Earlier this week, Grimes dropped her new single "Shinigami Eyes" - a club stomper which serves as a prelude to her upcoming space opera album 'Book 1.' In this FRONTPAGE interview, she spins us her vision of the future.
The first time I saw Grimes was, incidentally, the last time she was able to wear high heels.
It was the summer of 2014, and the artist otherwise known as Claire Boucher was cresting the wave of alternative music stardom that began in earnest with the release of her 2012 album Visions. Like pretty much everyone I knew at the time, I adored this record, but I held a special obsession for its lead single “Genesis.” I would have paid to see her live show for that song alone, so you can imagine my chagrin when she ended her otherwise perfect set at Governor’s Ball without playing it. I stared at the vacant stage in disbelief attempting to console myself when she suddenly darts back to the microphone and sheepishly blurts “Oh my God you guys, I’m so sorry. I completely forgot to play ‘Genesis,’” at which point I burst into tears as she tore into the encore of my dreams.
I regale her with this story and she affirms that she remembers that moment “deeply”: “It was a life-changing event, that moment. I was wearing platform shoes, and on the way running back out I tripped on a light and twisted my ankle so badly that I have never been able to wear high heels again.”
Learning that my moment of transcendent joy ruined her future in stilettos is devastating, but she seems to have (quite literally) taken it in stride: “Tall shoes are overrated. It’s been a process of accepting my height. Whatever – everything happens for a reason.”
In the few short years since that fateful performance, Grimes has gone from an indie darling little known outside Pitchfork’s readership to a pop culture juggernaut; a household name who can’t even post a TikTok without launching a thousand think pieces. She released two more albums – 2015’s Art Angels and 2020’s Miss Anthropocene – to international acclaim and has dropped untold musical goodies in scores of DJ sets and mixes. She entered the NFT game with a multimedia project titled War Nymph Collection Vol 1 and served as a judge on the virtual avatar competition show Alter Ego. She brought a sword to the Met Gala, and she continues to hold the world in thrall with her unparalleled social media presence. And perhaps most important of all, she became a mother, giving birth to X Æ A-12 in 2020.
Which is all to say, it’s unsurprising to hear that the inspirations behind the next Grimes opus are as varied, ambitious, and cosmically huge as everything else she has going on. “Basically, I'm writing this space opera that's a metaphor of my life and also an exploration of an extreme 10,000 years in the future, a sort of optimistic technocratic utopianism,” she rattles out effortlessly.
The space opera in question is her upcoming sixth studio album titled Book 1, which will feature the recently released song “Player of Games.” But we’ve come together to chat specifically about “Shinigami Eyes,” an absolute banger which officially dropped this week. Its title is derived from the anime Death Note, wherein the titular eyes grant you the power to see someone’s lifespan upon looking at them, but it’s merely a jumping off point in the universe of Grimes’ album. “Without going [too] into the story,” she begins, “There's a computer that is essentially running a simulation of Earth in something closer to our era, and there's a superintelligence that decides to send a virus into this simulation, for fun. Shinigami's kind of like this AI, because in Death Note, the Shinigami are outside, looking in at the Earth and the people, and being like, ‘We're just going to go into the human world and troll around a bit.’”
“[It’s] a metaphor for superintelligence, essentially,” she continues. “There is no difference between an AI and a god, like what gods or demons are in mythology - it’s kind of the same thing. One of the really interesting things that is occurring in reality is that the mythology we once imagined can potentially come to fruition by our own hands.”
Though “Shinigami Eyes” is no longer going to be featured on Book 1 (appearing instead on a forthcoming EP titled Fairies Cum First as a prelude to the album), it exemplifies one of the more unique elements of Boucher’s current era: working with other people. Somewhat infamously, her early projects were created on Garageband in manic bursts of activity alone in her bedroom. For an artist whose work thus far has been entirely self-produced and released, it was “a massive cognitive explosion” to open her compositional process up this go-round. “Traditionally, I've always just made my own music,” she explains. “I never worked with anybody else. I was being an egomaniac thinking that I should produce everything. I don't know what the fuck I was thinking.”
“That's your 20s,” she continues. “You just need to be a control freak. I was so insane back then, but I wanted to create something that no one could take away from me. I didn't want to have to rely on anybody to have Grimes exist. That's ultimately a good thing.”
Boucher readily admits that relinquishing control became something of a godsend during the recording process. She signed to Columbia Records in 2021, and she had the full force of their support during production. It was inevitably thanks to them that we even have “Shinigami Eyes.” “I probably would not have picked this as my single,” she laughs. “But it's like… I tried to remove ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Genesis’ from Visions. I'm incapable of understanding what people enjoy. I am at odds with human beings in terms of taste, so I have no capacity to choose a single whatsoever.”
I am respectfully inclined to agree that her calculus in measuring a single’s appeal may not be the most keen, but on a conceptual level, Boucher has rarely reached such heights of complexity in the messages attached to this era of music. Nor has she ever felt so assured of her purpose. “[In terms of] my goal as an artist… I used to be confused about what I was trying to do,” she says. “I was like, ‘Well, I always want to try to do things that someone else hasn't done.’ But I feel now that my goal is to open the window as much as possible to push things into being conceptualized in the public eye that aren't currently there.”
“I would like to create science fiction that is more accessible,” she continues forcefully. “There's a lot of information that needs more accessible funneling into society so that more people can engage with some of the things that are happening in technology. There simply isn't enough utopianism in our culture right now. And I think we have a moral imperative as human beings to start imagining better futures. [Particularly those] with superintelligences, because it’s going to happen whether we like it or not.”
Considering her last album Miss Anthropocene was told from the perspective of a goddess of climate change gleefully heralding our mass extinction, the thematic tone of Book 1 is a complete about-face. Yet it’s surely no coincidence that her focus gazes on a more livable future a little over a year after becoming a mother. Little X, as she refers to her son, has led to a totemic shift in priorities: “It changes everything. Like, a massive, undeniable, absolutely 200 percent change. Holy shit. [It’s been] a complete and utter life realignment in every conceivable way — the cynicism or darkness I used to have is just gone.”
X has also been getting involved in the studio: “He comes and hangs out when I make music,” she laughs. “He has preferences, it’s kind of crazy. It's like you'll be working on something, and if he likes it, he might try to dance. He's got slightly different taste in music than me, which is literally insane. He really likes funk music, and I'm like, ‘Dude, I do not listen to funk music!’ He's an interesting guy…”
(So if not funk music, what has Grimes been listening to lately? The answer may surprise you: “I'm so into elevator music. I swear to God. If you just put on elevator music in any scenario, you feel fucking great. Corporate America destroyed elevator music's reputation, and now it's time to reclaim it.”)
There’s a clear through line in the wonder of creation in the current worlds of both Grimes and Claire Boucher – she discusses her son and the birth of superintelligence as sharing the qualities of coming into the world with a set of personalities that we can’t anticipate.
But I imagine I am not alone in finding the dawn of the age of AI beings as hard to conceive in anything but apocalyptic terms. It was what made me so disarmed and extremely comforted by her analysis:
“We're at the very beginning of what consciousness can be, of what a thinking machine or a thinking organism can be. We are currently sort of like… the only one. We are on a precipice where there might be other beings that can think, that don't think in exactly the same biologically structured way that we do. We're starting to choose our own evolution; that is literally intelligent design. I think that's the most beautiful thing I can possibly imagine.”