It was a matter of national news when Claire Boucher, better known by her stage name Grimes, and tech-billionaire Elon Musk announced the name of their child to an anxiously awaiting world. X Æ A-Xii (astounding) was born three months after Grimes released her fifth studio album. Like her child’s name, Grimes’s delightfully cyberpunk Miss Anthropocene, theoretically a concept album about the climate crisis (it mostly fails at this endeavor), is a perfect example of the slippery terrain of pop stars’ private/public lives. Though I love this album (and, frankly, the infant’s name is also too good), I can’t help but note its troubling relationship to contemporary techno-oligarchies. And who to better represent that oligarchy than the partnership between Grimes and Elon Musk. Using Miss Anthropocene as a starting point, I will take a look at the complicated line between dystopic science fiction and social reality. 

       Praised by critics as Grimes’s finest work to date, Miss Anthropocene firmly launched the artist into the realm of pop stardom (Pitchfork, 2020). For musical influences, the album draws from, among others, nu metal (“Darkseid”), sad-boy indie rock (“Delete Forever”), and throbbing club hits (“Violence”, “We Appreciate Power”). I’ll spend a little more time on “We Appreciate Power” later. In addition to in-genre homages, Grimes uses the album to flex her wealth of sci-fi and sci-fact knowledge. “IDORU”, the tenth track on Miss Anthropocene, is a direct nod to William Gibson’s 1996 cyberpunk novel of the same name. Just as novels can form the bedrock of theory and praxis, so too can music act as a rallying cry for radical change and thought. Bob Marley’s music, for example, was the soundtrack to liberation movements across the globe in the 60s and 70s (Savishinsky, 1994). To what, then, does Miss Anthropocene attempt to rally us? In spite of the artist’s claims that the album is about “making climate change fun”, many of the tracks praise the technocratic rule of organic/cyborgic life that has propelled a multitude of global/local crises. Take, for example, these lyrics from the album’s lead single, “We Appreciate Power”: 

                                                      Pledge allegiance to the world’s most powerful computer

                                                      Simulation: it’s the future.

                                                      What will it take to make you capitulate?

                                                      We appreciate power.

                                                      We appreciate power.

There is a heavy dose of irony in this song, with Grimes singing breathy praises of an AI supercomputer back to back with requesting the surrender of all other life. What’s less fun and ironic is that in August of 2020, Elon Musk— Grimes’s boyfriend and the father of X Æ A-Xii— revealed that his new neuro-tech startup, Neuralink, had successfully implanted a Fit-Bit-like device in a pig’s brain to track its health (The Guardian, 2020). Across the cyberpunk genre, neural implants are lauded and derided in equal measure. William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), Bruce Sterling’s Holy Fire (1996), Melissa Scott’s Trouble and Her Friends (1994), and other giants in the subgenre have made the complicated nature of these technologies more than apparent. Grimes takes a less nuanced approach in Miss Anthropocene that mirror’s current technocrats’ pushes towards exploitative human-tech interactions in the name of relentless innovation and profit. In many ways, the album rallies consumers to participate in what anarchist thinker Ivan Illich called “growth mania” or the relentless pursuit of scale and “progress” (Illich and Lang, 1973). Both Miss Anthropocene and Grimes’s staunch partnership with the tech industry reveal this relationship with some clarity.

       If, as Donna Haraway suggests, the line between science fiction and social reality is an illusion at best, then Grime’s artistry paired with the reality of her public pop star image and all the entanglements that image entails troubles the waters of irony (Haraway 1985). In “Before the Fever”, Grimes says that “Imminent annihilation sounds so dope” (2020). I’m not so sure she’s right. Miss Anthropocene may not be the first sci-fi album nor will it be the last but its unique and distressing relationship to real technologies and social inequities verges a little too close to high, dogmatic praise for my taste (giving a very literal meaning to “too rich for my blood”). I sincerely hope that Miss Anthropocene remains a fiction. Perhaps X Æ A-Xii, heir to the Grimes/Musk empire, will be the one to decide our fates.

 

Works Cited

Haraway, Donna. ““A Cyborg Manifesto”(1985).” Cultural Theory: An Anthology (2010): 454.

Illich, Ivan, and Anne Lang. “Tools for conviviality.” (1973).

Mistry, Anupa. “Grimes: Miss Anthropocene,” February 21, 2020. 

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/grimes-miss-anthropocene/. 

 

Savishinsky, Neil J. “TRANSNATIONAL POPULAR CULTURE AND THE GLOBAL SPREAD OF THE JAMAICAN RASTAFARIAN MOVEMENT.” NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 68, no. 3/4 (1994): 259-81. Accessed March 25, 2021. http://www.jstor.org.proxy.library.nyu.edu/stable/41849614.

 

Wong, Julia Carrie. “Neuralink: Elon Musk Unveils Pig He Claims Has Computer Implant in 

Brain.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, August 29, 2020. 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/aug/28/neuralink-elon-musk-pig-computer-implant.