My surprise is partially my fault. I have participated in the near-deification of artists known as “stanning”, a culture of loving an artist to the point where they can do no wrong. But Grimes isn’t perfect, and she’s probably been doing wrong things all the time. The name “Miss Anthropocene” is just extremely wrong to the point where I’ll always be reminded of it every time I listen to any of her songs now. And yes, I was (briefly) willing to look the other way when she started dating Elon Musk, a literal millionaire.
So who is really appreciating power? And which humans are the ones who created, and benefit from, the so-called Anthropocene? Can someone who closely associates with those whom an Anthropocene would be a convenient theory for, successfully parody it?
These are questions I can’t stop thinking about since the release of her album title on Instagram, which doubled as an Adidas advertisement. I think beauty pageant/prom references are really cool and I’ll always love them (see: Hole’s “Miss World”, Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts”, the film Carrie, Petra Collins’ entire photography catalog from 2010 to 2013). But pairing it with the codeword for white supremacy and inescapable mass extinction isn’t something I really enjoy.
To give you a rundown, the Anthropocene is a proposed geological epoch which outlines human impact on the Earth as part of being the “dominant species”, and starts at the onset of the Industrial Revolution until present day. It’s been a buzzword in academic circles since its first use in 2000, but there have been many critiques of the use of the word as it doesn’t take into consideration the unequal impact climate change has on different classes and races. It also relies heavily on colonial imagery to work.
Kathryn Yusoff puts it best in the preface to A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, “If the Anthropocene proclaims a sudden concern with the exposures of environmental harm to white liberal communities, it does so in the wake of histories in which these harms have been knowingly exported to black and brown communities under the rubric of civilization, progress, modernization, and capitalism.”
In the beginning I would have given Grimes the benefit of the doubt, as much as I want to continue doing that, we use the same Internet, and I’m sure people on social media have directed her to this kind of information time and again. The worldly comforts of whiteness, money, a freedom to be “weird”, while capitalising on a concept that points out the unlivable conditions poor people have to deal with when Grimes will easily escape them… I think creatively, she could do better.
In the album she uses her signature high pitched voice and extremely layered producing style that’s become so familiar to me. Some of her songs are about friends she’s lost to drug addictions, some are inspired by Bollywood romances turned sci-fi. The main single, “We Appreciate Power” is about a world controlled by an AI overlord, a theme Grimes has been obsessed with for a long time. In interviews, she sometimes acts like she believes this will definitely come true, citing North Korean pop group Moranbong as an influence for the song.
Humans create Artificial Intelligence. If an AI-controlled program becomes aggressive, it’s because we have taught it how to treat humans that way. But it’s a common trope, so I let it slide. I was more frustrated at the timing of the release, when so many people are suffering under right-wing leadership, especially in the U.S., a song that celebrates autocracy and backing down in the face of insurmountable power seems a little bit more than merely tone-deaf. There is no such thing as limitless power, robot or human. To play a fantasy where she survives by total compliance while those poorer than her perish wasn’t fun for me to watch, even with her hardly identified irony. It really feels like she’s deliberately asserting the status quo under the guise of quirky pop. And it’s not enough.
When I saw Grimes during her Art Angels tour in 2016, it was the most enjoyable performance I had attended. I dropped $60 on a shirt, even though at the time my only source of income was Centrelink and I was living in youth housing, thinking she will be my only unproblematic white woman fave. I should’ve gone and seen Kylie Minogue instead.