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Pop Rhetoric: Grimes – The future of music in the internet age

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When Claire Boucher, a Montreal-based pop artist who also goes by the stage name Grimes, called herself “the future of music” in a 2012 interview with Demo Magazine, it seemed like a pretty confident statement, and something you would expect to hear from Kanye West. But regardless of how you feel about someone making such a bold claim, Grimes actually seems to represent where music is going in 2014.

Not only is she one of today’s most dynamic and original artists, but her and her peers—such as the R&B influenced album-of-the-year contender FKA Twigs or retro-futurist soul superstar Janelle Monáe—are firmly placed at music’s creative vanguard. These artists are also reaching these creative heights while attaching themselves in some form to the umbrella of ‘pop music,’ a genre where the majority of artists are preoccupied with replicating a dominant sound. These trailblazers reflect the internet age we are now living in; they draw on a range of influences only familiar to people who grew up in the era of the internet. Yet these artists also maintain a distinct sound and persona in their songs and videos while highlighting the growing obsoletion of macro-genre labels like ‘pop’ and ‘indie.’

Boucher first began performing and recording as Grimes while studying neuroscience at McGill in the late 2000s. After being expelled from university for missing too many classes, Boucher released her first two LPs, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa, in 2010. These two records definitely sound like what we would come to expect from a Grimes release; they’re complete with her trademark musical motifs: Dreamy electronic instrumentals, hauntingly distant vocals, and of course, those catchy pop melodies.

Following the release of these two albums, Boucher quickly found a sizable following on the internet, gaining recognition from indie publications like Pitchfork as well as communities on Tumblr and 4Chan. Her popularity and praise further increased with the breakout record Visions, an album released to almost universally-positive critical recognition. On this LP, Grimes ditched the more DIY production of her previous LPs to create more refined melodies and form more cohesive, emotionally affecting tracks. On Visions, Grimes uses the tension between those pop-esque and more underground elements to create different emotional and tonal effects, whether it be the raw vulnerability of “Oblivion” or the love-fuelled joy of “Genesis.”

Like many of her peers, Grimes has many different influences: Styles as disparate as trap, vaporwave, K-pop, industrial, and bubblegum-pop are all present in her work. In one interview, Boucher talks gushingly about how Mariah Carey is one of her favourite artists and biggest inspirations. In another interview she even labels Grimes as “ultimately a pop project.” She also commented on how pop music “hits right in the pleasure centre.” In her performances, she says she tries to capture the spirit of “punk-pop”—not talking about creating songs inspired by Blink-182, but about bringing a subversive punk mentality to the pop genre. Grimes’ ability to transcend genres and labels has also brought into question whether contemporary music can even be defined by macro-genres. Is her music really as “pop” as she says? Is it “indie”, or is it even “electronic”, as the iTunes store claims? In this era, is organizing iTunes libraries the only real purpose of genre labels?

But what is the future of “the future of music?” Grimes has not yet released a follow-up to Visions, although a new album is most certainly in the works. Throughout this year, Grimes’ actions seem to suggest a further approach to “the mainstream.” This attracted the ire of many in her internet fanbase when she released “Go,” a trap banger initially written for Rihanna. Yet despite this change in style, “Go” is one of Grimes’ most confident tracks yet, complete with a drop that definitely hits that “pleasure center.”

I don’t know what Grimes’ next album is going to sound like—she unfortunately recently scrapped her new album, possibly in response to the negative “Go” reaction—but however you choose to label the direction in which her new music goes, I’m confident it will be original and unforgettable.

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