Few celebrities have managed to create a reputation and societal imprint as unique as Elon Musk. His image has become all the more interesting since the announcement of his relationship with electronic artist Grimes, when she actually wore a Tesla choker at the 2018 Met Gala. In the aftermath of Grimes’s unique pregnancy announcement, a significant milestone in their relationship, perhaps we should all try and figure out what exactly these two are, and what our fascination with them might say about us and the society we do, in fact, live in.
In their lives before meeting each other, the one key experience that Grimes and Elon Musk share is having briefly attended Canadian universities. After being raised in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk spent two years studying commerce at Queen’s University before transferring to Wharton to study economics and physics. He then got two days into a PhD program at Stanford before dropping out to enter the tech industry. Fifteen years after Musk, Grimes, born Claire Boucher, moved from hometown Vancouver to McGill University to study neuroscience and Russian. She also dropped out, but to pursue a career in music.
From this point, the two followed unique paths, though both were notably influenced by their STEM studies. Grimes moved into a Montreal crack den and joined MySpace, starting a music career inspired by her experiences learning Logic for her neuroscience courses. According to her self-written Spotify biography, she wrote her breakout album Visions during a two-week-long speed binge. The album received critical acclaim, and Grimes blew up. While she was locking herself in a room making music, Musk got married three separate times (twice to the same person), and decided to start a myriad of tech companies, one of which eventually became PayPal. After selling that company for $1.5 billion in 2002, he was able to invest in and eventually become CEO of SpaceX and Tesla.
Perhaps before the age of the internet, Musk and Grimes would have only retained these monikers: a tech guru businessman and an ethereal, electronic artist. However, online platforms have provided them with the means to become something more complicated than these professional categorizations. Not quite influencers as Instagram has established the term, but definitely having a significant influence over their developed cult followings. Twitter, in particular, has become a part of their careers, and is also how the two met. They tweet about anime, memes, and just random thoughts and opinions they have in all lower-case letters. They’ll argue with other, non-famous Twitter users. In an era of publicists, they don’t really seem to care that much about having a refined image.
One of the biggest inhibitors in trying to understand these people is a generally pressing issue with online communication: It is impossible to know when something is ironic. In the aforementioned Spotify biography, Grimes claims to have gotten “experimental eye surgery only available to the upper class,” clarified in reports as removing blue-light so as to minimize seasonal depression. Is this surgery legitimate, or is she making fun of “the elites”? A week after tweeting her pregnancy announcement, she tweeted “I am a virgin,” sparking debates as to whether she is in fact the new Virgin Mary. Musk has also caused controversy, even getting into legal trouble over his tweets. After tweeting that he would consider taking Tesla private for $420 (a classic marijuana joke), Tesla’s stocks were legitimately affected and he ended up facing a federal lawsuit. Are their Twitter antics legitimately bizarre, or just weird because they’re wealthy celebrities tweeting like average 14 year olds?
Some incidents seem to suggest that, perhaps, they are truly weird. A significant scandal occurred in late 2018 when rapper Azealia Banks allegedly waited three days at the couple’s house to hang out with them. Grimes has decided to develop a virtual form of herself, entitled “WarNymph” so as to be able to focus on her pregnancy while also publicizing her new album. That Tesla truck announcement did happen.
Regardless, it is unequivocal that both personalities are as much a part of the fame as the products, and have, in some ways, become part of them. Musk’s success and notoriety is definitely not just as a CEO, but as a wacky guy. Grimes’s quirkiness and tendencies toward the profound have endeared people as much as her music. Is this the apex of capitalism, the commodification of personality itself? Or are these two a challenge to the capitalist machine, propagating unique individualism and uncensored weirdness in an era of conformity?
The effect of the cult following these two have developed has become all the more relevant due to the couple’s politicization of their platforms. Some have questioned Grimes’s willingness to support Musk given her proclamations of being fundamentally “anti-imperialist,” a descriptor that was, of course, temporarily in her Twitter bio. To this criticism, she cites Musk’s major goals: transitioning to cleaner energy and taking humanity to space so as to avoid extinction. Musk has described himself as “half-Republican, half-Democrat,” and has made sporadic and occasionally criticized contributions to various Republican campaigns. However, the most overt politico-philosophical views he seems to share openly are based on his obsession with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. In one interview, he cites the quote that “you should try to take the set of actions that are likely to prolong civilization, minimize the probability of a dark age and reduce the length of a dark age if there is one” as a major basis for his career. I guess we’ll see if Musk gets us to Mars by 2024 to avoid the dark age.
The reality is, the careers and influence of Elon Musk and Grimes are not easily defined. Elon Musk has managed to create a tech empire, have an under-appreciated music career under the name E ‘D’ M (yes, this does exist), and develop a personality-based cult following. Grimes may be an electronic artist, but her music is becoming increasingly political; her newest album Miss Anthropocene (2020) is about the goddess of climate change.
Perhaps Elon Musk and Grimes can be considered a 21st century version of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI—a symbol of an increasing economic divide, unapologetically flaunting and joking around with a lifestyle most could never dream of achieving. Or alternatively, we could be inspired by the commitment this couple has to taking a stand against the norm, to living in their own version of reality. They want the world of science fiction to happen now, and so they’re making it happen for themselves. Whether this is for the sake of a noble betterment of the world, or just a matter of them finding a source of entertainment, it’s definitely interesting to witness. Regardless, Grimes and Elon Musk are a phenomenon unique to the age we live in, and it’s important to consider what our fixation with their existence could say about us.