When I was fourteen, I spent most nights sleepily combing through the Wikipedia pages of new Spotify artists I’d encountered. I didn’t know much about music, so I broadened my horizons by scouring Wikipedia for “cool” musicians and stored mental notes when I stumbled upon interesting snippets of information.
And boy, did Grimes’s Wikipedia page slap a bright yellow sticky note on my mental bulletin board. I was scrolling down to her discography when I came across a story that seemed too outlandish to be true.
In 2009, Grimes and her college friend William Gratz traveled 25 hours from Montréal to Bemidji, Minnesota, where they spent a month building a houseboat on a friend’s property. Their goal was to sail the boat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, Huckleberry Finn style––which, ironically, neither of them had read. To prepare for the journey, they painted elaborate murals on the walls, shed their identities for the more adventurous names Veruschka and Zelda Xox, and filled the vessel with live chickens, twenty pounds of potatoes, and a sewing machine.
Unfortunately, soon after their departure, the engine failed––and Boucher and Gratz spent three frantic weeks trying to fix the boat and ward off police. Eventually, after several attempts by the Minneapolis police to thwart their plans, the city spotted the docked houseboat, loaded the behemoth onto a trailer, and drove it away for good. “I love the idea of the Tom Sawyer adventure,” said Minneapolis police officer Rob Mooney in an interview with The Star Tribune. “The problem is that it’s not 1883. You can’t do that anymore. You have to follow the rules.”
Even though the trip wasn’t a successful one, I was impressed by their insane yet ambitious efforts. The journey was fumbly and fueled by youthful idealism, tinged with an earnest desire for adventure that signaled something magical about Boucher. She was the kind of woman who dreamed up an idea, crafted a plan, and stuck to it until the chaotic end. Given my fascination with idiosyncratic and unwaveringly committed people, it’s unsurprising that the river-journey-gone-wrong led me straight to her music.
While the houseboat fiasco was why I was brought into Boucher’s world, it wasn’t quite why I stayed. For years, I admired how she preferred to produce studio albums herself, something I learned was labor-intensive and relatively uncommon in mainstream music. She was also a vocal advocate for female artists struggling to maintain creative control in an industry that claims to support female autonomy but refuses to authorize it. These principles cemented my identity as a Grimes fan––she covered all of her creative bases, advanced her career on her own terms, and made sure to pull other women up with her.
Flash forward to 2020, and being one of Boucher’s supporters isn’t so easy to rationalize anymore. After beginning a relationship with Tesla CEO Elon Musk in 2018, many of her long-held beliefs have grown ambiguous and enmeshed with his own. In their first appearance as a couple at the Met Gala, she wore a choker co-designed by Musk that resembled a Tesla logo.
Soon after, she drew criticism for quietly removing the phrase “anti-imperialist” from her Twitter bio. While it was temporarily readded, likely in response to the backlash she faced, it was among the first signs that Grimes’s relationship with Musk meant she was beginning to mirror––and perhaps actually subscribe to––his capitalistic, neo-colonial, and generally erratic worldview.
While fans were frustrated by both of these instances, many were willing to shrug them off until Boucher publicly defended Musk over his hefty GOP donations on Twitter. She jumped to defend a report that revealed he had given almost seven times more money to Republican-affilitated committees and campaigns than Democrats since 2017, saying:
“every aerospace company has to donate to republicans in order to function. in fact most major companies across the board do, in some capacity. it’s the price of doing business in america. e donates way more money, like absurdly more, to environmental causes”
It would be unfair to expect all of my favorite musicians to promote progressive politics, but hearing the phrase “it’s the price of doing business in America” from Grimes is uniquely gut-punching––and wrapped within a larger, more unfortunate shift in her messaging. How can the same woman who used her first taste of fame to hold an auction benefiting an organization that fights violence against Indigenous women now say that business and morality are transactional, that they can’t exist in the same space?
Fans have expressed disdain toward the comment and lamented the disparity between her past and present ideologies for the past two years. However, I occasionally step back from this grip of frustration and imagine how restrictive it would feel to be in a relationship with the self-obsessed billionaire entrepreneur––let alone to raise a child with him. And when Boucher gave birth to their baby on May 5th, I no longer had to imagine what this life might look like for her; the reality played out right in front of me on Twitter.
Tension between the couple started brewing online almost immediately, mere hours after Boucher gave birth. Grimes posted a tweet explaining the child’s perplexing name, X Æ A-12, in which she clarified that the A-12 is a precursor to the couple’s favorite aircraft, the SR-17. Soon after, Musk called out a trivial numerical error she’d made in his reply: “SR-71, but yes.” Grimes hit back by hinting at the unnecessary nature of the message in her response, reminding him that she was “recovering from surgery and barely alive.”
Musk’s domineering, egotistical inclinations aren’t a shock to anyone, but it’s alarming to see him interact with Grimes in a way that is entirely devoid of affection or understanding, especially while she’s recovering from childbirth. While I feel sympathy for her, it’s hard to understand why Boucher has been willing to acquiesce to their unequal and vaguely condescending relationship dynamic since the very beginning.
While I’m still making sense of Grimes’s developing conservatism and ruminating on whether continuing to support her work is ethical or not, I know many fans aren’t thinking about that––they’re simply disheartened. She built her platform on left-wing, feminist ideals nearly as much as she built it on her music, and such a jarring shift in politics means that the heart of her work doesn’t resonate as strongly anymore. The sentiment that you can separate art from the artist has merit in some cases, but with Boucher’s work, the two have always been so intertwined that separating them feels empty and disingenuous.
Fans looked up to Grimes not only as a musician, but as a role model whose art and ideology were perfectly aligned. And while I understand that beliefs almost never remain static, it’s difficult to support someone who has almost entirely shed the political beliefs and individual voice that garnered her admiration in the first place. Just like Boucher resigned herself to the belief that GOP donations are the price of doing business in America, the cost of remaining a Grimes supporter is accepting that the Elon Musk-sized barrier between Boucher and her former convictions is, sadly, here to stay.
By Avery Matteo
Illustration by Damien Jeon