The Age of the Female Auteur

The term “auteur” comes from the French film world in reference to directors who were the main creative eye for the pieces they put out. Directors dubbed auteurs were more respected and seen as artists, as opposed to other directors just doing it for the paycheck. Recently it has been applied to music, as it describes one singular artist who in charge of all of the creative work they are involved in. They control the aesthetic, the production, the way it’s marketed, and of course the way it’s composed. In the music world this term has been used to describe the likes of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and more recently, Kanye West, since in recent years there has been a focus on the producer and a merging of worlds between entertainment and art. West does all of these things and more.

In this day and age, (and unfortunately how it has seemed for a while–with saturated music festivals, indulgent televised award ceremonies, and fanboys sharing their “very important” opinions on the internet) that the male artist is the end-all-be-all of creating new and exciting music. But even with this played out boys game still in effect, (i.e. the list of musical platforms above) female artists are the ones receiving this kind of praise from fans, publications, and other artists even if the lineups of festivals haven’t caught up yet. Women are creating music that sounds like nothing that’s ever been done before and not only that, they are curating everything about their art; from writing, choreographing, directing, editing, and designing everything about the product they want to put out into the world, as an extension of not only their music, but as an extension of themselves.

Female musicians are now the driving force for the art and music world like never before, detailing each new project in eras–a term recently used to describe an album’s aesthetic for that time. They are going above and beyond the usual “put out a single, album, and tour” formula that many male musicians are still following (probably because they are still able to do exceptionally well with just that *sigh*) but no matter, the women in the music at the forefront of the industry right now are insanely talented, intelligent, and captivating. They are all we really need.

Lets take a look at Grimes. Claire Boucher is the 27 year old DIY Canadian who started singing for her beats production project solely because she couldn’t find someone to do the vocals. She has created her own world where her music can exist and thrive. Known for her trippy synth-pop and almost cartoonish style of music and aesthetics, Boucher opts for shiny and dreamy layered beats and bright visuals when it comes to her albums and album art respectively. With tracks as loud and catchy as what you would hear on Top 40 radio, there’s so much to the backend of these songs, and it is only Boucher. When most people hear an almost flawless pop song with a stunning female vocal performance, there can be the misconception that there is an it’s-whatever-I-just-layed-down-these-beats-and-we-went-from-there male producer who curated everything including the vocals. But Boucher doesn’t have time for that, producing everything herself, composing everything herself, and putting out work that is just as good if not better than what most male producers share on Top 40 radio.

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When it comes to the actual body of work she’s created, there’s even more to look at than just her impressive job title of a one-woman produced band. Her albums are atmospheric tales told through electronically composed arrangements. With this, Boucher is able to create a setting–an artificially-made soundscape. Being a true auteur, Boucher is in even more control of her project Grimes than what has already been detailed. Boucher writes, directs, and edits her own music videos. She puts out even more enjoyable and tangible extensions of herself and her art to be consumed. Arguably one of the best songs she’s ever written and one of the best music videos (ever?) she’s ever directed is “Kill V Maim”–an exciting pop extravaganza, an ambitious auditory experience that’s hard to confine to just one genre. “By sounding a little like everything you’ve ever heard, the whole sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard.” When you hear a Grimes song you know it’s her. That avant-garde, discombobulating, circuit board of a composition that you hear on a Grimes record may be a unique sound, but it’s so much more than that. Behind the albums of Boucher, Visions, and Art Angels are stories she wants to tell.

“I want people to feel, if they’re buying something, like I put my heart and soul into it and I improved myself as a person and a writer.”

FKA Twigs has created a unique product in herself. Her aesthetic is very raw and futuristic, but it’s still reminiscent of the 90s and Aaliyah. The release of her first record, LP1, was met with immense critical acclaim and rightly so. Standout tracks from that album include, “Two Weeks,” “Video Girl,” and “Pendulum.” The latter is an especially beautiful track. A pop record at its core, the songs grasp at elements of gospel with her vocal performance, and ambient with the layered pattering of the background melodies. Other music of Twigs falls under the umbrella of avant-garde, with that term being a huge understatement. Flowing from R&B to punk, and back swiftly to pop, listening to her music, you can truly appreciate and understand her genius immediately. Twigs has said, “I am not restricted by any musical genre. I like to experiment with sounds…” Twigs is an auteur in every sense of the word. She writes her own music, choreographs her own dances, directs her own music videos, and embarks on non-musical projects most would deem overly ambitious.

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Last fall, Twigs released a film to accompany her EP, M3LL155X (pronounced Melissa) that she directed and took viewers through a stunning visual journey only she could come up with. This project introduced her to us as not only a singer, but as a storyteller. More recently she hosted a free dance workshop in Baltimore to teach her own choreography and search for new dancers. A little while after that, Twigs revealed her newest project, Rooms. The singer hosted the exhibition in a building with 12 rooms, each inspired by signs of the Zodiac and she performed an interpretive dance narrative for her character “Diamas.” I had the privilege of being able to see FKA Twigs perform live this summer at Pitchfork Music Festival, and Twigs took it upon herself to give her performance a narrative as well, complete with different sets and character development, almost like a ballet: a performative museum exhibit. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Classifying Twigs as a singer feels almost lazy, there’s so much more to what she creates, there’s so much more for an audience to dissect.

The self-taught guitar prodigy and “first guitar hero of the 21st century,” St. Vincent, AKA Annie Clark, has broken down so many gender and genre barriers by creating music she deemed as dance music you can play at a funeral. No other artist can play the guitar and utilize its full musical ability quite like her (watch her 4AD Session for “Surgeon”). The arrangements of her music are astoundingly complex and detailed, and her vocals add a tangible softness to her sound. Songs of St. Vincent can be simple and beautiful like “Marry Me” or hypnotizing and almost abrasive like “Marrow” or baroque and dreamy like “Birth in Reverse.” Clark is a complete product of her own talent. She writes, composes, and plays all of the music on her records; an auteur.

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More recently during her lives performances she now takes on a persona; wide-eyed and almost deranged she stumbles around the stage, climbs barricades, throws herself into the crowd numerous times, she has created a mood for her live music. She now opts for choreography during her shows to add to the aesthetic with intricate, silly movements that fit the tone of her repertoire. Not wanting to be confined to just one thing, she has embarked on other projects including a collaboration album with David Byrne of the Talking Heads, headlining a festival for David Lynch, and directing a horror film–she has found other outlets for her artistic capabilities. Her guitar playing is so transcendental that David Grohl of Nirvana has asked specifically for her to perform with the last remaining members of the band for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Grammy-award winner has also designed her own guitar made specifically to fit the form of the female body. Her vast musical landscape is different with every album, but each has St. Vincent’s signature guitar shredding that only she can compose.

“I just try to focus on those things, and do that really well. I try everyday to meet my own standards, which I set impossibly high”