Grimes: The Triumph of a Self-Made Oddball
When Claire Boucher, 27, who writes, records, and produces music as Grimes, decided to show off her unshaved armpits in a recent round of press photos, her PR team went into crisis mode. This was not the image they had in mind; they wanted her quirky but groomed, wild but not too wild, more feminine than feral. Boucher saw it another way.
“I was like, armpit hair! Yes!” she says, sitting cross-legged on a couch in the Los Angeles headquarters of her record label, 4AD. She is wearing an oversized black T-shirt bearing the name of Ronda Rousey and fresh white sneakers, with her long hair, brown at the roots and magenta below, twisted into two braids. She looks like Wednesday Addams headed to a rave. “Everyone else on my team was like, no way, no armpit hair, absolutely not,” she says. “So in the end we sent the shots to Big Jay.”
Big Jay is Jay Z, who signed Boucher to his RocNation management company in 2013, shortly after her 2012 album, Visions, made her a critical darling, rising star and big festival draw. Soon, she was spinning legendary house parties in Ibiza, attending the Met Ball in Louis Vuitton and appearing in fashion’s front row.
Jay Z, a self-made mogul, may have been inspired by Boucher’s scrappiness: She made Visions entirely by herself in under a month, locked in a dark room with only GarageBand, Adderall, and whatever food friends thought to bring her. She made all the beats, sang all the vocals, played all the instruments, and drew all the album artwork in the intricate pen-and-ink style of a girl who spent her entire childhood tracing anime books. Boucher says she made Visions “at such a psychotic pace” to meet a deadline set by her then-manager. But even in that short span she made something both defiantly weird — the big song off Visions, “Oblivion,” features an eerie, child-like voice trilling glossolalia over thumping beats you feel in your chest — and addictive, like a house party in a Gothic castle.
Buying into the Grimes project, as Jay Z did, means buying into Boucher’s fiercely guarded independence: She often calls herself “an auteur” without sarcasm. Boucher sees Grimes as an alter-ego, an avatar she inhabits when she wants to take on the world. Her love of graphic novels and Japanese animation led her to create a new kind of superhero: the woman who makes music without ever watering it down. This is a fight Jay Z supports: When the team sent him the armpit photos, he immediately approved them. “He just said, ‘Yes, let her keep the hair,'” says Boucher with a smirk. “He overruled everybody. It’s just good to have an artist at the head of the management, because, like, he’s an artist. He gets us.”