Sunday, April 15, 2012

The "Weird Girl:" Grimes on "Visions"

It was a presentation on Cumbia-influenced dance music, and I thought it was interesting and thorough enough.  The young presenter used historical reconstruction to enrich his analysis of the music's current form, which, as you might guess, is the sort of ethnomusicology I am into.  One attendee, however, was not so satisfied. In the discussion that followed, he raised a hand and said "I notice that you didn't address gender in your paper. Could you talk about this please?"

I was annoyed.  That's sort of like saying "That was a really interesting detective novel you wrote, but I noticed that there were no spaceships in it." With its specialized vocabulary and fluid concepts, gender is a revealing lens for research, but simply put, it doesn't have to be included in every single research agenda. The presentation didn't purport to address gender at all, but, similar to nearly every conference I attend, someone insisted on steering the discussion towards gender in order to play "gotcha" games with an otherwise strong presentation.

I am no gender studies expert, so I tread very lightly into that realm.  However, synth-pop chanteuse Claire Boucher's persona on her new album as Grimes is too interesting to ignore. Visions is permeated by a distinctly feminine ease that is scaffolded on a historical framework established by empowered women innovators like Blondie and Madonna.  Boucher’s carefree, countercultural image, however, is post-Material Girl and post-Girl Power. It is girlish, but it doesn't rely on gender alone to make a musical statement.  Instead, Boucher puts her musical imagination at the forefront of Grimes' overall message.

Because she doesn't emphasize her cutisimo girlishness in text, Boucher has the latitude to make more nuanced statements in her visual representation. The video for Oblivion places her "weird girl" persona in hypermasculine situations, sometimes to arresting effect.

Visions gets a lot of its power from these kinds of juxtapositions. The album art looks like it could belong to a metal or skater band, but its synth-pop leanings confound this first impression. Its atmospheric depth has the polish of high-end 80s production, but its attitude is defiantly independent and DIY. Due to this latter characteristic, Grimes is sort of the independent music media darling right now. I believe it’s mostly deserved, because Visions is a good album that is particularly relevant to current indie music, especially in regards to empowering contemporary feminine identity.

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