Feb. 22 2012 03:16 PM

Montreal electro-pop act is getting lots of buzz

When will the critical backlash begin for Claire Boucher, aka Grimes?
Photo by Raphael Ouellet

Claire Boucher doesn’t have much time left.

In fact, by my calculation, she has one month, five days, 13 hours and 49 seconds. That’s how long it’s going to take before she gets just enough attention that the haters are going to start coming out of the woodwork. OK, so I made up the 13-hours-and- 49-seconds part. But there’s real science involved here. Bear with me.

Boucher performs self-produced electro-pop under the name Grimes. From Montreal, she was nurtured in the underground-music scene but didn’t have much experience making music until she started messing around with musician friends’ equipment two years ago. Her enjoyable, if stylistically unfocused, mixtapes spread like wildfire in the blogosphere.

“I always wanted to [make music], but I just figured it wouldn’t happen, because I didn’t have any idea how anyone made music,” Boucher says, speaking by phone just as she’s about to head to Europe on tour. “I just gravitated toward the party scene, and everyone there was making music, so I just kind of watched other people and picked it up.”

Taking in a hodgepodge of influences, Grimes has a true love for the craft.

“Hip-hop and R&B are the music I listen to the most, so there’s a lot of that in there,” she says, but then cites influences as varied as Enya, Mariah Carey, Outkast and Nine Inch Nails. “The essence of Grimes is that I really love making music. I think that people can definitely hear in the music when the artist is making it because they really want to, and that’s hugely important to me. You can hear the motivation.”

But what is it that makes her the holy-tight-jeans-Batman-you-gotta-hear-this artist of the moment?

First, her music is unique—she has the edginess of M.I.A. and the playful spirit of Yelle, and her voice sounds like a pre-pubescent Lykke Li’s (whom Grimes toured with last year). Second, she’s gorgeous—barely 23, she has model looks and a fashion sense that she calls “a dirty shitshow” but more resembles a hipster chic show. Lastly, most of her songs are highly danceable—and who doesn’t like to dance, besides Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham?

By the time you read this, writers at taste-making indie-music strongholds like Pitchfork and Stereogum will likely have fogged up their vintage-frame glasses over the new Grimes album, Visions, which came out this week on legendary indie label 4AD. But the honeymoon may soon be over.

To determine when indie-music backlash begins, I spent almost an entire day running Google searches on 23 different artists who’ve been in buzz-worthy positions (including hip-hop artists G-Side and Odd Future, folk artists Kurt Vile and The Civil Wars and electro acts James Blake and Skrillex), using search terms like “Lykke Li backlash” and “Skrillex sucks” (a lot of hits on that one). I found that it takes, on average, one month and five days for the hating to begin after the artist first got love from a major website or publication. The praise is still being doled out for these artists, often by noteworthy publications, but just as many people are talking mad shit about them.

Take Lana Del Rey as the most recent example. Things started getting messy for the indie songstress after Pitchfork wrote about her breakout single, “Video Games,” in early August. The backlash reached a saturation point in October, with more than a dozen posts on various blogs and websites blasting her tepid performances, rudimentary musical skills and even her face (did she have collagen injections?). Still, the bad press might’ve helped her in the end, since she signed a joint deal with Interscope and Polydor that same month. Her new album, Boto Die, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart.

With Grimes, it’s safe to assume that not everybody will like Visions—whether it’s because of the high-pitched wails on songs like “Eight,” the Burial-esque minimalism of “Circumambient” or the way she all but completely rips off the beat from “When Doves Cry” on her track “Colour Moonlight (Antiochus).”

Still, Grimes doesn’t give a shit. The haters might decry her age and inexperience, not to mention the fact that she’s unwilling to collaborate with anyone. (“I have a really hard time sacrificing creative control,” she says). But she didn’t set out to become the next big thing or fashion icon. Ultimately, the more interesting study will be down the road, seeing whether all the attention (both positive and negative) changes her approach.

“I would never do anything except exactly what I want,” she says. “I want the music to mean something to me personally right now, so when I perform it, it just doesn’t feel like some empty, stupid thing that I can use to justify my career.”

Grimes plays with born Gold and Divers at Soda Bar on Saturday, Feb. 25. Email editor@sdcitybeat.com or follow Seth on Twitter at @combsseth.