I really don’t pay too much attention to anything, if I can avoid it, although this particular year in music has been mighty fine in revamping my mental infrastructure in terms of what genre can be, how each one can distinguish itself.
Far being it for The New Yorker to divorce politics and music, then (2016 marked sort of the deadly cranium blow to my interest in politics, the initial concussion having come upon G.W. Bush’s war in Iraq), they seem to look to musicians as obligated “pop stars” – figures which completely saturate the entirety of American consciousness, stand for the right things, act the right ways, and… maybe create music that means something?
I’m guessing they want their music to mean anything, or they want you to think that they want this, although judging by the amount of fallacies and just downright untruths in Kelefah Senneh’s “Pop for Misfits: Can a Former Noise Musician Become a Star?” that I’m pretty sure the SHOES Grimes wears to her next public event will be the first thing they notice, the music itself coming in about 19th place or so, if they even pay any attention to that.
The first, basically unconscionable flaw in Senneh’s article for the Conde Nast-owned New Yorker is that it falsely ascribes to Grimes the IMPETUS to actually be a “pop star” – in no way does she actually articulate this exact objective anywhere in the evidence provided in the piece. She’s got a “Golden Rules of Pop” poster that hangs in her apartment and says things like pop music “Must have a dance groove that runs all the way through the record” and be “no longer than 3:30,” but tragically, the magazine completely neglects to state that this is obviously meant as a JOKE: they have no conception of the sense of humor musicians typically have, whether it’s Kurt Cobain giving overblown, sarcastic responses to Rolling Stone or the beautiful self-deprecation of Chris Cornell, or what have you. At one point Senneh claims of her magazine subject matter that “(Grimes) got her start in Montreal, part of an underground experimental-music scene, but now she herself is the experiment, as she tries to figure out what ‘pop star’ means in 2015, and whether she might become one.” Um, what? At no point in this article is there any factual indication that Grimes has any interest in becoming a “pop star.”
Actually, it should have been obvious to anybody having read the first paragraph of Senneh’s New Yorker article that the author had no sound conception of Grimes’ music whatsoever. Therein, the claim is made that “Since 2009, (Grimes) has been producing and singing home-brewed electronic music that is irreducibly weird but insistently pop, a term that describes both its sound, and, increasingly, its reception.” No. Not only had Grimes had no “pop” reception whatsoever up through 2014, the year preceding the publication date of Senneh’s article, but Senneh’s evidence of “filling tents at festivals” is hardly an earmark of such mainstream status itself… I mean how big is this tent, anyway? Indie music was huge in the late ’00s and early ’10s. I was under the impression that everybody knew that.
What’s more, Grimes’ debut album, which I was lucky enough to hear about in 2010 on the now-defunct website Coke Machine Glow, was ANYTHING but poppy, composed of these relentlessly abrasive electro tracks which would only serve radio well during a very racy late night show, coming forth as far more caustic for any other format. “Weregild” from 2010’s brilliant Halfaxa is a great example.
Furthermore, the first track on Visions, an album Senneh apparently actually LISTENED to since she knew about “Oblivion,” is only like a minute and change long, hence disproving Grimes’ association to that humorous set of “Golden Rules of Pop.”
So far, then, the only ALLEGED evidence that Grimes had any interest in being a pop star are that laughable poster she had in her room and the false claim that her music has always been pop (even Visions, more approachable than 2010’s twisted Halfaxa, relied far more on texture and melody than climax or anthem, the typical cornerstones of successful radio fare). I have proven that Kelefa Senneh had no consummate knowledge of Grimes’ music upon composing this piece. It’s my inference, then, that there were some sort of outside agenda acting in culture perhaps amongst the conglomerates (in which Conde Nast may be intertwined) to steer “popular” music away from Internet realms and indie labels like Matador and Grimes’ 4AD and back toward realms which are traditionally “pop,” such as the “radio” format Senneh seems to compulsively mention almost her whole story throughout, for no apparent reason. Such a vendetta would perhaps explain the popularity and critical acclaim of the awful Carly Rae Jepsen and the unconscionable, ludicrous Fetty Wap, who couldn’t even take it upon himself to fantasize about making cinematic a view of women’s hind quarters in an ORIGINAL way, like, say, Juvenile did once upon a time.
Any music fan giving a devoted read to Senneh’s article would be thoroughly disgusted by Senneh’s tendency to gloss over the “experimental” scene in Montreal, as if said scene is not important. Senneh dotes on the lavish, glamorous home of Southern California Grimes has since chosen for herself, but the latter’s music has traditionally been nothing if not experimental, and most of us believe that without bona fide “experiment” at work in the creative process, everything is contrived and formulaic – nothing is truly original. This neglect of a compelling part of Grimes’ career lends itself troublesomely to the untoward streamlining of the music of Grimes and others into something that should be so limelighted – so political, and holistically pedagogical to an entirely nauseating extent, instead of simply existing as a straight-forward replica of beauty, which arguably, music once did.
The amount of non-musical discussions going on in Senneh’s piece is utterly putrid, as well. Senneh brings in Grimes’ “politics,” for instance, although even the author’s validation of that is nonsensical, just the evidence of the artist reusing water-drinking containers instead of buying new plastic bottles, hardly a very robustly political statement. Senneh digs her tentacles deep into Grimes’ fashion sense in another spot, in fact providing the most elaborate, sophisticated analysis of the artist in the entire article not of her music, but of what she has on: “Her style is an imaginative elaboration of goth, drawing influences from gutter punk, high fashion, and Japanese culture,” then going on, as the reader waits in rapt suspense, to mention the “fuzzy gray purse in the likeness of Tortoro, the friendly spirit from a Hayao Miyazaki film.” Well, beside being journalism composed with apparent completeness from the left brain – lacking valor, feeling, enthusiasm, variation of style and character, it’s clear from this passage when juxtaposed with the rest of the article that the author is far more interested in fashion than in music. Well, as everybody knows, pop music can often be as much about clothing as about the tunes themselves, as in the case of Madonna’s coned bra, Elvis’ blue suede shoes or Michael Jackson’s black leather pants. But in light of this, since 2015’s Art Angels, where is Grimes? I ask you.
Ok, maybe I’m harping on Kelefa Senneh too much here. Maybe Senneh means well (actually I still don’t know if the author is a man or woman and I feel a little awkward like, looking this person up on LinkedIn, or whatever). But the school of thought is just so divorced from mine. I mean, it’s not even about music at all. Music is supposed to be fun. It’s literally supposed to be magical. It’s like dragonflies buzzing over your head on an empty golf course at night, or something. It’s supposed to make you forget about your day job, about all the murders and armed robberies and poverties going on in major cities. Instead, they want musicians to become “pop stars,” to fuse their art with “politics,” and to come in and save the world. It’s this exact kind of pressure, arguably, which ultimately killed Kurt Cobain. Look at what happened in the grunge era, as documented by Hype!: they mimicked the musicians right down to their fashion pedigree, copied their clothing when the clothing wasn’t meant to make a statement at all, least of all an ARTISTIC statement.
In the ninth paragraph of “Pop for Misfits,” Senneh gets legitimately on to the subject of Grimes’ artistic direction, and it surfaces that the original album that was supposed to house extant single “REALiTi” was cancelled because it was too dark, or encompassed “such a hopeless message.” Anyway, it looks like what’s going on here is larger than the little quandary of neglect of music or music’s organic formulation in The New Yorker: it looks like thriving, prominent artists like Grimes to a growing and growing extent are filling with foreboding, ominous visions of the world, and are being probed for unifying, uplifting messages when that type of thing really just isn’t practical, at this current time.