I don’t necessarily think about Elon Musk and Grimes a lot, but I do enjoy looking at the memes. When the pair made their debut as a couple at the Met Gala, a highly specific corner of the internet erupted in confused laughter. What the hell was the Tesla CEO turned self-styled Twitter troll doing with one of the icons of modern indie music? At that moment, with Grimes dressed in an outfit Musk had designed for her (complete with a meta choker shaped like the Tesla logo), the pair seemed aesthetically matched in a way that nothing else about them was. The jokes wrote themselves. The meme I think about the most from this period is one that compares Musk and Grimes (real name Claire Boucher) to Ramona Flowers and her final evil ex in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Gideon Graves, played by Jason Schwartzman, is a record executive and Ramona Flowers’s most controlling ex, a man of immense wealth and smarm who has implanted her with a mind-control device.
someone on tumblr said this was elon musk and grimes and i haven’t known peace since pic.twitter.com/p1Dixd9FYa— beesechurger (@adurhur) August 9, 2020
The message was clear: Free Grimes.
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@elonmusk and @grimes took a spin in the Greek and Roman galleries after dancing to @madonna’s legendary surprise performance. #metgala Directed by @bardiazeinali DP @kellyjeffrey Movement @mettenarrative Steadicam @yoshisteadiop Production @prodn_artandcommerce Edit & Post Production @modern.post @modern.post Music @th3oryhazit
Some celebrity couples are designed to be ignored, others are perfectly pleasant or eminently rootable. Then there are those that suck out all the oxygen in the room, the kind of (im)perfectly paired figures who you cannot help but instinctively react to, be it for petty reasons or something much deeper. Think Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton, or Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson. Mr. Musk and Ms. Boucher feel cut from that familiar cloth, albeit in a far more publicly performative fashion than even those two pairs, each of whom seemed to delight in the open display of romance. It’s not as though you see the pair walking a lot of red carpets together or doing cheesecake photo shoots and interviews for tabloids. Their relationship is something much more tiresome: A Twitter trolling come to life. When I asked my Twitter followers for their thoughts on Musk and Grimes as a couple, the responses were near-universally ones of bafflement and tedium.
It’s not hard to see why. There’s a real air of try-hard emanating from both people separately and that’s only been made agonizingly more potent by their union. He’s a literal billionaire and self-styled messiah of Silicon Valley who acts like a Bond villain without the charisma; she’s a genre-blending Pitchfork-endorsed musician who once tried to sail a houseboat down the Mississippi River until it was impounded by the city of Minneapolis. Together, they have a child named X Æ A-Xii and neither of them can agree on how it’s pronounced.
A lot of conversations surrounding the pair focus on the notion that Grimes is just too cool for Musk, a man who is straining furiously to be an icon of hip in the same manner as youth pastors using Minecraft metaphors to talk about how God is the real builder. Every time I see that video of him trying to look cool smoking pot on Joe Rogan’s podcast, I can’t help but feel a whole lot better about my own shortcomings by comparison.
To music lovers, Grimes is cool, but that reputation took a serious beating once she shacked up with Musk. She was repeatedly dragged for removing ‘anti-imperialist’ from her Twitter bio once the relationship went public. Arguments over what constitutes an artist ‘selling out’ are commonplace and often nonsensical to the point of meaninglessness, but it’s far-too-easy to see why Grimes going from experimental rebel to Mrs. Musk would leave a bad taste in the mouths of her fans. She even lamented/joked in interviews that ‘love is the thing that’s fucking up my career’ and that her ‘reputation is at an all-time low’ thanks to her relationship. Nobody seems to hate Grimes’s status as a future Mrs. Musk more than her mother, an added layer of public drama that only further cements the couple’s status as a messy sideshow that would be much more entertaining if it weren’t so bloody exhausting.
Musk has been hugely propagandized over the years, from blindly glowing biographies to having an entire episode of The Simpsons centered on how wonderful he is. He has had a lot of help in this department but it’s also something he’s actively sought for himself. Nowadays, however, he is aiming for a different kind of crowd by remolding himself as a cross between Joe Rogan, Trey Parker, and Mark Zuckerberg as written by Aaron Sorkin. He’s trolling but he’s not all that good at it. You can’t be particularly effective as an online contrarian and provocateur when you’re as obviously thin-skinned as Musk. It’s also a hard image to maintain when you have extremely high-profile business interests and a board of directors to please, as evidenced by the fact that his bad attempt at a 420 joke landed him in major hot water with the SEC.
Moreover, Musk’s most recent trolling attempts landed him in trouble with Grimes herself. After he tweeted ‘pronouns suck,’ the sort of weak goading that would make even Reddit rolls its eyes, Grimes responded in a now-deleted tweet pleading with Musk to ‘please turn off ur phone or give me a dall (sp). I cannot support hate. Please stop this. I know this isn’t your heart.’ For one rare moment, the reply person on Twitter with the anime avatar was in the right. This moment ended up being more revealing than either of them probably intended it to be. Why would Musk need to call his girlfriend and the mother of his newborn son to have a conversation with her? Surely they live together or speak frequently enough that she doesn’t have to prompt him to do so? An interview with The New York Times, wherein Musk and Grimes played up their weird pixie-robot romance, revealed that he doesn’t have much to do with their son right now because ‘babies are just eating and pooping machines […] When the kid gets older, there will be more of a role for me.’ Charming.
