Some Songs Considered #046: Grimes, Miley, and the REAL Weirdos
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
Do you ever look at some of today’s proclaimed avant-garde, audacious pop stars and wonder if their music really matches up with the unconventional nature of their visual selves?
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Grimes (in her scattered, oddball, and aesthetically unrestrained Art Angles phase) and Miley Cyrus (in the aftermath of her Flaming Lips internship) – two artists who have a reputation for being transgressive, shocking, and unabashedly weird – and I can’t help but wonder how much of that ‘transgressive’ reputation we’ve labeled them with comes simply from the artistically fringe elements of their visual performance; be it shows, music videos, personal fashion, etc.
Or, to be more curt, how much of it actually comes from their actual music?
In her previous releases, Grimes’ minimalist electronics created an interesting pairing with the inconsistent but captivating style of videos like “Genesis”#, but her latest album Art Angels saw an up in the pop factor inspire a simultaneous surge in the outrageousness of her videos. So while the music might not challenge the listener beyond some high-intensity clamoring beats, unconventional feminine vocals, and unforgiving screams, when you pair it with with a blood covered, neon Marie Antoinette, subway-dwelling futurists, punk vampires, and possessed dirt-covered angels, the whole project of Grimes comes off as a little edgier than the music really is (co-columnist Justin McCarthy got into this double standard back in November).
Then there’s the case of Miley Cyrus, whose entire ‘transgressive’ label is based almost exclusively on the fact that we’ve known the tongue-wagging, twerking Miley of 2016 ever since her more wholesome, Disney-bred, Hannah Montana childhood.
Her independent album Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz was as unconventional in its glittery yet gruesome visual motifs as it was in its label-free method of release (the video for “Doo It!” would never fit the heavily produced, glamorous standard of Taylor Swift or Meghan Trainor, Miley’s face moving in and out of close focus for the entirety of the video as she drips gooey glitter over herself and into her mouth). Still, we all know we wouldn’t be half as intrigued or shocked by Miley Cyrus sitting naked, puffing weed in front of a psychedelic projection# if we didn’t grow up with her prancing to “Party in the USA” in a hair scrunchie first#.
So again, are Miley’s smooth, well-produced, sensual pop jams as outlandish and idiosyncratic as her videos?
No, of course not. She’s still a pop star under it all.
Though to be honest, I’d much rather our sugary pop starts have challenging and abnormal tendencies in their visual art than not. At the very least it’s presenting mainstream music culture with an alternative to the constructed and immaculately sexy pop star. Hell, it might even encourage a little freakish self expression.
However, the issue then lies in the tragic irony that there are many artists who will never get near Miley or Grimes’ level of success directly because their music actually reflects their transgressive, avant-garde, and unrestrained visual aesthetic. And this isn’t so much a slight against Miley and Grimes, as it is a fanciful wish that the fringe and outlandish bands I love had the budgets and unlimited creative resources of these pop stars.
So, to indulge my fantasy, I offer you a small sample of musical suggestions (and reminders) of artists whose uncompromising, avant-garde originality might be a better sonic fit for a few of those previously-mentioned outrageously popular, popularly outrageous videos.
Hit play on the two songs at once, mute the video, and try to tell me things don’t get just a little bit
Linear Downfall’s “Psycho Holiday” as an improved soundtrack to Grimes “Kill V Maim”
While I love Grimes’ videos to no end, pairing the disjointed jumble of industrial underground and futurist steampunk characters with her heavily K-Pop inspired “Kill V Maim” only does this video so much justice.
Linear Downfall, the psych-experimental, noise band from Nashville who I gushed about in November, on the other hand, makes music that more accurately reflects Claire Boucher’s fucked-up, erratic videos. The upbeat, funky opening to “Psycho Holiday” followed by its eerie spoken word and sonic dissonance is a perfect overlay to Grimes’ blood-soaked dance parties and vignettes of caged, possessed angels.
“Kill V. Maim”:
Pleasures’ “The Summer Strip” as an improved soundtrack of Miley’s “Dooo It!”
“Doo It” features the iconic imagery of Miley’s Dead Petz album and pretty much sums up her visual MO: take something pleasant and feminine, and chew it up until it becomes revolting.
I personally like this simple and unflattering take on the glitter and sprinkled image of a pop start. However, Miley’s modestly badass confession to pot usage and slightly distorted vocals over some hip Mike Will Made-it beats doesn’t really live up to the unsettling potential of the video. Sarasota’s Pleasures, however, are well versed in the sonic arts of freakish and confrontationally sexual psychedelia.
Enjoy their album opener “The Summer Strip” as an appropriate alternative for Miley’s stoned glitter drool and debauched tongue action.
“The Summer Strip”:
Tiny Hazard’s “In A Little House” as an improved soundtrack for Grimes’ “Life in the Vivid Dream.”
Grimes and Brooklyn’s Tiny Hazard have some serious similarities in regards to their angelic voices, electronic arrangements, and flair for creepiness. But whereas Grimes’ music is energetic though never really dissonant, Tiny Hazard doesn’t shy away from flipping the switch on their angelic sounds and creating a cathartic, unrelenting wave of noise.
If you line this up to the later half of Grimes’ cabaret of saturated oddities in the “Flesh Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream” video, Tiny Hazard’s delicate-then-doom sound perfectly aligns with the mud-drenched angels and blood-covered aristocrats of the video’s outro. The lengths of these songs don’t line up precisely, but you’ll understand how I would rather see Grimes massive video budget bestowed on the creepy and creatively disjointed folks in Tiny Hazard…
“In A Little House”:
“Life in the Vivid Dream”:
Fundamentally, I’m happy that Miley is stepping out of her suffocating childhood and into more unconventional expression, and I’m even happier that Grimes, who has always been gifted with unusual and uncompromising vision, is finally easing into the big leagues of pop. Still, I can’t help feel a pinch of jealously for the bands whose sounds innately reflect the visions of these pop stars, but whose courageously avant-garde and often challenging music struggles to reach a fanbase as big as Miley’s or Grimes’.
For now, I guess I’ll make due with synched-up music videos and daydreams of dazzling, grotesque, and sonically revolutionary supergroups…
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