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Grimes plays the villain we want her to be on Miss Anthropocene

On her fifth album, Claire Boucher plunges headfirst into the simulation and makes it out alive.

February 21, 2020
Grimes plays the villain we want her to be on <i>Miss Anthropocene</i>

Nearly five years have passed since Grimes ended her last album Art Angels with a reminder: “If you’re looking for a dream girl, I’ll never be your dream girl.” Few people seemed to grasp that lyric. Trigger happy at the sight of one of its favorite artists getting sucked into the absurdity of the late 2010s, music media (The FADER included) spun her hiatus into a saga: When Grimes mentioned new music, she was a headline. When Grimes expressed discontent about the industry, she was a headline. When Grimes started dating a technocrat, she was a headline and a class traitor — and that was just the beginning. By the time would-be lead single “We Appreciate Power” dropped, nearly everyone seemed to doubt her intentions.

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Rather than dial back those suspicions, on Miss Anthropocene, Claire Boucher plays with the idea that she just might be the villain we seem to want her to be. Conceptually, the album loosely emulates the software that the new gods use to design the simulation, pictured on its cover. It’s coded in the space where self destruction and global destruction entwine, with an emphasis on the former. Each of the album’s most explicitly pop moments are barbed with hedonism: the precision lash and sting of “Violence,” the Bollywood vertigo of “4ÆM.”

She punctuates “My Name Is Dark” with insomniac screams and then sings about listening to Smashing Pumpkins while watching over the city with bloodshot eyes. When she coos about imminent annihilation sounding “so dope,” it reads as both a mission statement for the album and a potent distillation of everything we’ve demanded from Grimes. It’s pop excellence written from the brink of insanity.

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Not too long ago, Grimes voiced a disdain for how listeners interpreted Art Angels, even going so far as to call the album a “stain on her life.” At certain moments, Miss Anthropocene seems to hold a cracked mirror to its predecessor. Taiwanese rapper PAN (who laid bars on “Scream” as Aristophanes) reprises her role on “Darkseid,” which Grimes says she initially produced for Lil Uzi Vert. The country twang that once poked holes in the facade of “California” now inhabits “Delete Forever” as just a bit of solace in the face of the opioid epidemic.

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More staggering than the album’s fixation on doom is the defiant omnipresence of love. It doesn’t necessarily define Miss Anthropocene so much as it courses beneath the surface like liquid hot magma — most ardently on “So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth,” a song she wrote after watching the Assassin’s Creed movie trailer. As an album opener, “So Heavy” animates the idea of love as a threat, a colossal, fucked-up thing that could hurtle down from the sky and put you in the ground at any given moment. Over the course of the record, it does just that, galvanically so on “Before the Fever.” Still, it manages to peak its way through the topsoil at the end, on the blossoming, almost-too-sweet closing track “IDORU.”

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Miss Anthropocene suffers most in the places where it doesn’t fully answer for it's run-up. In the months leading up to its release, Grimes explained that she wanted “to make climate change beautiful.” At one point, she illustrated a desire to set out a feast of bloodied endangered animals “like I’m eating an elephant head.” These ideas are all deranged enough for an artist with Grimes’s ambition to maybe actually pull off, if fleshed out with consideration. But, though the album does manage to evoke the sonic impression of burning planet glory, it ultimately doesn’t say enough to warrant promotional billboards declaring “global warming is good.”

But the gratuity feels intentional here. It's all just part of the exchange she details on "Violence": “You wanna make me bad, and I like it like that.” Miss Anthropocene underscores the fact that it was always irrational to expect moral absolutism from Grimes, an artist who changed her name to match the speed of light and spawned a “de-aged digital clone” named War Nymph. Besides, who else is making pop music this consistently exhilarating on such an interplanetary scale? She’s having fun with the glitches in the programming. Maybe it’s time we do too.

Grimes plays the villain we want her to be on Miss Anthropocene