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From Stankonia to Beyonce: The 5 albums that changed Grimes' life

“I don’t wanna be just the face of this thing that I built, I wanna be the one who built it” – Grimes

With the advent of artists like Joni Mitchell, Beyonce and so on in the music scene, the erstwhile male-dominated industry saw a rise in the number of strong independent women who refused to bow down to its patriarchal dictates. With the changing times, more and more women have spoken up about what it feels like to be a part of the industry that, on the surface, celebrates them, but out of the sight of the public’s eye is completely brutal.

Claire Elise Boucher, or as we know her professionally, Grimes, is one of the most celebrated female musicians of recent years, not just for her musical prowess but for how she, much like Mitchell and Beyonce, refused to let her voice as a woman be silenced in a male-dominated society.

Grimes, in her own right, proved that she was more than just the wife of a billionaire and the mother to their child. She is her own person – a musician and a woman, learned, bold and independent, who has strong opinions about the inherent bias that worked within the music industry and did her best to change the normalised sexist construct.

Having said that, Grimes is as much a musician as she was an advocate for gender equality and equity. A pop star and a role model for the younger and older generation alike, Grimes’ music treads the lines between mainstream pop and indie, often challenging the demarcations and at other times completely overturning them.

Grimes’ style ranges across and incorporates various sounds – from pop and its sub-genres to R&B, hip hop, and electronic music. Grimes’ rise to fame followed the release of her third studio album, Visions, in 2012, which included her hit single ‘Oblivion’. Her inclination towards producing her own record and making an album solely by her own efforts manifested itself in Art Angels, one of Grimes’s most striking examples as not just a vocalist but as an instrumentalist, producer and engineer. Recording and producing an album singlehandedly is no mean feat. Still, Grimes carried it with stride, and her endeavours bore fruit with Art Angels achieving acclaim from the critics and audience alike.

We take a look at five of Grimes’ favourite albums of all time that influenced and impacted her musical style and, in many ways, changed her life as well.

5 albums that changed Grimes’ life

OutKast — Stankonia

Grimes kicked off the list with the first album she ever bought as a barely teenage kid – Stankonia by the American hip hop duo OutKast. Released in 2000, the album touched upon a wide variety of topics such as politics, misogyny, sexuality and African-American culture. The sound of the album, too, was just as diverse. Along with hip hop, it also ranged over the genres of funk, gospel, salsa, doo-wop and so on.

Grimes recalled how, when she initially brought the album home, she was taken aback by the album art which had a “psychedelic naked woman on the CD”. She further said, “I was utterly terrified because I’d never seen a naked woman before and I knew that if my parents saw the CD, they would take it away.” Grimes did eventually get around to hearing it and “it was fucking fantastic, idiosyncratic, sonically diverse and super weird”, she said, “opened my mind in more ways than one”.

Tool — Aenima

“It’s a staple to my existence, I feel musically inadequate next to it” is how Grimes felt about this next album on her list. Released in 1996, American rock band Tool’s second album Aenima was one of the more intricate albums Grimes had ever come across. She said, “This album is such a puzzle, rhythmically, melodically… so complex”. The complexity, as she put it, was something that could only be enjoyed by someone who knew the album well.

Grimes owed her knack for including interludes on her records to this album. Aenima had some pretty fantastic and inspirational interludes, the kind that imbibed the idea into her mind to incorporate interludes in her own music as well. An ideal example of blurring the lines between the different music styles, Grimes said, “I think the idea of alternative music with technically proficient vocals was really introduced to me by this album. Or that singing beautifully and screaming can coexist”.

Beyonce — Beyonce

Beyonce’s eponymous fifth studio album was released in 2013 and was one of the most honest and poignant records by a female musician, especially with its themes. Beyonce’s asserted her freedom as a creative artist while dealing with subjects of sex, monogamous love and so on, all of which was done with a sincere feminist outlook. Beyonce made Grimes do something that she hadn’t done in the longest time: “I downloaded the whole thing [the album] and listened to it front and back. Afterwards I realised I hadn’t done that in almost two years”.

Grimes continued that this album revitalised the idea of listening to the album (any album, really) as a whole singular piece for her and set a yardstick for her own releases. The singer continued: “When I’m working on my mixes and engineering, I usually test my tracks next to this record because it just sounds so incredible.” Grimes also admitted how “I’ve almost crashed my car more than once jamming to this record”. While we wouldn’t recommend going so deep into the album while driving, we relate to Grimes’ sentiment.

Panda Bear — Person Pitch

Grimes chanced upon this album when she had just started on her own musical career. It was a time when she didn’t really know how songwriting worked in any formal sense, nor did she have much music knowledge. Until that point, Grimes had only made “weird atonal drone music with no sense of songwriting” to the point where it all “seemed like a mystery”. So this album was really the record that taught her the basics — Music 101.

Grimes owed her development as a songwriter to Panda Bear’s third studio album Person Pitch. This album consisted of striking lyrics that Noah Lennox (the person behind Panda Bear) composed after being inspired by his personal journey through marriage, fatherhood and subsequent immigration. Grimes described how her songwriting process was greatly improved after listening to this album: “I guess it seriously jumpstarted my mind in a freaky way,” she said.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs — Fever To Tell

A seminal moment of indie-rock history, much of what Grimes shifted her interest to later on in her musical career, went back to this one record she listened to for years on end, but had no clue what it was called or who the artist behind it was.

According to Grimes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever To Tell was gifted to her on tape by a friend and it was one of those albums that made a huge impact on her – not because of the artist’s fame but simply because the sound resonated with her.

This album was monumental for Grimes because it was the first time that she had heard female-fronted alternative music permeate the airwaves. Karen O’s vocals instilled in her a deep passion for alternate music and later formulated Grimes herself as a frontwoman for the alternative genre. Her first time listening to the album was just as significant: “I put it into my Walkman and walked home from school, and my mind was completely blown to bits. I will distinctly remember that moment for the rest of my life.”

Grimes favourite albums of all time:

  • OutKast – Stankonia
  • Tool – Aenima
  • Beyonce – Beyonce
  • Panda Bear – Person Pitch
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever To Tell