Music & Gender: Grimes changes the game

Monday, May 30, 2016 - 5:56pm

 

NOSELL

Grimes

Grimes takes total control of her art; she is precise, obsessed. As the sole writer, producer, vocalist and instrumentalist of her latest album, Art Angels, Grimes wields an uncommon amount of control over her work. This heightened level of involvement is unusual for today’s musicians, seeing that many artists often work with others to produce, write and record their work, especially female artists who are treated like accessories to male production. But, Grimes’s hands were the only ones to touch Art Angels. Self-production isn’t a new phenomenon for Claire Boucher, a.k.a. Grimes; she crafted Visions on her own in a basement in less than a month. Basically, she’s rad as hell.

Grimes has spoken openly about her role as a producer and how she has been challenged while stepping into this male-dominated field. For her, being a producer is essential to being an artist. It’s her job as a musician to craft every aspect of her work, whether it be the beats, lyrics or visuals. The thought of acquiescing this power to a man — granted to him only because of his gender and some form of technical skill — is entirely foreign to the Canada native. Though she has maintained control, it has been a battle. Being a young, self-made woman working as a producer and artist, Grimes has faced her share of sexism and discouragement. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Grimes shared she has “been in numerous situations where male producers would literally be like, ‘We won’t finish the song unless you come back to my hotel room.’ ” But, the badass woman shall overcome. Grimes created her own pop in a strategically female-centric manner.

Grimes constantly rails against reviews of her work that center solely around her gender, rather than her huge range of abilities and worth as an artist. Calling for recognition of female engineers, Grimes sheds light on the assumptions of many music industry men — women are not fit to handle the technical side of production. In doing so, she emboldens other female producers to own their talent and take back the studio.

Not only has she shut out music industry misogyny, she has done so on her own terms. Her art-pop has reached the mainstream, but has contaminated the genre with a kind of artist it rarely sees. Grimes screams. She cuts, shaves and dyes her own hair into random shapes and colors. Her wardrobe is equally undefinable and enviable. With little to no forethought, she’s known to get a tattoo. Gawky and stick-thin, the artist leads a life of veganism, environmentalism and anti-consumerism. Considering her beliefs when preparing to go on tour, she uses only what she needs to put on her show. The culmination of these qualities is a rising pop star who challenges conventional beauty standards and the role of women as pop stars.

In harnessing this agency, Grimes has produced her best album yet. Art Angels is a master compilation of pop inspired dance tracks with a bite — these are not love songs. On “Flesh Without Blood” she sings, “After all I just don’t like you / It’s nice that you say you like me / But only conditionally” in a bubblegum sweet voice. 

The fourteen tracks are a motley conglomeration of sound, but flow together to create an album that’s the essence of Grimes. Embodying this musical manifestation of the musician, “California” opens with, “This, this music makes me cry / It sounds just like my soul.”

Each track is meticulously spun, layered with pulsing beats, haunting melodies and a wider vocal range than Grimes has ever before shown. Grimes taught herself guitar and violin, among other instruments, for the album. “Kill V. Maim,” one of the album’s highlights, sounds like something straight out of an anime movie soundtrack. The vocal are aggressive, coaxing. In the chorus, Grimes repeatedly sings, “Eh, oh don’t behave, oh don’t behave, oh” before going into “ ‘Cause I’m only a man, do what I can.” Functioning as a commentary on her experience with sexism in the industry, “Kill V. Maim” is a call to artists to act not based on societal prescriptions, but on what their art calls them to do.


Watching Grimes perform or listening to her speak about her work is a transformative experience — an artistic energy oozes out of her. From her lyrics, to her interviews and music videos, nothing is inauthentic. She shapes her music to reflect the multifaceted nature of herself, manifesting different qualities in alter-egos seen in her music videos, much like manga characters. Art Angels is a saga, some kind of alternate universe where women can be bold and unapologetic. Featuring artists like Janelle Monae and Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, Art Angels harnesses the power of genuine, passionate human experience. And by doing so without bending to the will of patriarchal force, Grimes has changed the game.