Grimes Considers the End of the World
With a new album and a baby on the way, Grimes is preparing for a new genesis. For this original portfolio, the artist Rachel Rose imagines a new vision for the pop star, who poses with Rose's sculptures throughout. Photographed by Christopher Blauvelt.
Grimes wears archive dress by IRIS VAN HERPEN. Fashion Editors: Alexandra Cronan & Kate Foley
The idiosyncratic pop star Grimes and the preeminent visual artist Rachel Rose, at ages 31 and 33, respectively, are part of a generation marked by unprecedented online access to knowledge and history. At the same time, they, like their peers, are also faced with the overwhelming evidence of our impending doom, and their work has reflected their experience growing up within this precarious space. Miss Anthropocene, the just-released fifth studio album from Grimes, gives name to a new goddess within a new world mythology of her creation, one whose deities wield dark powers over realms such as climate change, identity, social media—even plastics. Through her mesmerizing video installations, Rachel Rose translates historical and mystical notions of morality for our tumultuous modern era. Both artists work in multiple mediums, though one could argue their primary material is our unfettered access to information in the digital age. They each create works that merge sounds, images, concepts, technologies, and senses of reality, pushing the boundaries of their respective genres in the process. They are also newly bound by motherhood: Grimes, whose real name is Claire Boucher, announced her first pregnancy in early January; Rose gave birth to her first child, a daughter aptly named Eden, last year, and pregnancy remains a recent, visceral memory for her. In this portfolio, Grimes poses, at six months pregnant, alongside Rose’s “egg” sculptures: distinctly biologically shaped ovoids made of crystalline rock. In conversation together, they discuss giving birth during the end of the world. —Eileen Cartter
Rachel Rose: Okay, so, the end of the world, climate change—something that you’re obviously pretty focused on right now with your new album—and also having a baby. What do you think about [all of] that, for your baby?
Grimes: I think everyone acts like, “Oh, it’s this terrible time to have the baby.” And it’s like, man, every time is terrible to have a baby. The 1940s was a terrible time to have a baby. There’s always really dramatic shit happening. There’s been a lot of babies born in wack circumstances, probably more than in good circumstances. I think I used to be one of those people, but I hate moralizing. I feel like it’s better to live it all [rather] than to try to eliminate suffering from a future human being’s life. Because it’s like, there is no elimination of suffering, I think.
RR: I feel the same way. Life is precious no matter what. As long as you’re alive, it’s a gift to give someone.
G: I wonder if less people are having kids in part because of stuff like this, because the birth rate is way down in the U.S. and stuff. Which is one of the reasons why I’m like, Why are you guys being so hardcore at the border? The birth rate is so down. It’s the time to let people in, not to not let people in. Although, wait, I’m Canadian. I have no political thoughts. [Laughs]
Did you find that having [a child] really fucked with your work?
RR: When I was pregnant, having a kid felt super abstract to me. I had minor things, but basically I was just functioning and living my life. And then I had a really, eerily fast labor and delivery; it [wasn’t] very transitional. All of a sudden, I have this baby. And I realized, “Whoa, this is super material and real,” in a way that just the abstraction of the pregnancy never presented for me. I just stopped thinking [about work] for the first two and a half months. But then, working actually—
"I really want my kid to grow up and not be like, 'Mom doesn’t work and Dad works,' or that Mom’s work is less valid. I think them seeing me work is actually an important part of raising them."
G: Why did you stop thinking [about work]? I’m curious about that zone.
RR: I was super afraid of that actually, because I’m a workaholic and really was afraid to let go. And it was okay. I guess it’s just because you’re up every three hours throughout the night. And then if you’re breastfeeding, which I was, you’re just lying there, depleted [and] feeding, basically.
G: Oh, my God.
RR: Yeah, but if you’re not going to breastfeed, then that’s not going to be your thing. Or if you’re just going to do it for—
G: I’m going to do it for a bit. I’m not going to do it for a year, but oh, God—that still sounds really intense.
RR: It’s really intense, but for me it was actually really good because of how abstract the whole thing was. Just being so physical and close, and us in our world together, was important bonding. In terms of working stuff, I feel like after two and a half, three months, then it felt fine. Time feels more precious [because] working is so limited. Have you thought about how you’re going to make music?
