In your videos this year, you played with these clichés of powerful and powerless female archetypes. What was that about?
I was interested in the Japanese archetype of a female protagonist who is very small and very cute and very physically powerful. You don’t see that archetype in America. But in Japanese culture, there are female characters who can embody this girl uniform and still cut someone’s head off with a sword. “Oblivion” embodies that kind of archetype, going into this masculine world that is associated with sexual assault, but presented as something really welcoming and nice. The song’s sort of about being — I was assaulted and I had a really hard time engaging in any types of relationship with men, because I was just so terrified of men for a while.
Is it important for you to discuss what “Oblivion” is about?
It would be intense if it were an overwhelming part of my image. I can’t censor myself; it’s really important for me to say how I feel. I needed to put out this song. I needed to make this song. I took one of the most shattering experiences of my life and turned it into something I can build a career on and that allows me to travel the world. I play it live every night. The whole process has been positive — engaging with that subject matter and making it into something good.
Jessica Hopper did a really wonderful interview with Grimes, and I think the above part in particular is revelatory. “Oblivion” is my favorite song of the year by a mile (and my most-played song on iTunes EVER, I should add), but after reading this interview I feel like I just listened to it for the first time. I’ve never heard Claire explicitly say before that the song is about sexual assault (/just walking around in this constant mindframe of fear/paranoia that all female-identified/queer ppl are told to inhabit), and to me that just puts such a chilling and poignant l cast over so many of its lyrics. “Someone could break your neck, coming up behind you always coming and you never have a clue.” “Always looking straight, thinking counting all the hours you wait.” “See you in the dark night.” (OK, so like every fucking line in the song basically.)
I can see people (and hell, I sort of used to think of the song this way too) thinking there’s something kind of fey and and sweet and crushstruck about “Oblivion” (“I need someone else to look into my eyes and tell me girl you know you gotta watch your health”), but as she says in the interview, people have a tendency to infantilize the meaning of her songs and image. That is something she’s had to grapple with. I’m still processing and will probably have more to say about this someday, but all of this feels really significant to me, and further proof that — I see u h8rs — Grimes is a really brave, exciting and important artist.