“Fads swept the youth of the Sprawl at the speed of light; entire subcultures could rise overnight, thrive for a dozen weeks, and then vanish utterly” -William Gibson, Neuromancer
Accurately anticipating the future is difficult and boring. Science Fiction recognizes this by building the hyperbolic and ridiculous Total Recall, futures we know and love. Occasionally, through brilliance or luck, a writer or director gets the future right. William Gibson wasn’t describing the Internet in the above quote (it didn’t exist), or Neuromancer’s version of the Internet (which Gibson called cyberspace, and the real world later called the Internet), but he was detailing the kind of world that might evolve around ‘cyberspace’, and in doing so he accidentally invented the future before it happened.
SciFi as a genre gestalt loved his idea so much that a heap of writers made a subgenre from it called cyberpunk. Gibson cleaned
up the Science Fiction Oscars in 1984, and many other SciFi writers spent the early 90s writing about the Internet, computer hackers wearing leopard-skin with Mohawks and portable A.I.s before forgetting about it and moving on to even sillier and more redundant ideas (see: Steampunk).
The weird thing is that cyberpunk writers were actually on to something, and their at times absurd and embarrassing visions about how technology would end up mashing history and geography together were about fifteen years off-target. Canadian singer/songwriter/Barbie doll Grimes is pretty much a key performance indicator with hyper-pink hair in the IRL realization of cyberpunk.
Claire Boucher’s stylistic sensibility comes from a planet that seems to be sloughing off geographical borders while playing a korg keyboard and wearing a plastic vagina ring. Like her trashier cynical elder stepsister Lady Gaga, Boucher’s style did not evolve in a particular meatspace town or city or tangible place; it got born in the giant invisible terrarium of the Internet.
Pop culture’s anchoring to time and place is more or less in the process of dissolving. Obviously, Boucher is not a cybernetic hacker with a nervous system damaged by mycotoxins (per Gibson’s novel), nor is she the sole or prime mover in this process. Thousands of musicians and stylists and artists and associated cultural barnacles have the Internet, co-opt style cues from early adopters in Tokyo/Madrid/Vancouver, and are fluent in entry-level ‘cult’ qualifiers like Twin Peaks or Dune or Blade Runner. Digital technology is making the world smaller and letting ideas move faster; and Boucher’s topical synth-pop and perpetual-motion public identity machine very much epitomize the new era of digital attention deficit.
Boucher’s defining (i.e. Wikipedia highlight) moment was back in 2010, when at twenty-one years of age she built a houseboat filled with chickens and floated it down the Mississippi while taking a name of a video game character (Zelda) combined with a text message sign-off (xox). Conveniently for the purposes of this article’s whole Neuromancer-Grimes narrative, Boucher literally studied neuroscience for about a year before dropping out to make music. Her pigtails could be photoshopped against an inner-urban backdrop taken from Los Angeles, Berlin or Tokyo, and they wouldn’t look out of place. She smashes Hieronymus Bosh against Ed Roth; Napoleon Bonaparte against branding theory, the Eurhythmics synthpop against medieval musical modes. Boucher’s entire aesthetic comes from nowhere in particular, but everywhere.
It didn’t evolve from any singular city or time period, it grew out of a technological blend between wherever Grimes is right now and wherever Grimes wants to be viewed from the perspective of about two minutes ago – courtesy of the Internet and web browsers and digital cameras and phones and everything in between.
Which is not to indict globalization or Grimes as a bad omen for the evolution of music or style. Perspective suggests this all seems inevitable; globalization began in the digital technological developments 80s that took place prior to Gibson’s novel, but the conclusion of the cold war and the ironically premature ‘End of History’ were instrumental in speeding everything up. Karl Marx identified that technology is the annihilation of space and time. Although it sounds like Marx was talking about an A-bomb or something, he was actually just identifying the human frustration with distance and slowness.
For two hundred years, humans have been making things like telegraphs and trains and radios and modems to shrink time and distance. With her LA stripper muse Brooke Candy’s weird-ass silver armor, the lyrics of her collaborator d’Eon, and the blog cult to which she is patron saint and crown jewel, Grimes is global, and she co-opts imagery from everywhere at the speed of light.
Cyberpunk’s once seemingly defunct premise of a dislocated, technologically potent youth kind of came real, and Boucher is just about it.