Grimes’ first record was a Dunes-inspired concept album called Geidi Premiers, a reference to the militaristic planet ruled in the recent film by a huge Stellan Skarsgård. (She nicknamed herself Grimes because MySpace allowed her to associate with three musical genres, and she liked the name “grime,” then a fledgling British music scene.) Her father read Frank Herbert’s book to her when she was four years old. She loved it. At a Met Gala, she cornered Sting, who starred in the much-derided David Lynch adaptation, and scared him off with a heavy dose of Dunes fangirling.
For years, Grimes harbored the dream of directing his own adaptation of Dunes, with the most problematic colonialist elements eliminated, but when she heard about the two-part blockbuster from Denis Villeneuve, she fangirled again and signed on to help with the rollout, originally slated for November 2020. (“I was basically a influencer.” ) And then, she adds, she was canceled from Dunes because of communist manifesto thing. She was discouraged, but she understood. “There are things that are deeply unawakened in the Dunes universe,” she says, so the studio had to be extra careful and she was far from indispensable.
When she finally saw the film, she realized to her amazement that this story that she had loved since she was far too young for that, that she knew almost by heart, that had inspired her first album , this story was now his story. Specifically the story of Lady Jessica. It passes quickly on the screen, but Jessica (played by Rebecca Ferguson) is not a wife but a concubine. Grimes saw herself in Jessica, and she saw X in Jessica’s son, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). Paul is more than a duke’s son. He is an elected official, charged with becoming a great leader. “When I see X,” she says, “like, I just know X’s gonna have to go through all this really fucked up shit that looks like Paul-type stuff.” Looking at him destroyed her. “I was just crying the whole movie.”
She knows this may sound absurd. Grand. She wishes it felt that way for her too.
“I feel like there are very few people in the world who might have similar feelings about their son as Claire did with X,” Mac says when I pass that on to her. I ask if it’s surreal to see his sister living this life. “Yes,he laughs. “But I’m not really surprised either?” Because she always finds herself in the craziest scenarios possible.
In the summer of 2019, Grimes was at the start of her romance with Musk and was called off online for it, and she was also ending Miss Anthropocene, its long-awaited sequel to Angels of the Arts, while his longtime manager and closest daily confidant died of cancer. Her life, she says, has always been “level 10 chaos.” It was level 11. She had been making everything herself for a decade, and she was sick of it.
She needed to find a new way to be an artist, which meant finding a new way to make money as an artist. “I hate touring and I hate selling merchandise,” she told her new manager, Daouda Leonard, during their first FaceTime call. He laughs at the memory. “If you know anything about being a manager in the music industry…” At this point, most managers would have hung up. Instead, he said, “Cool, you’re gonna tour the metaverse and you’re gonna sell digital assets, digital goods. Agreed. Problem solved.”
They set to work creating an avatar of his body, dubbed WarNymph, and in February 2021, Grimes became one of the first musicians to sell an NFT collection of digital artwork, some accompanied by music. Mac’s idea. She generated $6 million from that single drop, more than she’s ever earned from any of her albums. They crafted a deepfake of her voice which she plans to release along with other IP experiences inside the metaverse and gaming platforms like The Sandbox, a kind of open source creative experience. Watch the fanfic, she said. There’s so much inventive stuff going on there if you know where to look. She has similar plans for an AI girl group she’s designing named NPC, which is gamer speaking for “non-player character”. She puts the AI girl group in the world, you’re going to make something of it.
The NFT project was so lucrative that if it had happened two weeks earlier, Grimes says, she might not have signed her first contract with Columbia Records. No Columbia pics, she adds – they’ve been great – but she only did it to pay for the ambitious videos she had in mind. The one for “Shinigami Eyes,” a futuristic dance-pop phantasmagoria, was among the first music videos shot on an extended reality (xR) stage similar to the one used to make the Mandalorian.
Of course, signing with a major label was seen as another betrayal by Grimes purists, but where they see a sale, she sees a creative release. You sign with a tag – any tag, any size – for money, which you can either put in your pocket or reinvest in the mission.
Pedestrian traffic is heavier the next afternoon when I return to the Grimes house, including little X. He arrives about 30 minutes after his mother and I relocate to the anime corner, and while he charging through the door, she leaps to her feet with a delighted yelp. He greets me friendly and then makes an offer for his laptop so he can watch My neighbor Totoro, Miyazaki’s classic with the giant Catbus.
In solidarity with all the new moms, Grimes is wearing the same outfit as yesterday. She didn’t touch her makeup. The respect. As she takes X on her way to a play date, I take in the view of the Colorado River from the living room. I look down and see a nice stack of picture books, and below, TimePersonality of the Year issue with X’s father on the cover. The room is dominated by a huge red sofa in the shape of a giant Tootsie Roll, and it looks incredibly comfortable, but the kids have done a number on it, maybe both numbers, so Grimes sits cross-legged on the ground instead, and we discuss the elephant of the year in the room.
“We currently live in this society where people expect everyone to behave properly and speak properly,” she begins. “You have these manifestations of genius, but you want them to behave normally, but the reason they’re like that is because they’re so out of touch with correct behavior.” Humans are beautiful and toxic in equal parts, she says. “Like, we screw up. We are all going to do bad things in our lives. We are all going to do stupid things. She’s talking about Musk, but again, she could be talking about herself. “They are both such deeply original thinkers,” says Liv Boeree, whom Grimes recruited to play the role of his black swan in the video of a Book 1 piece entitled “100% Tragedy”. “The lines blur with them as to whether it’s even art versus engineering or science, because really we’re talking about creating something that doesn’t exist.”