On a rainy spring evening, Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes to her fans, took the stage at Brooklyn’s Glasslands Gallery to promote her album “Visions,” released on 4AD in 2012. The electronic pop act Grimes headlined its third consecutive sold-out show in the span of two days.
A former dancer who recalls “a pretty intense history with ballet,” the willowy Canadian sings with a signature lisp and hits falsetto notes worthy of comparisons to Mariah Carey. To her ebullient audience, the 24-year-old falls nothing short of a pop star.
Between performances, the multitalented Boucher also found time to curate a charity art show. The special exhibition featured her own paintings and drawings, as well as pieces from her Canadian peers. AudioFile traveled to the Audio Visual Arts (AVA) Gallery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to check out the collection and talk to the artist herself.
“I’ve been really into anime since I was little,” Boucher explained with regards to her aesthetic. Growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has large immigrant communities from Asia and Southeast Asia, exposed Boucher to Japanese pop culture at an early age.
“In my elementary school, all the cool girls were the Japanese girls,” she said. “They were the prettiest girls. And they all had their Sailor Moon cards, and I was just like, ‘I really want a Sailor Moon card. I’ll give you crackers and stuff for the Sailor Moon card.’ And so I’d have, like, five cards. That was the beginning of the anime obsession. I became very, very obsessed.”
In fact, Boucher only started developing her fine art techniques because she wanted to mimic the drawing styles of anime and manga like the Sailor Moon series that became popular in the United States in the 90s.
She revisits her childhood obsession in Grimes’ video for the album’s second single, “Genesis,” in which she evokes a “Sailor Moon”-esque schoolgirl. “I used to be into cosplay, actually,” Boucher revealed, referring to the subculture of dressing up as characters normally associated with Japanese anime and manga. (The term originated in Japan as a portmanteau of “costume play.”) “I used to go to Comic Con. You know, gothic Lolita stuff.”
Another popular import likewise permeates Boucher’s music, namely K-pop, which now seems almost prescient in a post-”Gangnam Style” world. As far as American pop music goes, Boucher discusses with critical zeal the influences of singers like Beyonce and Rihanna. But unlike many mainstream pop princesses, Boucher views herself as a producer first and a performer second.
“I care about production more than I care about making or building an image or something,” Boucher said. “There’s a lot of weird discussion right at this point in time in music about this concept of authenticity — like Lana Del Rey, being the classic example.”
Boucher, however, isn’t interested in getting bogged down in the debate. Just as she once trained her fine motor skills learning how to draw, she earnestly devotes her songwriting and producing talents to Grimes. While Boucher acknowledges formulas in writing pop music, for her, the process is more intuitive than it is calculated:
“I usually start with a beat, but it doesn’t — it kind of doesn’t matter. It’s really just about if there’s something perfect, a perfect melody line. I’ll just be playing on the keyboard, and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s just the beat,’ or ‘Oh, that chord progression is just a hit.’ I’ll just know it. I’ll usually know within a couple minutes of starting something whether or not it’s going to work out. It’s just about the energy basically. I mean, a song can be technically whatever, but it’s ultimately about something that can be emotionally evocative. I don’t know, it’s not a super explicit thing.”
Similarly, trying to connect with Boucher’s genre-bending project Grimes doesn’t have to be meditated. It may be as simple and immediate as listening and liking it.
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