If you know anything about Grimes (Claire Boucher), you know she loves mainstream pop music, even though her own style is more alternative. Music media rejoiced Monday when her video “Flesh without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream” debuted two tracks off her upcoming album that were true pop, atypical of her usual quirky style.
“Flesh without Blood” is a wonderful track. Initially, the sound screams pop, but the mechanics are anything but—there’s still something edgy about the sound, something ethereal yet dark as is characteristic in Grimes’s production. But unless you’re familiar with Grimes’s work, it may be easy to miss her little touches at first.
Although it is as true-to-genre as pop can get, the subject matter is not love-oriented as so many pop songs are and like some publications were quick to assume, as Boucher voiced on her Twitter account Tuesday, tweeting “Flesh without Blood isn’t about a breakup! I don’t write about love anymore,” followed by multiple plate-of-spaghetti and skull emojis.
Multiple publications, major ones at that, interpreted the song as a breakup song. Pitchfork chalked “Flesh without Blood” up as “a blow-out pop song about getting over an ex” and Rolling Stone called it “a biting, punk-pop breakup jam.”
At first listen, the lyrics make it easy to see where the misinterpretation was. The first verse certainly reads like a breakup song: “Remember when we used to say / ‘I love you’ almost every day / I saw a light in you / Going out as I closed our window / You never liked me anyway.”
But if we know anything about pop songs or lyrics in general, we know everything is not what it initially reads to be. “Can’t Feel My Face,” for example, on the surface seems to be a love song, but it’s definitely about cocaine (I know this thanks to the dudes at Switched On Pop).
Few of Grimes’s songs are explicitly love-oriented and those that are have feminist undertones, so making the blind assumption that “Flesh without Blood” is a breakup song just shows how quick we are to associate pop with love, because that’s what sells and it’s what people understand.
And, it shows how quick we are to confine women of pop (or any genre, for that matter) to writing about relationships. Do we have to revisit Sarah Bareilles?
But placing Grimes in that category is doing the artist a disservice. Though this track sounds like something that could more readily fit into a mainstream audience’s ears, that’s not a reason to categorize the meaning behind the lyrics as cookie-cutter as well.
I’ve never been one to be decent at poetry analysis, as my English teachers would just look at me blankly when I offered my interpretations of Robert Frost poems and I won’t get into what they thought of my E. E. Cummings analysis. But what I see happening in “Flesh without Blood” is possibly some kind of internal struggle. Whatever the meaning could be, the video shows enough evidence against it being a love song, even without Boucher’s Twitter announcement.
Boucher also said these two tracks aren’t representative of anything else on “Art Angels” which will be available Nov. 6th. Until then, I’ll be digging into the video, anxiously awaiting whatever stylistic cocktail of an album Grimes has cooked up.
Megan Osborne can be contacted at [email protected]