Review: On 'Miss Anthropocene,' Grimes Crafts Pop Both Visceral And Cryptic

Feb 25, 2020
Originally published on February 25, 2020 3:23 pm

Canadian-born pop artist Grimes often sings in the voices of imaginary characters; the spirit of her new album, Miss Anthropocene (an evident pun on "misanthropy"), is a malevolent goddess who personifies climate change.

Miss Anthropocene is a dark record, at times almost indefensibly nihilistic, but at its best it recalls modern horror movies like Us or Parasite, which frighten us with a larger purpose in mind — to shock us into rethinking certain attitudes.

The woman behind Grimes, Claire Boucher, grew up loving anime, and her pop persona frequently presents like a science fiction warrior superhero. Boucher's also a technical auteur, producing her own densely-layered music and telling stories both visceral and cryptic.

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My favorite song on the new album, "Darkseid," features the Taiwanese rapper 潘PAN (formerly Aristophanes), with whom Grimes previously worked with on the Art Angels track, "SCREAM." With Asian-language artists like BTS on English-language pop charts, the collaboration is surprisingly on-trend, except that it features a woman poeticizing ecological suicide, rather than men shoveling boilerplate love songs.

That's how Grimes works: Her music pushes the pleasure buttons of mainstream pop while also appearing to critique it. Another example is the song "Before the Fever," which could be heard as a reckless come-on, or a statement of apocalyptic fact.

We are in a cultural moment where songs about depression, even suicide, have become pop lingua franca — as they have been occasionally at other points throughout the history of songwriting. In that sense, Miss Anthropocene fits into a long tradition of songs conjuring depression, even if Grimes frames them abstractly. It's not what I normally expect from a 21st century pop album, but that's why, despite all the darkness, Grimes' music continues to fascinate.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Canadian-born pop artist Grimes often sings in the voices of imaginary characters. This time around, the spirit of her new album is a malevolent goddess who personifies climate change. The title, which is a pun on misanthropy, is called "Miss Anthropocene." Our critic Will Hermes has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRIMES SONG, "DARKSEID")

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: "Miss Anthropocene" is a very dark record - so much so you might well think it indefensibly nihilistic. But then again, Grimes did conceive it in the voice of a supervillain. At its best, it makes me think of modern horror movies like "Us" or "Parasite," which frighten us with a larger purpose in mind - to shock us into maybe rethinking certain attitudes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY NAME IS DARK")

GRIMES: (Singing) So we party when the sun goes low. Imminent annihilation sounds so dope. I'm not shy, but I refuse to speak because I don't trust you to understand me.

HERMES: The woman behind Grimes, Claire Boucher, grew up loving anime, and her pop persona frequently presents like a science fiction warrior superhero. Boucher is also a technical auteur, producing her own densely layered music and telling stories both visceral and cryptic. My favorite song on the new album, "Darkseid," features the Taiwanese rapper PAN.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARKSEID")

PAN: (Rapping in non-English language).

HERMES: With Asian-language artists like BTS on English-language pop charts, the collaboration is on-trend, except that it features a woman poeticizing ecological suicide rather than men shoveling boilerplate love songs. But that's how Grimes works. Her music pushes the pleasure buttons of mainstream pop while also appearing to critique it, like the song "Before The Fever," which could be heard as a reckless come-on or a statement of apocalyptic fact.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEFORE THE FEVER")

GRIMES: (Singing) This is the sound of the end of the world. Dance me to the end of the night. Be my girl. Madness, intellect, audacity, truth and the lack thereof - they will kill us. Oh, have no doubt. There are many ways in, but there's only one way out. There's only one way out.

HERMES: Grimes has always had a complicated attitude towards fame, and "Miss Anthropocene" fits into a fresh tradition of songs conjuring depression - also on-trend - even if she frames it abstractly. It's not what I normally expect from a 21st century pop album. But that's why, despite all the darkness, I find Grimes' music continually fascinating.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DELETE EVERYTHING")

GRIMES: (Singing) I see everything. I see everything. Don't you tell me now that I don't want it.

CHANG: Grimes' new album is called "Miss Anthropocene." Our critic Will Hermes is the author of "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years In New York That Changed Music Forever."

(SOUNDBITE OF GRIMES SONG, "DELETE EVERYTHING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.