There ought to be a German compound word for ‘an artist working primarily in popular music, but for whom their music videos, album art, clothes, iconography and general sense of style are almost as important’.
‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ comes close, although that describes the art itself, not the artist. Anyway, if there isn’t a German word, there’s definitely an Icelandic one: Björk. But others include Madonna, Prince, Lady Gaga, Janelle Monae… and Canadian musician, songwriter, record producer and visual artist Grimes.
One of the things that I find so exciting about music at the moment is that more and more people are able to do this, and do it without a record company (and the crippling financial model that means that the artist is unwittingly borrowing money to pay for everything, and doesn’t even keep ownership of the product).
To be honest, it took me a bit of time to decide whether I really liked Grimes’s work. As an artist I thought she was awesome and clearly breaking new ground, but I was struggling to find a song that I would actually listen to on loop for pleasure. But Flesh Without Blood did it (with Kill vs MAIM close behind).
And then it occurred to me that maybe I was approaching it with the wrong attitude. I had been saying to myself: “When you strip away the music video, the imagery, the postures, the clothes… how good is the actual song?” And then it occurred to me that you can’t strip away those things, any more than you might just strip away the bass line. They all form part of the overall work. And when you’re not looking for the meaning (literal or emotional) in just the music, it all makes much more sense.
But yeah, I’m undecided what to call that work. In the old days I would have said that the work was the ‘pop star’. But Grimes doesn’t strike me as a traditional ‘pop star’. (Neither did Björk, to be fair.)
This feels like something new. Which feels like a good thing.
Other Current Favourite Track: