It would be easy to dismiss Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, aka c (the symbol for the speed of light)as a Jack of All Trades, Master of None. After all, she’s a musician, producer, DJ, composer, and digital artist all at the same time. In addition, she is prone to oversharing her thoughts on motherhood, politics, AI, and art—making her more similar to a professional Internet influencer than your typical tight-lipped musician.
I think she is, most of all, a big nerd.
“The intensity of Boucher’s musical obsessions can make her seem like a mad pop scientist,” wrote Kelefa Sanneh in a 2015 New Yorker profile.
Grimes’s far flung enthusiasm for artifacts ranging from Miyazaki characters to Europop hits like “We Like to Party,” directly reference the dominant culture for those of us who came of age with sci-fi, fantasy, anime, and video games as an integral part of our childhoods.
Nerdy girls in the 90’s like myself spent an inordinate amount of time watching a combination of anime (which were, at that point, available to mainstream audiences)—especially magical girl themed stories such as Sailor Moon and Magic Knight Rayearth. There were also fantasy movies such as The Neverending Story, The Princess Bride, Star Wars (revived for our generation with 1999’s Phantom Menace), and, at the turn of the Millennium, Lord of the Rings. We also spent a lot of time with our Game Boys, N64s and PlayStations—to the point where video game tunes sound arguably more vivid to some of us than the biggest ‘90s hits (shout out to Rainbow Road, Zora’s Domain, and the ballroom of Final Fantasy VIII).
What to outsiders was merely geek culture was the culture that my friends and I consumed on a daily basis. It was our standard. And it is what we connect to in Grimes’s art on a visceral level.
In Grimes, my peers and I found an artist who did not treat these stories as some esoteric knowledge that could only be discussed on specific forums, but rather, ones that could be used as a conduit to greater artistic expression. Grimes’s whole debut album Geidi Primes, a phase she described as “Cybertwee,” is fully inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune, for example.
With 2020’s Miss Anthropocene, Grimes brought the nerdy-millennial zeitgeist to full maturity, envisioning a universe inspired by the aesthetic of the 2005 video game Shadow of the Colossus. Sprawling landscapes are punctuated with colossal structures—a scenario that looks either ancient or downright post-apocalyptic.
The Miss Anthropocene universe is supposed to be a simulation, created by new gods. As someone who just committed to rewatching the whole Matrix cinematic universe in preparation for Resurrections, I have found myself overusing Matrix analogies and metaphors in daily conversations again—and Grimes has been in on it for the past few years.
Miss Anthropocene’s music videos are also littered with 90’s anime tributes: “Violence,” a song about the Goddess of Gaming, is set in an all-white church and features Grimes reading The Art of War—it’s reminiscent of the places where momentous episodes of Sailor Moon would take place. “Delete Forever,” about the Demon of Opioid Addiction, has Grimes sitting on a throne, a clear tribute to the artwork of the manga Akira, the post-apocalyptic masterpiece by Katsuhiro Otomo. The video of her dreampop song “Idoru” references both to the characters of the game Nier Automata and the anime Utena La Fillette Revolutionnaire, and Grimes herself looks like a futuristic Princess Serenity (Sailor Moon’s royal incarnation, for the non-initiated).
Still, Grimes’s love for nerd culture extends beyond her music videos, all the way to her “IRL” self-presentation. I had never bought a beauty product endorsed by a celebrity or an influencer until I watched Grimes’s Pregnancy Skincare and Psychedelic Makeup Routine where she says that she wants to be pretty—but more like someone who endured an apocalypse, citing the character Ava from Metal Gear Solid. At the latest MET Gala, she wore an ethereal gown reminiscent of something visual artist Yoshitaka Amano could have come up with when creating his artwork for Final Fantasy. Instead of high-end jewelry, she wore dainty, filigree-like elf-ear cuffs (allegedly available on Etsy).
Grimes has always had a complicated relationship with straight-up fame and visibility, preferring to embody aesthetic personas distinct from herself. It’s this preoccupation with characters and personas that makes her so uniquely suited to be an artist in modern Internet culture. Ahead of the release of Miss Anthropocene, she created War Nymph, her digital alter ego—an alien-like, angel-winged being that looks like a baby but has been an adult ever since inception.
“WarNymph is my digital avatar, aka my digital self. Everyone is living two lives: their digital life and their offline life,” she told The Face in 2020, when she had War Nymph pose in Balenciaga gowns. “I want to untether my two lives from each other for mental-health purposes, haha. And also for fun.”
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It makes sense that she easily understood the power of NFTs. The beauty of alternate personas is, after all, that they can morph and evolve much faster than our physical selves. As of November 2021, after starring in a successful round of NFTs, War Nymph evolved into NPC, a digital girl-group who will perform in Hatsune Miku-like fashion. As part of her growing digital universe, Grimes and her brother have also been toying with the idea of designing digital clothing, to be sold to gamers as skins.
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And if there’s one thing that Internet culture killed, it’s characters and personalities that are flawless. Bella Swan, of the Twilight franchise, was the last “Mary Sue,” the seemingly perfect female character. The main character energy we all seek these days needs to have a modicum of chaos (it doesn’t matter whether it’s real or performative) and Grimes fully embodies it.
Grimes’s relationship with Elon Musk, coupled with her assertions on AI, Biohacking, and Communism are nothing short of absurd, if not downright disheartening at times.
In a 2021 Tiktok tirade she addressed the Communists with a proposition: “Typically, most of the Communists I know are not big fans of AI,” she said. “But if you think about it, AI is actually the fastest path to Communism: if implemented correctly, AI could actually theoretically solve for abundance. Like, we could totally get to a situation where nobody has to work, everybody is provided for with a comfortable state of being… comfortable living.”
She also seemingly thinks that AI might make better music than human-made music.
“I do worry that us as musicians might become obsolete, but maybe human music will be like organic vegetables,” she told journalist Ben Beaumont-Thomas at the Living With Technology Web Summit 2021 festival. “It will outpace us, and we need to come to terms with it: people seem in denial. Personally, I think AI can root out a lot of corruption. Maybe we send AI out and go with ‘populate the uni, spread the light of consciousness.’ Earth, by contrast, will remain a special place, ‘the land of the Gods.’”
I’d argue that without her off-kilter beliefs, her overall artistic output would be too clean-cut and shallow.
I might be a fully grown adult now, but I wish that I’d had a performer like her to look up to, back when my friends and I were discussing Sailor Moon and Final Fantasy fan theories on anonymous forums. In all, as a millennial nerd, I am thankful for Grimes’s art across disciplines.