There’s an expected level of conscious performativity to every celebrity couple. You’re putting on a show when you attend an event together or talk about your relationship as part of a mandated promotional tour for your latest project. Even if you reject the basic tenets of this concept and make a point of avoiding paparazzi or joint appearances, that is still a form of participation in the system. Celebrity has the ability to turn everything surrounding it into a crucial part of its ecosystem (see also capitalism.) Musk in particular certainly seems aware of the power said allure can hold for his own means. He seems to benefit more from this relationship as a tool of fame than Grimes, despite him already being far more famous and publicly deified than she’s ever been.
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@rollingstone 🧚🏻♀️🐉🪐🗡🐖🐽🐷🤍💕🙏🏻!!!! I dunno what to say about this besides thanks so much to Rolling Stone and everybody spinning the album 🤍🤍🤍🥺 Photographer & Director @charlie__chops Director of Creative Content @catrionaniaolain Hair by @1.800.chanel for @dnsvision Makeup by @natashaseverino @forwardartists Nails by @victoriaon10 @nailzbyvee Styling by @brettalannelson for @theonly.agency Tailoring by @soft.milk Set Design by @nataliefalt @lalalandartists Story by @hiattb !
Grimes is hardly the first famous woman to be part of a ‘power couple’ where her presence in that relationship is deemed a rescue operation in waiting by the masses. I’m old enough to remember the era of Free Katie Holmes. What Musk and Cruise have in common in this regard is an obvious level of authority that their female partners cannot and never will possess. Musk is stupid rich, a literal billionaire who proudly told his first ex-wife that he would be the alpha of their marriage. Grimes has the soft power of indie acclaim and cult fanbases, and the two can never be truly comparable. Capitalism doesn’t allow for it. I don’t day this to relinquish responsibility from Grimes over her own trolling contributions to this union, but to note that there’s a reason why she’s called Mrs. Musk and he’s never referred to as Grimes’s boyfriend.
She’s a subject of fetish in the media now, the trophy girlfriend with critical hype who shows off her pregnancy skincare routine to Vogue and other such prestigious publications that will probably never pay attention to her actual music. This has been a frequent problem for Grimes long before Musk entered the scene. Her changing image and status in the industry as an opinionated and often clumsily spoken figure of excitement and derision saw her positioned more as a cutesy doll than a musician, similar to how Bjork is still seen as a magic pixie lady even with decades of work under her belt. That problem only grew once she paired up with Musk and she became the kind of tabloid star she’d avoided turning into for her entire career. Now, everything about her was of interest to the press who never cared about her music. That she and Musk were so easy to mock as a couple didn’t help matters, especially with Musk inviting derision from the internet. An incident involving Azealia Banks is now the stuff of celeb gossip legend and it made them even bigger jokes to the world.
Grimes is a stage-name but it’s also what Musk calls her in that New York Times interview. She infamously changed her name to c — the measurement of the speed of light — partly as a way to distance herself from her own mutating creation. It didn’t work. It’s now Elon Musk and Grimes, a persona more than a person. While she has proven herself repeatedly to be all too capable of putting her foot in her mouth in interviews, I still find myself thinking about this loss of control and how distancing it must be to experience. I’m sure I’ll get the usual round of complaints for thinking in vaguely kind ways about a celebrity, but knowing how Musk treated his first wife and how gung-ho he is about exploiting his status as an older guy with a cool younger girlfriend, how could I not?
Musk wants to be a thoroughly modern man, the billionaire of the space age who’s cooler than all the other corporate monopolies (as if the competition is tough.) He has certainly attracted a dynamic and often deeply fervent fanbase who will jump at the opportunity to provide free PR to a man who is essentially bulletproof in a capitalist society. To them, his pseudo-trolling and tragic step-dad routine is appealing, relatable, a sign that he’s just one of the guys, especially as he leans further into right-wing rhetoric and highly weaponized memes. It’s a barely visible shield to the criticisms faced by every rich guy who doesn’t allow his workers to unionize while complaining about COVID-19 workplace restrictions; the lone genius taking on the system and evoking Trump in his attacks on the media. It seems like a waste of time to be since being a billionaire is hardly something that requires a sheen of respectability in our culture. Do you really need to prove your street cred with your indie darling girlfriend when you’re trying to monopolize entire industries and put potentially thousands of people out of work?
The thing about ‘geniuses’ is that they’re seldom smart about everything in life. Just because you’re an indomitable expert in one field, that doesn’t make you unimpeachable in every other aspect of life. That’s a lesson Musk would do well to learn from, but why bother? The system is designed to ensure that he always wins. That’s not really the case for Grimes, a mid-level niche artist who was evidently unprepared for what her current relationship would bring to the forefront of her life. Her music is her weapon, her forceful reminder to the world (or the small percentage of people who like her songs) that her talent and intent endures regardless of who she’s dating. Of course, the problem here is that way more people are reading her tweets and the stories about their relationship than are listening to those strange, challenging, and often highly abrasive songs. That’s way too much work right now and we’re tired of this pair as it is. Perhaps that’s why the memes are so popular: They’re quick and require zero labor on our part, even if they reduce a soulless rich jerk and a far more interesting woman into something less than two-dimensional. Sorry, Claire, but that does seem to be what Elon wants.
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