In a year when Glastonbury has paid tribute to David Bowie and Prince, two artists celebrated for being relentlessly creative, individual and fearless, the Canadian singer/songwriter/producer Grimes – real name Claire Boucher – proves that their maverick spirit lives on in a new generation. Grimes might just be the best pop star in the world right now – here’s why.
She knows how to make an entrance
First we hear the strains of ‘Laughing And Not Being Normal’, the Disney-like instrumental overture that introduces ‘Art Angels’, Grimes’ fourth album and NME’s Album Of The Year in 2015. Then, one of her dancers appears, contorting herself to the strains of the strings. When Grimes bounds onstage in a long overcoat and shades, she looks like she’s just popped out of a steampunk time machine and emerged into the Park Stage’s misty, drizzly twilight gloom. Style inspiration: Back To The Future’s Doc Brown.
She has serious moves
Grimes is backed by two dancers who often perform choreographed moves, but her own wildly expressive dancing is utterly captivating in its own right. Opener ‘Realiti’ sees her jumping, high-kicking and – at its climax – bent double on the floor emitting a blood-curdling howl. Anyone who’s ever cranked out the cliched adage ‘dance like no-one’s watching’ should take note.
She does the work of a full band on her own
Though ‘Art Angels’ saw her collaborate with other artists, most of Grimes’ music is pointedly the work of one person. Her stage show is no exception: as well as singing, dancing, playing guitar and rapping in Russian on ‘Scream’, she works like a DJ triggering backing tracks and samples and manipulating sounds from a bank of keyboards. It’s exhausting to look at, let alone to contemplate the synaptic dynamics required to perform like that.
She’s a ball of manic energy
Grimes’ high-pitched between-song chat is always delivered out-of-breath at frantic pace, like she’s got an appointment to get to. It’s always full of self-deprecating comments too: “This next song is a little weird. Some people like it, some people don’t,” she says before ‘Scream’. ‘Go’, meanwhile, is introduced as being “a controversial song”. Applause is shyly brushed away, and songs are quantified in terms of how much fun they are to play. “We get to fuck around a bit more than usual with things and instruments,” she says before ‘Venus Fly’. Frankly, they all seem fun to play.
She embraces her mistakes
“Sorry, I just hit the wrong button, but this is the correct button,” she says before one track. Later, midway through ‘World Princess, Part II’, she has a coughing fit and carries on like nothing’s happened. Respect.
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Her songs are incomparable
Already on her fourth album, Grimes has a big catalogue to choose from, but it’s testament to the amount of excellent, out-there pop songs on ‘Art Angels’ that much of the set comes from her exemplary 2015 album, not least ‘Kill V Maim’, “my favourite” according to Grimes herself. It takes a lot to match a defining song like 2012’s ‘Oblivion’, but this one edges it.
She leaves the crowd wanting more
At 55 minutes, Grimes’ headline set is painfully short – and it’s not like there’s nothing left in the tank, either – hardly anything from 2012 breakthrough album ‘Visions’ is left unplayed, nor is fan-favourite ‘Vanessa’. At the end of the set, the audience are left a little bereft. “One more song!” they chant, but there isn’t one – Grimes has already skipped off stage to some old-timey piano music. It’s only 10pm. There’s a low-key rumour that Radiohead are going to do a secret set after. But how could they follow that?
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