tour, dancing and singing her song.
The video is as close as we can get to textbook Grimes. The colors are vibrant, but seem to come at you from behind a veil. The camera is hand-held, making it feel as though you are right there moving with her. Her dancing is nothing that could ever be recreated, but you know the emotion that’s driving her. Even the setting — which moves through Asia — is a nod to her influences.
Jumping forward to her most recent endeavor, all of these character markers are still distinguishable. But, of course, they’ve evolved. With Art Angels came a louder, more self-assured Grimes. She produced, performed and wrote every single part of the album. The videos — especially for “Kill V. Maim” — showcase this honed-in vision. Standing alone, “Kill V. Maim” is arresting; pair it with a post-punk anime music video and it becomes uncomparable. Simultaneously sleek and grimey, the video transports you inside the mind of Grimes. But also into a video game and an underground hardcore show, where you’re surrounded by masked, winged and wigged persons. If that sounds unbelievable, it’s because it nearly is.
But that is what Grimes does: She makes art that is already so singular, and takes it one step further. It’s that next step — the one you don’t see coming, the one that she pulls off so effortlessly — that holds it all together.