You could say Grimes was born to be an environmentalist. When she was a baby, her mom strapped her to her back and then fastened herself to a tree to prevent it from being cut down. These days, the Canadian musician, who no longer goes by Grimes in her personal life but by her nickname, c (the initial of her first name, Claire, styled in lowercase italics), has annihilation on the brain. Last year, she declared her intention to “kill Grimes soon” in a “public execution.” In February, she released her concept album Miss Anthropocene, centered on an anthropomorphic goddess of climate change—a super villain who sings that “imminent annihilation sounds so dope.”
c has always been interested in politics, and the environment has long been a theme in her music. Rather presciently, in 2010 she named her debut album, Geidi Primes, after the fictional planet in Dune—a 1965 science fiction novel, and one of her favorite books—that has been destroyed by heavy industry. But last year, c went through a six-month period where she couldn’t engage with the news about the state of the world without feeling paralyzed by guilt and anxiety. “I needed to zone out,” c says. “It was becoming too painful for my mental health.”
She knew that turning a blind eye was no way to confront the climate crisis, though, so she focused on making it more palatable. She thought of Greta Thunberg’s appeal (“She’s like a kid, so it’s so much less painful to hear [from her] than from a scientist,” c says) and of the villains in her favorite comics, and soon, an idea was born. “I thought it’d be cool to make [climate change] a cartoon to make it more digestible,” c says.“This sounds super cynical, but when it comes to issues in society, branding and having good spokespeople does help.” So she brainstormed who her version of the Joker would be—like, “Who’s the Heath Ledger of climate change?”
In Miss Anthropocene, c creates a pantheon of new gods for our social ills: plastic, fast fashion, and social media, among others. “I’ve had a lot of friends die from opioid-related causes,” she says, “so there’s a goddess of opioids, a goddess of deep fakes....” Each goddess gets her own song; listening to them may require a sophisticated understanding of irony. “It’s totally possible that I’m doing a counterproductive, negative thing, but my fanbase is pretty woke in general,” c says. “I don’t feel a particular fear that anyone will hear it and be like, ‘Wow, climate change rules.’ ” Still, flipping the narrative by “making climate change cool” through the point of view of a super villain is a risky artistic maneuver, and c expects to be misunderstood. “People are pretty mad at me most of the time anyway, so I’m down with getting my hands dirty,” she says.
Lately, c’s ideas have been breaching the limits of her musical career. She and her creative partner, Mac Boucher, have been exploring the album’s characters in a related comic book, “but I don’t think it’s ready for daylight at the moment,” she says, laughing. c’s also been thinking about fashion—which she “really, really loves and cares about”—in terms of sustainability. “It’s scary and kind of disturbing to realize this thing that’s a huge passion of yours is so destructive for the environment,” she says. “It should definitely be at the top of everyone’s mind to solve this.”
Her solution: digital fashion, specifically using augmented reality to “wear” clothing items online. “The phone is pretty good at face mapping, and it will have pretty good body map-ping and motion capture soon,” c says. “When that technology is available, you’ll be able to have a dress mapped onto your body.” Think of it as Instagram’s face filters for your body, or paper dolls 2.0. “Digital fashion won’t replace real fashion—you can’t wear it out in the world—but I do think a lot of fashion exists just for social media,” she says. As fashion becomes more environmentally friendly, it is also likely to become more expensive, which is another problem digital fashion could solve.“If you could sell a digital coat or dress for, like, $2, it would actually end up democratizing fashion,” c says.
In the real world, c is committed to recycling clothes and repeating outfits. “This whole thing where you have a different outfit for every red carpet—we’re glamorizing extreme consumption,” she says. “There have definitely been times when I wore the same thing for a few different events, and people were like, ‘Oh my God, Grimes wore the same dress again,’ and I was like, ‘It’s good to wear the same dress again, guys.’ ”
Recently, c confirmed she’s pregnant and that the father is boyfriend Elon Musk, the cofounder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. She says their shared passion for the environment brought them together, and that the fate of the planet factored into her decision to have a child. “It definitely comes into your mind,” she says. “With nuclear war, artificial intelligence, and climate change looming...we’ve become so technologically advanced that we might actually end our own civilization.”
It’s “freaky,” she says, but she remains optimistic—and, if nothing else, procreating is great motivation: “Having a kid makes me want to work harder to make the world better.”
Styled by Arianne Phillips. Hair by Chanel Croker for R+Co. Makeup by Natasha Severino at Forward Artists. Manicures by Alex Jachno for Tom Ford Beauty. Set design by Jack Flanagan at The Wall Group. Produced by Nathalie Akiya at Kranky Produktions.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of ELLE.
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