Frank Ocean did it with “Nikes.” Beyoncé did it with “Beyoncé” and “Lemonade.” And now Grimes — the wildly experimental, glitchy armed 28-year-old musician — has released a short film comprised of seven songs filmed across two weeks while touring in Europe with fellow musician HANA. Grimes, HANA and Grimes’ brother Mac Boucher filmed “The Ac!d Reign Chronicles” exclusively on iPhones. HANA and Grimes started out editing two music videos but eventually ended up with a 38-minute film-collage.
Our introduction is Grimes and HANA, costumed in fake Roman style, bounding airily around historical monuments to the stereotypically “Grimes-esque” “Butterfly,” interspersed with unsettling shots of spiders in spare corners wrestling with bumblebees and equally unsettling eye contact from Grimes. “Butterfly” lets off its sweet, plucky pop into “Underwater,” our introduction to HANA, who here lays claim to her aesthetic, her realm of reality within the greater film. Bjork-ian in her smile — sensual, secretive, joyful — and in her long croons, HANA is tranquil with the steel placidity of a well. She was in costume with Grimes but emerges shorn of the aesthetic trappings of “Butterfly” and fully occupying her vision for “Underwater,” the melody of which carries the glorious echo and gravity of a cathedral.
We hear the videographer, Mac Boucher, praise the shot he’s filming, signaling the point at which the film becomes. In “World Princess Pt. II,” we see, along with the glazy, video-game-like melody, a refocus on Grimes in all her glitchy, costumed glory. We start to see common threads. Slow motion is employed in every video: In Grimes’ hands, slow-mo signals irreality, creating an odd, disjointed step discordant with the sonic quick-footedness of her music.
HANA’s next work, “Chimera,” is a relative oddity. The video is at times soft-gothic, from HANA’s airy choices of clothing to her melancholic settings. As a whole, though, it isn’t particularly interesting. Here, cohesion between Grimes and HANA wavers as we lose sight of the film’s greater meaning. Inside this relatively lackluster video, HANA lip-syncs with little mobility or progression. Grimes fans are not unfamiliar with the sense of irreality her music fosters, but this film takes place in a liminal space extremely close to reality: There is no production crew, and bystanders, though ignored, mill around the monuments or tear through the visual space like the random bikers that criss-cross behind HANA throughout “Chimera.”
The audience’s growing comfort with the film, bolstered by “Chimera,” is promptly smashed with “SCREAM,” an intense augmentation of reality through surprisingly minimal means. Special guest Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes zips us into a high-contrast, high-energy, grotesquely sated world through monstrous words and slippery, neon saturated shots. Aristophanes is a badass, and the energy of “SCREAM” — a gluttonous song with lines like “I’m not satisfied; I want to squeeze more out of your body” — visually shifts into film of a concert. The reverie of sensations: A bunch of flashing lights, rabid movements, women on stage arching and twisting their backs and bodies, concert crowds made to gorge and pulse in a visual effect that boggles the mind. Whereas HANA lies at the other end of the spectrum — contemplative, measured — Aristophanes is engorged, disturbing — and Grimes is in costume somewhere in between.
The transition that occurs at 25:45 taps sharply onto steady feet at the first beat of HANA’s monumentally absorbing “Avalanche.” Here, HANA’s performance is strongest and most memorable as she sings in a clear voice about regaining the agency to say ‘no.’ HANA, in an crazy-memorable red one-piece, crawls on the ground, limbs sharp and controlled, engrossing, irregular, assured. HANA is stronger, more confident, more conscious of a creative goal, as is the entire film at this point. This is a film that charts the progression of a creative idea — and consequently, the progression of choices in aesthetics, visual effects and artist performance. The latter end of “The Ac!d Reign Chronicles” doesn’t feel as extemporaneous as its beginning, a fact made clear through the visually stunning shots. We have shots of HANA sitting in a field of long, gloriously green grass, fjord in the background; we see her, the blood-red of her dress hogging attention away from placid, white statues; we watch her, framed in symmetry.
This visual consciousness peaks in the last video, “Belly of the Beat.” A woman in a red long-sleeved dress (like HANA’s) dances with a clean-cut valley beneath her, crammed with all the assorted trappings: hardy weeds, deep cleaves and grey stone, all saturated, elevating the sensuality. Our eyes take in the natural decadence of a human body using its strength to dance, a sight as astounding as clean, miles-long swaths of green grass. Grimes sings “I’ve been thinking I could leave the world today,” while her backup dancers, Linda Davis and Alyson Van, contort and flux. Here, Grimes makes the human body feel alien, like a different plane but a more whole one.
Rounding out the film, “laughing and not being normal” is furnished with shots from the very first videos, framed in black to signify their existence as a visual memory. That said, the crux of Grimes’ work is that its wild experimentalism continually nips at her delivery of it. Grimes is tethered by the fact that her music could wander down thousands of other creative paths which could be worse than the path she’s chosen but also much better. Maybe the fault lies in the fact that Grimes sees her experimentalism as a naturalized facet of her work, refusing to fully explore it otherwise.
“The Ac!d Reign Chronicles” is not revolutionary; Grimes and HANA lip-sync to their songs, dancing in visually interesting environments. But revolution, like this 40-minute array of DIY visual confetti, is spontaneous. And this spontaneity tells us, louder than any other message, that this is fun. Grimes and HANA choose to end their project, which is as personal as it is performative, as much a collage of memories as conscious aesthetic choices, with a retrospect of the creative process. Here is the reality that Grimes restricts, and the reality is that, for Grimes and HANA, this is fun. They laugh, they are not normal, their art is not “normal,” they stand outside of the modern world and history, manipulating it through art. This, in itself, a small type of revolution. Perhaps hearing that Grimes has ventured into the world of music-films — the fact that I would expect something revolutionary at all — says enough.
Contact Medina Husakovic ‘at’ [email protected]