Photo Credit/Phillip Nguyen
In light of the anticipated October album release of acclaimed Canadian artist Grimes, alongside her co-signing to Jay Z’s Roc Nation, we are reminded of a poignant starting point in her career. Her acclaimed single “Oblivion” is a reflection of her experience with sexual violence. The single speaks to those who have ever felt detached and dissociated from their environment following such a traumatic experience. Rather than making it a passive subject in her identity, it is a deliberate current beneath her music that marks a reclaiming of power and autonomy. It is a personal anthem that unapologetically whispers into each listener, “I exist. I’m alive.”
Reflecting on this piece of work, there are direct parallels to a particular desire in every artist’s life: creative independence. The ability to bypass censorship guidelines and expose the rawest emblems in one's life is essential to being an authentic creator. However, there is a tepidness in current society to take advantage of any sort of intellectual independence. In an increasingly networked world where any shareable content is susceptible to social media policing, it is almost impossible to voice an opinion about anything that has opposable beliefs. The prevalence of outrageous clickbait writing with uninformed opinions and broad generalizations are what cloud informed discussion and debate. If we as creators are constantly inhibited by what makes other people uncomfortable, we are in danger of becoming static.
Censorship is what kills creative ambition. Grimes is an artist who does not deny the intention of her music, and this is what makes her a strong artist in her own right. But what if she did not have that privilege? What if she was expected to obscure aspects of her life and pacify her intended original meaning? Must we be hyper aware of what we say and what we do to keep from triggering the thousand different communities in our world?
The answer is sadly a double-edged sword that is difficult to navigate. By claiming that everyone must be aware of their cultural and social responsibility within their work, it can create an avenue for people to disseminate what is and isn’t allowed to be discussed. The other end is that without that kind of control, power structures are given room to prevail without consequence.
The reality of the situation is that with the free agent that is social media, people are allowed to say whatever they want anyways and censorship is an empty phrase. To see how much this perceived censorship may be infecting our lives, look to Tanya Tagaq’s Polaris Prize speech. Tagaq, an Inuk singer, accepted her award with an unexpected jab at PETA’s support for bans on seal hunting by promoting Indigenous seal consumption and hunting.
While this may seem unrelated, like many artists, she chose this moment of impact in her career to shock her audience with something that she cared about. What is curious is that Tagaq was rebuked for speaking out by PETA and the general public, as if her passion for the impoverished Indigenous communities who thrive on seal meat is not permitted because it does not converge with widespread opinion. Tagaq spoke from an informed and intelligent place but was also driven by an anger that many feel when millions aren’t afforded a voice that should be heard. It is embossed in her music and her identity, and that marks a real artist.
This intersectionality can be drawn up to question the recent Nicki Minaj/Miley Cyrus controversy, which, pushing aside all the exacerbated drama on social media, spoke to a problematic dynamic in the music industry. Minaj’s expression of frustration towards tone-policing and internalized racism came from her own personal experience in the business. Cyrus rebutting that statement and twisting it as an attack on her is a more subtle iteration of the censorship that many artists face. Very simply, the moment that someone else voicing their experiences makes you uncomfortable is where you must check your privilege and your scope to accept wider opinions.
Where can we stand then as these female musicians take over the world with their stories and with their prior “baggage?” While it’s imperative to be thoughtful, it is not imperative to censor your lived experiences and opinions to prevent the discomfort of others. We should encourage young artists to inform themselves, but also create without fear. To allow their pain or their observations to be voiced, not subdued.
Grimes said something unexpectedly simple yet powerful in speaking of her single “Oblivion.” She stated, “I can’t censor myself. I needed to make this song.” She followed her impulse. So follow your fear, follow your trepidations and follow the moments that speak to you. Grimes’s most recent effort, the title unknown, will be released this October, and we cannot wait.