In the summer after I graduated from high school there was a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about two kids who tried to ride a houseboat full of chickens down the length of the Mississippi River. They never made it out of Minnesota: their boat, “The Velvet Glove Cast in Iron”, broke down within ten minutes. After a few nights docked on state parkland, they were informed by the police that people aren’t allowed to do this kind of thing anymore and forced to give up. I remember reading the story with my friends and wondering what kind of miserable world we lived in if two stupid kids weren’t even allowed to ride a boat down the Mississippi anymore. Modern life is unfair.
History tells us that one of those kids was Claire Boucher, who goes by the name Grimes and is sort of famous now. In the six years since her boat was impounded and her chickens were seized by animal control, the world hasn’t gotten any less miserable. It’s still illegal to dock a houseboat on state parkland, and, despite putting out a series of the best pop singles since early-2000s Timbaland, Grimes still hasn’t broken past the Pitchfork ‘Best Tracks of the Decade So Far’ list.
Will Flesh Without Blood be the track that finally makes it past the passionate-millennial-male-sphere? It’s hard to say. Grimes has made singles with cross-over potential before, but none of them cracked the Hot 100. But also, none of them were as good as Flesh Without Blood.
Flesh Without Blood is everything you could ever expect from a Grimes video. Mishmashed costumes, spazzy dancing, non-sequitor shots of good ideas… it’s only a nice camera and a location budget removed from the kind of video you would make with your friends in your basement when you’re eleven. Do the shots of Grimes dressed as a technicolor Marie Antoinette spinning around in a tennis court with a dagger shoved into her chest make sense? Not really. Except that it’s somehow coherent. It should feel contrived, but it doesn’t (or it is contrived, but that doesn’t matter). It’s Grimes being who she wants to be at that second, a comfortable continuation of the second before, the same way little kids don’t see any conflict in wearing a firefighter uniform with fairy wings to family dinner.
There are plenty of GIF-worthy moments here, but the shot that sticks out most to me comes around 3:30, where Likable Angel Grimes (the one with normal eyes that isn’t eating a baby) closes her eyes and pounds her knees as she screams out the “uncontrollably!” refrain at what appears to be the top of her lungs. It’s the visual that accompanies the sound of someone pouring everything they have into a four-minute pop song. You watch it and it’s so very clear how badly Claire Boucher wants this.
As anti-capitalist individuals, the mainstream success of independent artists shouldn’t be something we strive towards. But Grimes is different. Grimes is “our” artist. I don’t know who this “our” includes, or what it is about Grimes that supposedly embodies it. I guess in the end I think that a nation united under a Grimes single would be a wonderful thing. I think she’s a legitimately positive figure, and I want more people to see her. I think she genuinely doesn’t give a fuck, and that she only wants to be famous because she thinks her music is great.
There’s a comedically apoplectic spirit in pop music criticism that’s easy to mock until the moment you step into it. Pop music, when you’re in it, is life and death. You fall in love to this shit. You remember weekends and summers and entire years by this shit. You engage with mass culture and you become a part of it, wrapped up in this 1-4-5 globalized war-zone that’s only there because you can’t help but be there 100% along with everybody else. It’s a scary, powerful thing, and if you like verse-chorus song structures and loud drum hits then it’s pretty much inescapable. The cult of famous people, the weird and entirely false sense of intimacy that you feel when you watch them perform: these are things to be worried about. Grimes is no different. But when I hear a song as perfect as Flesh Without Blood, performed so sincerely and produced so immaculately, I can’t help but think that whoever made it genuinely thinks that pop music is a real force for good in this fucked up, blood-stained universe. Maybe a pop song can be an actual act of love. Maybe celebrity is a vehicle for universal liberation. Maybe there’s still hope for poptimism.
That’s asking a lot for a video that still hasn’t made it to one million views. But there are some things in life worth stanning for. I want this song to play on Top 40 radio. I want the “Velvet Glove Cast in Iron” to make it to New Orleans. Grimes, if you’re reading this: I believe in you.