Grimes on evolving her digital self into WarNymph

Volume 4 Issue 003: As she releases her high-tech pop album Miss_Anthropocene, Canadian musician, producer and artist Grimes unveils a new Balenciaga-clad iteration of WarNymph and reveals how the creation allows for freedom, experimentation and mental-health preservation.

Arti­cle tak­en from The Face Vol­ume 4 Issue 003. Order your copy here.

Techno-pagan faerie queen Grimes falls back to the mortal realm after a protracted hiatus, only to find the world unhinged from its axis and civilisations careering towards collapse. It’s been four years since her last album, Art Angels, a record that cemented her position as pop music’s most out-there proponent; in this time, she’s found a way to become a part of the thing that captivates her. 

As digital dreams devolve into nightmares and the world hyper-accelerates towards despotism and dystopia, it takes a cultural savante to make sense of this new age of disinformation. Someone to unglitch the simulation. Into this dissociative chaos arrives our antihero with a baby in her womb and a digital avatar by her side. She is flushed and feral. Even her enemies know she’s in love. 

Head full of hooks and throat full of screams, she flits across the retinas of our apocalyptic vision, singing songs of AI overlords and climate crisis. Her latest offering, Miss Anthropocene, is high-tech pop, produced in alien HD with the spectral energy of a forest rave right before sunrise. The mood is melancholic, brooding and hypnotic, languishing in the intersection of Smashing Pumpkins and Burial. Angsty nu-metal guitar riffs vibrate with waves of overwhelming emotion, like when the molly first hits, before breaking into a folky, country twang. Grimes’s devilish genius lies in her precisely engineered details, in little spaces filled with strange samples and mangled sounds like she’s chewing on vocals. Her baby coo is like a fanged doll, reminding us there is violence in innocence. 

The angel-winged, demon-eyed alter-ego – which hatched on its own social media accounts in ­January and grows up on the page here – is WarNymph. The idea: to separate Grimes’s digital persona from her humanity, allowing herself to step out of the spotlight and into the role she says she feels more ­comfortable in: CEO of Grimes™.

Maybe WarNymph will vanquish her trolls for ever. No more cranky critics taking her quotes out of context, no more industry pigs doubting her ­production talent, no more haters trying to cast her into the cancel-verse. In this timeline, maybe the ­villain turns out to be the hero from the future, whose ­misunderstood messages have been warped by time travel. Think of how many times we give birth to new versions of ourselves in the hope that, with enough beta-testing, we can upgrade our models.

The experiment already proves why Grimes is one of the most fascinating figures of our generation: a DIY punk-raver in late 00s Montreal who started out in clubs and ended up in the belly of the techno-futurist beast, sneaking sonic subversion into suburbia with Top 40 songs about AI commanding your submission. Imminent annihilation never sounded so dope” she sings, like a cyber Enya delivering an elegy at the end of the world. On this point she cannot be refuted. When the tidal waves come to sweep us into oblivion, that’s when we dance.

Do you think of WarNymph as a social experiment, conceptual art, or something else? 

WarNymph is my digital avatar, aka my digital self. Everyone is living two lives: their digital life and their offline life. I want to untether my two lives from each other for mental-health purposes, haha. And also for fun. 

When you see manipulated images on social media, it’s a middle world between real and synthetic. In games, people are living full, complex lives in preferable worlds and bodies. 

The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us… For example, the digital body can age, die, respawn, change her face… There’s so much identity potential! My human self is much more limited. So there’s that simple, creative aspect. 

I’m also pregnant. Having a digital body allows me to keep working throughout the later stages of my pregnancy, and after I have my baby, so I can spend more time with them. It’s hard for me to do photoshoots and fit into clothes at the moment, but WarNymph is here in your magazine promoting my album for me, haha. So another one of its functions is like… techno-feminism or something. A lot of my friends aren’t having babies because they’re worried about their careers, and we wanted to find a way to overcome this issue. 

Another aspect of this is that we want to experiment in public and have the creative process be part of the art. Mac Boucher (who is my creative partner on this and handles the technical execution) and I have been wanting to do this for years, but we didn’t have the resources to compete with the more advanced avatars. 

So eventually we decided that instead of making the perfect thing behind closed doors and debuting a finished product, you’ll see Version 1, Version 2, etc. She’ll start as a baby, age (she seems like she’s currently a teenager), die and come back better (as a new baby: Version 2). We’ll eventually figure out how to graduate to moving images and face-tracking and stuff. A big part of her story is that she’s in the lab. 

