Miss Anthropocene is a far darker record than anything Grimes has ever released.
How did we get here? How are we in this world where Grimes is a legitimate pop star? This isn’t to say that Grimes doesn’t deserve pop stardom as an earmark of success; anyone who made something as staggeringly brilliant as Visions deserves all the success in the world. Rather, Grimes’ creative energy and the ideas she likes to play with don’t especially lend themselves well to pop stardom, a designation increasingly awarded to artists who play things fairly safe musically. That simply isn’t Claire Boucher; the closest she ever came to playing it safe was Art Angels, and while that record still has its fans, it might be her weakest work. Yet somehow, the worlds of music and celebrity have twisted and turned in such a way that Grimes has more eyes on her next move than she ever has before. Thankfully, in the five years between Art Angels and Miss Anthropocene, she got weird again.
Grimes describes Miss Anthropocene as both the coming rise of artificial intelligence and a desire to “make climate change cool” all phrased in ways tailored to confuse and infuriate. All of that is bullshit and should be regarded as such (my assumption is that Grimes would be the first person to admit that), but that doesn’t mean that Miss Anthropocene isn’t about anything. As ever, Grimes is recontextualizing ideas and trends that excite her, from high-minded ambiance (the dreamy opener “So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth,” which somehow feels eerie and blissful at the same time) to junk culture (two songs are named after Jack Kirby creations for DC comics, and “4ÆM” could have soundtracked a mid-tier Jason Statham vehicle in the mid-2000s.) Few stones are left unturned, and Grimes’ genre-hopping can be confusing and even exhausting for some listeners. (I personally don’t think a lot of her fans were prepared for “Delete Forever.”) Still, it’s nice to see the genre-bending Grimes that appealed to so many properly return after a few years away.
That said, Miss Anthropocene is a far darker record than anything Grimes has ever released, and that darkness arguably holds it back from being truly great. If the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the album presents a fairly dim view of society and humanity as a whole. The speaker on “New Gods” sings of failed power structures as she reaches for something greater than herself to give her guidance; it’s more Zack Snyder than Jack Kirby, arguably. “My Name Is Dark” displays a weary antipathy for humanity as a whole, while “Delete Forever” frames the cycle of drug addiction as a form of sweet release. This is where Miss Anthropocene gets complicated: each of these songs has a real-world connection that could be made, yet Grimes steadfastly refuses to address the wider world in any meaningful way. To some, this could be seen as irresponsible at best, but that depends on whether or not one thinks that musicians have a duty to comment on events of the day. Even so, it seems as if Grimes wants to say something about the world, but she can’t seem to organize her thoughts into anything particularly coherent.
Despite all this, Grimes remains one of the most distinct voices in popular music today, and Miss Anthropocene goes quite a long way to reasserting that fact despite her flirtations with conventional pop stardom. The fact is, Grimes can’t be an all-encompassing pop star, much though she may try to be one. That level of success requires someone to be all things to all people, and Boucher has crafted such a distinct style and personality in the guise of Grimes that that’s simply not possible. Though it may be frustrating at times, it’s likely that no one will produce an album quite like Miss Anthropocene for quite some time, by which point Grimes may have moved on to becoming something else entirely.