Follow an artist long enough and even the most loyal of fans may not remain tethered. Both artists and listeners evolve, and not always in the same direction. For Grimes, the schism has begun: the release of Art Angels all but polarized her fan base. “She’s gone pop,” dissenters cry with disgust, tossing around descriptors like “selling out” and “going commercial” as if they’re natural synonyms for the genre.
They’re wrong though; pop music is transcendental. Grimes plunges us into a Millennial maelstrom of bouncy beats, hyper-digital samples and saccharine vocals — the kinds of songs that make you dance around your bedroom in your underwear for two hours straight. Fiery vocal delivery and song titles juxtapose a supposedly “vapid” sound, which makes Art Angels a tool for empowerment — a sonic middle finger to anyone who dares belittle femininity.
Grimes eases us into this crucible knowingly. The first track, “Laughing and Not Being Normal,” pairs breathy vocals and a textured orchestral sound, recreating the same moody minimalism we heard in previous albums. But, surprise! — it changes gears, launching us into the jangly “California.” With lyrics like “What they see in me, I don’t see in myself,” Grimes directly addresses those who view her only as a concept rather than a living human being with a mind of her own.
This is the most we have ever heard her voice. Previously, her breathy vocals blended in like another instrument, but on this album, her voice slices a clean arc through fizzy earworm instrumentals. Layers of cyberpunk noise and frequencies bubble up in the background, but take second stage behind radio-friendly guitar riffs and sing-along hooks.
Oft praised is “SCREAM,” the collaboration with Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes that was originally released as a single. Together, the duo is your worst nightmare. Aristophanes commands the vocals, spitting out Chinese lyrics with cruel laughter that muddle Grimes’s animalistic screams and growls. Gym class whistles and adrenaline-pumping guitar complete the hit-girl aesthetic.
Though “SCREAM” exudes destruction, it doesn’t feel out of place from the sugary-sweet tracks it segues into. Grimes said in an interview with Spin magazine that she’s inspired by the Japanese archetype of cute and fearsome, which is a theme wound through the entire album. This dichotomy is best represented in “Kill V. Maim.” Its J-pop beats and cheerleader-style chorus may sound childish, almost artificial, but punctuated with spiteful screeches (“they don’t! know! me!”), it unveils the restless intelligence simmering behind the curated teen-queen persona.
This theme is without a doubt the album’s greatest triumph. It acknowledges that feelings of rage, loneliness, infatuation and empowerment can still be packaged in a fun, high-gloss production style. It develops pop music as a force to be taken seriously. It has taken Grimes, as an artist, to a new realm of musical exploration, even leading her to collaborate with pop diva Janelle Monae for a song. And to anyone who criticizes her ever-evolving sound? The closing line of the album says it all: “If you’re looking for a dream girl / I’ll never be your dream girl.”