Ever since David Bowie passed away last week, we've been thinking a lot about what Bowie's legacy in popular music meant. I wrote a lengthy piece last week about what his music meant to all of the weirdos out there and everybody who was always just a bit...different
. And although it's clear that Bowie's music is going to live forever in much the way that the Beatles and the Stones will, perhaps that willingness to go out on a limb and be weird as f***ing hell will be the biggest impact his career had. There are plenty of artists that I think are influenced by Bowie that don't sound anything like his music. And is there any artist right now flying that Bowie freak flag higher than Grimes?
Grimes released her new music video today for "Kill v. Maim" off of last year's excellent Art Angels
, and "weird" is a bit of an understatement. Of course, this isn't surprising to anyone. Grimes has always paired her music with the larger-than-life Grimes persona, and her music videos are no exception. "Oblivion" subverted gender roles at a Canadian sports match. "Genesis" remains the closest thing to a live action anime music video we've seen from a Western artist. "Flesh Without Blood"/"Life In The Vivid Dream" was a Marie Antoinette fantasy on peyote. And at each turn, Grimes uses these music videos as a quietly radical statement: female artists are free to be as fucking weird and obsessed with seemingly niche interests as men. And Grimes has amassed a rapidly growing fanbase by just taking a gonzo dive into things that most prognosticators (myself included at various points) would have said were too bizarre to be accepted by a mainstream audience. But like Bowie, Grimes has proven that there's a market for artists who refuse to be anything but themselves.
Back to "Kill V. Maim" though. Video games are a huge part of my life, and it's hard to describe Grimes aesthetic at this point as anything other than dystopian Japanese action video game. If you threw Mad Max: Fury Road, Vega from Street Fighter, and the Devil May Cry games into a blender that was being operated by the choreographer from Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" music video, you'd get part of the "Kill V. Maim" equation, but just part. There's that indefinable Claire Boucher element...that mix of sugary pop sweetness with a host of hardcore, metal, and noise. It's what defined Visions
and Art Angels
as records (I described Visions
back in 2012 as what if Panda Bear produced a Mariah Carey record), and Grimes has a unique gift for translating those textures of her sound into kaleidoscopic, surrealist visuals.
Over the weekend, Saturday Night Live
paid their respects to David Bowie by replaying his 1979 performance of "The Man Who Sold The World." It's an excellent song, and Bowie played the hell out of the track, but that performance was as much avant-garde performance art as it was anything else. And for some folks, an argument can be made that artists use theatrics like that to shore up weakness in their music. That was never the case for Bowie. And this deep into her career, we know it's not the case for Grimes. We just need to consider ourselves lucky that we have a performer pushing both the boundaries of sound and vision today to the degree she has.