Last fall, inconnu had Crush Week around the same time I saw Grimes perform in our mutual hometown, Vancouver. It was an exceptional performance, with Elite Gymnastics (also from Vancouver) opening. Because she was performing at the renowned Commodore Ballroom, where she recalled seeing many shows as a teenager, the show had a personal touch. She also made a special shout out to her mom, who was watching her daughter from somewhere at the back of the venue over the heads of sweaty people and the smell of weed; since her mom is a well-known Vancouver city councillor, this was as funny as it was sweet.
Grimes is one of the most compelling performers imaginable – she’s cute and awkward and real, and also brilliant and in-control. I could watch her for hours. “I have a girl crush on her,” I gushed after we had left. I’d taken several blurry photos of her on stage and another of my friend holding a rose that Elite Gymnastics had given him with the intention of making a post for inconnu about my newest girl crush. I lost my camera cord and then midterms happened; I wrote 4 painful linguistics exams and nothing about Grimes.
Then this past spring she wrote a post on her personal Tumblr in which she turned my praise of her on its head and made me adore her more, but in a different way: in the way that she wanted.
I believe this is an important feminist message: women should be seen as they want to be seen, not as others, or, in particular, as men see them. There was an episode of CBC Radio’s The Current earlier this year about selfies, in which an argument for selfies was that girls and women can be seen exactly how they want to be seen. We can choose the angle and the filter and the medium through which we share it. This argument is comforting if you’ve ever seen a photo of yourself that you didn’t like and were told “but that’s actually how you look!” when it just wasn’t how you wanted to look. It’s also the truth. Untag the photos you don’t want and Instagram the ones you do. There is nothing wrong with that.
With this in mind, I read her post carefully, and I found that I related to her asking to be seen how she wants to be seen. She starts her post by stating that she doesn’t want her words to be taken out of context. That she doesn’t want to be infantilized because she refuses to be sexualized. That she is tired of the insistence that she needs a band or that she needs to work with outside producers. (She performs alone and produces her own work.) That she doesn’t want to be belittled because she likes pop music or fashion. That she is tired of being referred to as cute, “even when the author, fan, friend, family member, etc. is being positive.” These are the statements that resonated with me, especially the last one, because I called her cute when I saw her, and I also completely understand where she’s coming from in renouncing cuteness.
“Cute,” as she defines it, means being attractive because of smallness or prettiness or preciousness. We should be able to choose adjectives like we choose selfies. Cute isn’t necessarily a negative word – I have never felt offended for being called cute, which is probably the reason I didn’t think twice about attributing it to Grimes. Still, if someone feels that being called cute implies docility and creates unwanted sexualization, we should respect that. She is more than just a girl crush for me now; I found that her thoughts resonated with me like those of Virginia Woolf and Lorrie Moore and many others have before. And this makes sense, as the people we love and adore are often the ones who inform and influence us the most.
Also, I’ve been listening to Genesis on repeat while working (typing), and I highly recommend it.
Art by Emma.
Editor’s Note: Emma edited out Grimes’ bindi in this illustration thanks to the astute comment from Eileen Klug.