We also wanted to develop a new species that would be ready for the next evolution in media. Something that can transport our identities to worlds that simply can’t exist in reality. We’re looking at the way gaming is radically changing the creative landscape and want to find a way to bridge into that world without being tethered to only one game. If our identities can be digitised, what else can be? We’re exploring a lot of the theoretical and technical ways we can evolve in this space. 

  • The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.”  The avatar allows us to play to the strengths of digital existence rather than be a human trying to navigate a world that isn’t made for us.” 

You’ve written lots of songs from the perspectives of fictional characters, but WarNymph seems like a statement – and a repudiation of celebrity culture and the media, perhaps. What concepts and ­experiences inspired you to take this step?

It’s hard on the psyche to have so much negativity thrown your way on a daily basis via social media. I hear about how ugly or stupid or annoying I am every day… It’s sort of like being in an emotionally abusive relationship after a while. It takes a toll.

We need to start thinking about mental health hygiene”. I can’t leave this abusive relationship because it’s my job. So how do I make it better? In a video game there’s an avatar between myself and the monsters I’m fighting. We thought maybe we should try to work on this idea IRL. We do eventually want her to be playable, though.

WarNymph is a survival mechanism for the world I’m living in now. When you exist in public, as more and more of us are doing these days, you begin to lose yourself to this digital self. 

More people know your digital self than your real self. It creates a psychological dissonance, where you become less and less sure which one is the canonical” or true” self. If more people know the digital self, what does that mean about the physical self you live every day? 

I wanted to untether my digital self from my humanity. WarNymph can take on the burden of the new world. I can live more freely IRL

When did Grimes” as a persona first start to feel limiting? 

It always has been. Humans need to put humans in boxes. Therefore, I would like a non-human self that more easily escapes the boxes. 

Which concepts do you want to leave behind as you transition into your virtual self? What new ideas are you hoping to access in this new era? 

I just want more freedom. I love playing devil’s advocate, questioning my beliefs, making hard pivots. People can see this as disingenuous but it’s a core part of my personality. I don’t like to repeat myself, and I like to challenge what I think is true. 

Malleability is inherent to digital life. Delete, rewrite… much easier than erasing pencil. I think the way I am might be easier to digest behind a face that changes too. 

Is there any degree of trolling in the way you’re approaching this avatar? 

Hard to say. Can’t deny it. I knew being pregnant and starting her off as a baby would cause some trouble, haha. 

How would you compare WarNymph to other ­digital pop stars such as Lil Miquela, Hatsune Miku and Gorillaz? 

These are all great projects. WarNymph is probably most akin to Gorillaz, in the sense that the avatar is a cartoonish replication of the artist as opposed to a fully fictional being. 

We don’t want this character to be beholden to an ­executive board that scripts its development. We want it to represent growth in real time, both theoretically and technically. Theoretically it represents Grimes, and our belief in the purpose of avatars is to be the vehicle for self-expression. This will become more apparent as technology allows for more democratised real-time creation. Places such as VRChat will become richer, 3D sculpting will become more legitimate as an art form, and our digital identities will not disappear between the end of one game and the beginning of another.

Is there anything that a hologram performance can’t give that a flesh-and-bones pop star can – and vice versa? 

Yes, I think we all know the answer to that. The digital realm makes the real realm more rare and precious. It also offers escapism and perfection. Sometimes I want imperfection, real life. Sometimes I want perfection. 

You’ve been incredibly ­influential in shaping the ­current sound of pop ­music. What do you hope you’ll be remembered for as a musician? 

That’s kind of you to say. I just hope to be remembered at all. I think of all the incredible humans who shaped the world, and we can barely name any of them. 

Do you think it has become easier for women in the music industry to be taken seriously as producers, and has that enabled you to work with other producers without feeling like you’re losing credibility? 

It’s getting better. It’s a bit slow but that’s fine. I have always produced all my material on my own, it’s a huge part of my artistic identity. I think I will always need a project where I’m the sole producer. It’s important to continue to exist in that space as there are so few of us. 

But when I make the whole beat and then do all the vocals, I end up spending hundreds of hours on a song. It’s exhausting and ruins the magic. That’s why it was so hard to finish this last album.

So my solution going forward is to work on two EPs simultaneously. One where I get beats from people I dig and sing pop-star-style, and one where I make all the instrumentals and beats and get vocalists to feature. I think this way I won’t spend years trapped in self-imposed exile going insane trying to make a kick-drum perfect, but still retain my credibility, haha.

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You’ve gone from indie superstar to being at the centre of the mass media in the past two years. Has that felt totally disorienting? How do you cope? 