G: I think I’ll choose hours and do those hours. I do feel like there’s this weird—honestly—gendered guilt. People are like, “Oh, my God, really [you’re going to keep working]?” And I’m like, “Okay, well, the father isn’t going to change his work schedule.” It is sort of weird that people seem so weirded out. To me, that is good parenting. I really want my kid to grow up and not be like, “Mom doesn’t work and Dad works,” or that Mom’s work is less valid. I think them seeing me work is actually an important part of raising them.
RR: Are you secretly looking forward to turning your brain off [after giving birth]? Do you feel like you’ve never done that?
G: A little bit. I’m starting to get really tired because I’m in the third trimester, tired in a way that I’ve never been tired before. So maybe it is necessary [to take a break]. But in the first bit of my pregnancy, I had to be on a bedrest situation. Not doing a ton of stuff. And it was not good. I had a complete meltdown. It made me realize, “Oh, I need to work on [my] sense of self.” I’m not a very depressed person, and I think I actually had depression. I was, like, staring at the ceiling, hanging out with my dog.
RR: [After I gave birth] I was listening to all these scores from Miyazaki films, which I never did before. Have you thought about what you want to play [for your child]?
G: I definitely want to play all kinds of music. If Miyazaki sounds good, I’ll keep that. I was going to try and go harder into techno and stuff, but babies actually don’t like loud, abrasive sounds. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll have to stick to orchestral things first.
RR: Yeah, I also found all this psychedelic ’70s stuff is really good for babies.
G: They like psychedelic? Babies seem very psychedelic.
RR: What was the process of starting the album? And do you even “start” an album, actually, or are you just always working and then suddenly it’s an album?
G: There’s usually one song. I think, often to the chagrin of the listener, I usually try to redefine my sound with every album, which I understand to be frustrating. I apologize for this, but I still think it’s better than if I was repeating myself. I feel like I’m talking to the comments section right now. [Laughs] So it’s always at one point, you just make a song that is radically different from anything you’ve made before. [Before] “4ÆM,” I was just feeling really down; the album didn’t feel like it was coalescing at all. Then I made “4ÆM” and I was like, “Oh, okay. This sounds fucking crazy, and this doesn’t sound like any other music I’ve ever heard. This is definitely the starting point of this album. I can feel myself. This is some weird alien music—I can jump off from this point.” Once you have one song, it’s just so much easier to make more songs. You know you’re capable of surpassing your last thing. I just need to know that I’m finding a way to beat my previous self. Recently, I’ve been working more and more with my brother Mac, who’s sort of the opposite. He’s like, “Okay, we’re going to plan this from the top, and then we’re going to execute.” It’s weird—in a capitalist, egocentric, Western society, you always think it’s better to be on your own and not work with other people. And I feel like me and my brother Mac are creative partners, and we just have the exact same mind. I’m working on this digital avatar with him. We’re trying to create a clone of me that exists separate from me—that functions concurrent to me, that can, for example, work while I’m on maternity leave.
RR: Is this an A.I. thing?
G: We have used an A.I. program to write, but it’s not super sensical. It’s not as good as we would have wanted it to be. So we’re in the process of figuring out how to handle that. It’s called the War Nymph, Beta 1.0.
RR: Is the avatar connected to the album?
G: The album is about new gods in general, and the avatar is kind of the goddess of social media, and Miss Anthropocene is the goddess of climate change. I love polytheism—I think a lot of profound human art has been centered around religious depictions, in all religions. It’s just something that seems so profound and human [that] goes all the way back to prehistory. It’s obviously [an] innately human thing to anthropomorphize abstract concepts, and worship them almost. On the most basic level, [it’s] fucking fun to be like, “Who’s the goddess of plastic?” There’s all these modern pathos that follow us around; what happens if we personify them and give them personalities? It just seems like a fun narrative exercise. So if Miss Anthropocene is the goddess of climate change, then maybe the War Nymph is the goddess of identity and social media.
"I’m very curious about how cash became this new form of magic: cash was how people could change their identities, how they could move to America and found America. I’m interested in magic in really the same way: how we exist and [how] capitalism has sublimated magic." —Rachel Rose
RR: What do you think about magic?
