In an interview with Vogue, of all people, most excellent Canadian neo-synthpop up-and-comer Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, casually referred to her upcoming album Visions as “post-internet”. At face value, the claim seems absurd — this is an artist, after all, who owes the fact that she’s just signed to 4AD to, yes, the internet. She’s been championed by the likes of Gorilla Vs Bear, Pitchfork and About.com (via our very own Anthony Carew), and she also released her first two records for free download — even now, with stardom beckoning, you still can go and help yourself to them for nothing. So, wait, exactly how is it that she thinks she somehow transcends the internet?
But no, as it turns out, that’s not what she’s saying at all. The “post-internet” label is one she’s been pushing proudly for some time — she also discussed the idea with the New York Times, and she means “post-” in the most literal sense of the prefix: hers is music that came after the internet, and couldn’t exist without it. “I had access to everything, so the music I make is sort of schizophrenic,” she explained to the NYT in August. “I’m really impressionable and have no sense of consistency in anything I do.” In other words, Grimes’ music is a quintessentially 21st century creation, the product of a scattershot stream of inspirations brought to its creator via what used to quaintly be called the information superhighway.
Having said all that, however, I can’t help but wondering whether Boucher’s label is more appropriate than she intends, because it strikes me that in 2011, culture became more transitory than ever. In October, Maura Johnston of The Village Voice coined the only-somewhat-tongue-in-cheek term “trollgaze”, a term that applied not so much to a definable musical genre as an it does to a general concept — it’s music built for the internet, designed to generate page views in the same way that pop songs were once designed to separate tweens from their pocket money.
As Johnston wrote in October, it’s music where “the potential for laughing at/being annoyed by/saying ‘WTF’ at a piece of art trumps its aesthetics.” Picking up the idea a couple of months later, Pitchfork’s Tom Ewing noted that “a trollgaze track is utterly web-native: It’s not built to exist in a record shop, a TV channel, a collection, or even an MP3 playlist. A trollgaze track is utterly web-native: It’s not built to exist in a record shop, a TV channel, a collection, or even an mp3 playlist. Its natural habitat is the stream — that ceaseless flow of information we access every time we use social media.”
The best example of this in 2011 was of course the dreaded Lana Del Rey, about whom I won’t write any more because, frankly, I’m as sick of writing about her as everyone else is of hearing about her. But it wasn’t just her, and at times it felt like the entire goddamn internet was full of what Johnston called “pageview-junkie music”, a glut of culture that existed for the sake of being liked rather than having something to say.
But perhaps at the start of 2012, it’s worth reminding ourselves that things don’t have to be this way. After all, there’s always been vapid shite out there, and for all that vapidity manifests itself in 2012 in terms of pageviews and Facebook likes and Buzzfeed submissions, the constant stream of information with which we’re bombarded can be as much an inspiration as it is a cultural challenge.
“Post-internet” music, as Grimes might call it, doesn’t have to be transitory or worthless. And the internet doesn’t just have to be about trollgaze — as Boucher told Vogue, “I feel like we’re at a huge jumping-off point now. You don’t just have to be influenced by rock, or goth, any more… There are still so many combinations that haven’t been done yet. It’s a really beautiful period.” Grimes’ own work demonstrates this as well as anything — if the tracks that have preceded it are anything to go by, Visions is already shaping up to be one of the albums of the year, and for all that this is music constructed from a base of ephemerality, it’s built to last.
Or, as Carew wrote about Grimes and her free albums at the end of 2010, “The fact that it’s being literally given to you certainly doesn’t mean it has no worth. Art this awe-inspiring is, to the contrary, invaluable.” Bravo, Anthony. The world isn’t ending just yet. Roll on 2012.