The whole thing has been a bit traumatic actually, haha. Cuz… it wasn’t necessarily purposeful. I should have known better, though. I should have been prepared. And I take responsibility for my choices, haha.

But I got into some crazy adventures and I can’t turn back the clock now, and that’s fine. The answer is always to create more and work harder. 

You’ve described motherhood as a war-like” and feral” state. Has that energy influenced the music you’re making? 

Weirdly, I’m not making a ton of music right now. I’m having an insane flow of ideas but I’m finding execution difficult. And execution is a huge part of making things. It’s easy to come up with ideas, hard to make them real. But I get tired way more easily and feel like I have much less to give. But it seems like an appropriate price to pay for manifesting a human soul. I’d be concerned if they weren’t taking a substantial portion of my life-force. I can’t stop reading about prehistory. I feel like a Neanderthal. 

What are some of the names you’re considering for your kid? 

I don’t want to say. But, annoyingly, some of the memes about my naming ideas are on point. (sigh)

What kind of a mum do you think you’ll be? Would you go raving with your kid? 

Children need to get into raving, but I don’t think I’ll rave with my kid… I don’t think kids and adults need to rave together. But I wish I had discovered dance music at an earlier age. I don’t have a problem with late bedtimes/​nocturnalism. Unless there’s some health risk I should know about. The baby has already been exposed to a lot of techno in the womb. 

I’ll probably have to send them to live in the woods with my grandpa periodically so they aren’t too spoiled. He’s very intense. Lots of physical labour in the cold and whatnot, haha. 

Rave culture has always been a huge influence on your work. What were the sickest and most formative raves you’ve ever been to, and why? 

We used to throw a lot of raves in Montreal, which were extremely influential for me. I’ve never seen anything like those days in Montreal. I don’t know if you could even call them raves, though. But yeah, Flow Child, Yamantaka Sonic Titan, Braids… art like I’ve never seen. And people really living it. My friend Kyle had the most incredible show I’ve ever seen. He lived in the jam space, mostly eating canned chickpeas. A lot of the bands from that time were never able to translate it to a recording, so it’s hard to describe to people who have never seen it. But it was everything to me. My time in that world ended badly… A lot of death and despair. So it’s hard to think about it, but it made me what I am.

You describe Miss_​Anthropocene as the ­goddess of climate change and have lyrics such as: I ­never trust the government/​and pray to God for sure” [from My Name Is Dark]. Can you talk a ­little about your spiritual beliefs? Do you ­believe in God? 

The existence of consciousness seems like God to me. 

I just read about this idea by [scientist, environ­mentalist and futurist] James Lovelock, which said intelligence is the means by which the universe expresses itself”, and for some reason that feels right to me. Maybe we’ve been looking outside ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer. The universe feels like this extremely vast, gorgeous undefinable thing… maybe we are her first words and thoughts. I like this idea. 

Or maybe we’re in a simulation that is more purposeful, being run by someone with a plan. As I get deeper, I become less sceptical of intelligent design. 

  • We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.”  We’ve been looking outside of ourselves for an answer, but perhaps we are the answer.” 

Who is your dream duet? 

The Greatest Singer in the Court of Cleopatra vs the Greatest Singer in the Court of Ghenghis Khan. Or Rosalía and Demis Roussos (RIP).

What’s the first thing you do on your phone when you wake up? 

LOL. Um. I open a meditation app. I won’t say which one cause it’s a controversial one. And I meditate. Sometimes I check my texts first but I always wake up super mad, so if I don’t meditate I send cranky texts. 

Would you rather go to Mars or upload your consciousness to the cloud? 

WOW, what a question. Ummmmm……….. I would very much like to do both of these things. Like, these are the main things I’m trying to do. I guess I’d like to upload my consciousness, and then when it’s technologically possible, have my consciousness live in some kind of humanoid vessel that can speak and move freely, and then that body can go to Mars and other planets with my mind inside it. 

Have you ever tried to trace your ancestry? 

No, I’ve been too much of a conspiracy theorist to try 23andMe, but I pretend I’m related to rococo painter François Boucher. However, this is unlikely. 

What do you think you’ll look like in 2069?

I just started the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov and noticed that one of the main characters was born 10,000 years after me, in 11,988, and died in 12,069. It gave me a weird feeling like I might die in 2069, meaning I’d die 10,000 years before him. So maybe I’ll be right about to die and look like whatever that might look like. I plan on biohacking a lot so, with any luck, I’ll be looking cool and die by execution. My ideal death is by firing squad. 

All clothing Balenciaga


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