G: There’s this thing called Clarke’s Third Law, which [says that] “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And I sort of have an inverse law that I made up, called the Third Law of Witches, which is that any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. I feel like this phone call is magic. When I see this phone call, [I think about how] we’re all in different locations, talking into mystical black tablets that are transmitting our voices and could transmit our images to each other from across worlds. You look at corporate branding and stuff, and it just makes everything seem more sterile than it actually is. But everything is actually pretty insane and magical, in my opinion. What do you think?
RR: I got really interested in 17th-century magic in agrarian England, because it was this moment where witches were on trial and being killed, alchemists were being pushed out of their communities, and it was linked to the beginning, in a way, [of] capitalism. This mass deforestation, which led to agricultural revolution, which led to industrial revolution, which led to where we are now: modernity, and global warming in some ways. But there’s this thing that happened in that moment, where magic got “killed” and cash got invented. I’m very curious about how cash became this new form of magic: Cash was how people could change their identities, how they could move to America and found America. I’m interested in magic in really the same way: how we exist and [how] capitalism has sublimated magic.
G: I think religion and spirituality and magic are important for people, socially and emotionally. You even just look at the amount of fucking conversations I have to have about goddamn horoscopes. I’ve talked to people about horoscopes every day. People are obviously just desperately wanting to be in tune. It’s obviously some core aspect of a human psyche, wanting to be in tune with some mystical part of themselves. It’s like even if they feel opposed to “Christianity” or something, they still obviously want to engage in some sort of mystical, magical, spiritual practice. I feel like music is kind of magic. Art and music, actually. Because what the fuck actually is it? It’s sound waves, it’s the air particles moving and then us having an emotional response, which is extremely weird and nonsensical and kind of magical, and it’s not like there’s an obvious process in the brain: “Oh, you hear this sound wave hit your eardrum, and then it transmits through a complex mechanism in your ear. It turns into an electrical impulse in your brain, and somehow this is emotion.” What? How? There feels like a magical process takes place there, when you just look at the actual physiology of it.
RR: Yes, it’s also crazy because it’s like our bodies are formed through millions of years of evolution to hear only certain frequencies. Right? There’s tons of frequencies around us right now that we can’t absorb, but they’re just living there. It’s crazy to think of our bodies as these sieves, that just get this one layer. [And] when you’re having a baby, it makes you wonder what it is to be a person entirely anew.
G: I don’t feel like a person. “Person” seems so boring.
RR: It’s also crazy that you’re sharing your organs with another person, so what are your organs right now? There’s a person in your person. Your head was once in your mom’s intestines or whatever.
G: Okay, I don’t want to think about that too much. Okay, no. Just confront it. Just confront it. It’s very graphic.
RR: Yeah. We can take that out.
G: We can keep it in. It’s all graphic! Everyone’s in denial about the graphic nature of things. The pristine digital landscape is very nice and very compelling, but it’s good to remember that we all have intestines.
Hair CHANEL CROKER, Makeup NATASHA SEVERINO at Forward Artists, Manicurist MERRICK FISHER at Opus Beauty using KB Shimmer, Set designer OLIVIA GILES, Photographer’s assistant JEFFREY PAUL GUNHART, 1st AC ARIEN HATCH and 2nd AC JORDAN GREEN, Key Grip ERIK MUTZAND, BB Grip RUSSELL LOUDEN, Gaffer JESSE WINEAND, BB Electric RONNIE AUSBORNE, DIT SEAN GOLLER, Editor JONATHAN KING, Color Timer BRENNAN BARSELL, Fashion assistants ALEX JURSICH and SIENNA SCARRITT, Tailor TRISH DECEMBER, Hair assistant CY MCCLELLAN, Set assistant MARGARETA GOMEZ, Retouching JEFFREY PAUL GUNHART, Production HOLLY GORE AT ROSCO PRODUCTION, Production Coordinator BIANKA BASIC, Production Assistants AARON AHUMADA and DEREK MITCHELL, Artist’s Producer LUCIE ELWES, Studio MACK SENNETT STUDIO