Climate change has never been one singular enemy. But the ability to fully comprehend the threat of the climate crisis has become nearly impossible as it grows exponentially worse. You can’t just chalk it up to oil spills or plastic bags (not that you ever could) — the climate crisis is as omnipresent as the air we breathe and the food we consume every day. When faced with a challenge so all-encompassing as the rapid destruction of our planet, there’s a temptation to make it all easier to digest — make it appear solvable — by personifying its key players. In this frame of mind, Greta Thunberg is not one environmental activist among many fighting for accountability, but a superhero. And, if you ask Claire Boucher, climate change itself is not an environmental disaster but a malevolent goddess, after whom her fifth album, Miss Anthropocene, is named.
Boucher has been releasing deeply weird, often gorgeous, and occasionally terrifying synth-pop tracks under her Grimes project for the past decade, rising to the forefront of a crop of 2010s indie producers who earned the zeitgeist-y name “Post-Internet” for their wide-ranging influences. Pulling as much from Mariah Carey as it does from Nine Inch Nails, the music Grimes makes, like the haunting “Oblivion,” has always been a goth-veiled bubblegum melting pot, ever categorized by a celestial voice that evokes Hatsune Miku if she were possessed by a demon. Since releasing Art Angels, her stellar 2015 LP and her most accessible one to date, Boucher has become increasingly notorious for her online persona and controversial remarks. Twitter was abuzz when she and tech mogul Elon Musk confirmed their relationship in 2018; last month, Boucher announced she was expecting her first child through a nearly naked, hyper-real Instagram photo that showed a rendering of the fetus in her belly. She bemoaned “post-truth” journalism in an interview with Crack magazine last April, where she described her politics as “literally insane” and explained that the anthropomorphized climate antagonist at the heart of her new album would be partially inspired by her recent dealings with the press.
Playing the villain is nothing new for Boucher (a New Yorker profile described her terrorizing her Catholic grade-school classmates by pretending to be the devil), nor is centering her music around technological birth and environmental apocalypse. But after spending the better part of the past decade gravitating toward a state of pop auteurism, Miss Anthropocene sounds like Boucher returning to primordial, nu-metal ooze. Poisoned smog seeps through the air on tracks like the stunning six-minute opener, “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth.” While Boucher’s vocals soar above the stratosphere, a handful of well-placed rumbling synths bring her sinking back down into the Earth’s core.
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The album wallows in this dread of imminent destruction before learning to embrace it and, eventually, become one with it. The genuinely innovative “4AEM,” opening with a collage of tropical rhythms, twists a late-night come-on from a man into a “Ride of the Valkyries”-like battle hymn, built around a vocal sample from the Bollywood film Bajirao Mastani. “Violence” takes a sadomasochistic approach to human exploitation of the planet’s resources, with Boucher taunting, “I’m, like, begging for it, baby/Makes you wanna party, wanna wake up/It’s violence.” (This also highlights a repeated confusion on the record: Is Boucher speaking as the conniving harbinger of climate change or as the personification of a dying Earth? Is she domming or subbing?)
Boucher seems determined to suggest that, lyrically as well as physically, she’s reached a higher plane of existence. “You know me as the girl who plays with fire/But this is the song I wrote you in the dark,” she intones on “My Name Is Dark,” where she also describes “imminent annihilation” as “so dope.” Yet even as she seems to relish a world burning, like some cyberpunk Nero, her troubles all sound familiar, self-pitying, and human. The semi-acoustic “Delete Forever” was written as a tribute to Lil Peep and others gone too soon in the opioid crisis, but Grimes can’t resist casting herself as a type of addict (“Always down, I’m not up/Guess it’s just my rotten luck/To fill my time with permanent gloom”). “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around,” which sounds like goth Kacey Musgraves, veils the threat of collective species extinction under a juvenile “you’ll love me when I’m dead” manifesto. These are personas she’s creating, but there’s so much whiplash between the campy, no-holds-barred chaos and the humanity underneath the machine that it’s unclear whether she wants empathy or worship.
Miss Anthropocene is no doubt a work of ambition, and Boucher’s aims at bringing further awareness to the climate crisis are noble. “I want to make a reason to look at it,” she told The Wall Street Journal last year. “I want to make it beautiful.” Yet what the album actually has to say about climate change is often lost under the admittedly beautiful, meticulously composed wreckage. By the album’s end, Boucher has abandoned the muddled villainous pretext in favor of her own utopian fantasies. “We could play a beautiful game/You could chase me down/In the name of love!” Boucher sings ecstatically on “IDORU,” over a pleasant palette of bird calls and shimmering chiptune keys. It’s a much more optimistic ending than the previous track, “Before the Fever,” where Boucher twirls as the planet goes up in flames. Cosplaying as the Marie Antoinette of the climate crisis seems fitting for a person who is by all accounts ready to welcome our robot overlords, and who now has the financial means to do so. Maybe Boucher thought releasing Miss Anthropocene would make that pill easier for us all to swallow.