GRIMES AND TAVI GEVINSON CHAT FOR INTERVIEW MAGAZINE
This month Gevinson is taking her talents to Broadway, along with Kieran Culkin and Michael Cera, in a new Steppenwolf production of Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 comedy This Is Our Youth, in which she plays, according to the playbill, an “anxiously insightful young woman.” During the show’s run in Chicago this July, Gevinson got on the phone with her friend and recent Rookie contributor Claire Boucher, a.k.a. the singer-songwriter extraordinaire Grimes, who was in the studio in Los Angeles, to talk about living on her own for the first time, about playing her age, and life on the stage.
TAVI GEVINSON: Hi! How are you?
CLAIRE BOUCHER: Pretty good. I just woke up. Are you in America right now?
GEVINSON: I’m in Chicago still, but I’m in an apartment. I moved out of my childhood home and I’m closer to the theater now.
BOUCHER: Are you enjoying freedom?
GEVINSON: Oh, yes!
BOUCHER: Did you have a lot of freedom before at your parents’ place?
GEVINSON: I feel like I didn’t necessarily need much freedom. It’s not like I was interested in staying out really late. If my parents ever had to ground me, they didn’t really know what that would mean, because I was inside most of the time anyway. The more abstract version of freedom I’m really enjoying, though. Like, I leave my apartment and I come back and no one touched my shit.
BOUCHER: Are you noticing the thing where it’s like, “Oh, shit, I have to make all my own food. I have to do all this other stuff, and I can’t focus 100 percent on my own stuff anymore”?
GEVINSON: Yes. It makes me understand why someone like James Franco hires people to do everything for him so he can just work all the time. But maybe because it’s still new to me, and somewhat of a novelty, I’m like, “Oh, I get to go buy groceries.” It’s a nice little ritual still. But that’ll probably change as I get older. I was just re-reading your “How to Be a Boss” piece that you wrote for the Rookie book. I was putting parts in my journal because I had to write a really intense e-mail this morning.
BOUCHER: Oh no. Are you okay?
GEVINSON: I’m fine. It’s actually not Rookie related—I don’t find being a boss at Rookie hard because it’s just a coven of people who respect each other and want to be there. But I do find working with people in the entertainment industry hard. As you wrote, it can cause anxiety and depression.
BOUCHER: When an artist, or whomever, moves from their scene to the bigger pond, it starts getting crazy, because all of a sudden people don’t respect you, and you have to start being a lot more aggressive than you would normally be. Which leads to the typical she’s-a-bitch kind of thing. You have to learn to scream at people, which is a really unpleasant thing to do.
GEVINSON: It’s really unpleasant. And I think for a lot of people who are on the business side of the entertainment world, creatives are obstacles. The e-mail that I had to write this morning was basically saying, “I’m fully aware of how valuable I am and how important I am to this project. That should be respected and my needs should be taken seriously. It should not be a given that I do everything you say. So, take that!” I had to wear high heels to have the confidence to write the e-mail. I was sitting in my bed in high heels.
BOUCHER: The worst is when you have to do it in person or on the phone, especially if they cry or you cry. I cry really easily. If I see a butterfly, I’ll practically burst into tears. So it’s really hard for me to yell at people, because I’ll feel so guilty about it. But if I don’t, then they don’t take me seriously and it’s this endless cycle.
GEVINSON: Have you seen the movie Broadcast News? It is one of my favorites. I got into one of the schools I applied to because of the essay I wrote about Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News. She’s the only female producer on this news network and she’s really good at her job, but she allots time in her day to just sit at her desk and cry. And then she’s just back to work. I find that really effective. When I watched that movie, I was like, “That’s how it’s done.” You don’t have to deny the part of yourself that’s emotional. You can confront it, get it out, and continue to kick ass.
BOUCHER: Do you think that, as an artist, you’re more of a collaborator? Because you have a really singular voice. Obviously, you have a brand that’s kind of like your personal brand. And Rookie seems like a very collaborative thing, and then acting is obviously the same. Would you ever make art that was just you?
GEVINSON: I don’t know. Rookie couldn’t work if it were anything but collaborative. If it were just me, then that would be expecting people to identify with me and my experiences, and that’s not really how a website for young women should work. I would like to make a bunch of different kinds of books—writing and otherwise. And with acting, I’m part of this bigger thing and storytelling. I would like to write a movie and, if it wasn’t too crazy, also direct.
BOUCHER: I think when you write and direct, you usually get a more cohesive product. That would be cool, especially because there are so few young female directors and writers. I wanted to ask, do you think the internet is kind of redefining what it is to be a teenager? Because there’s a lot of media that’s aimed at teenagers that other people are getting into. But, conversely, pornography or stuff that’s intended for adults is completely readily available to anyone, like teenagers.
GEVINSON: I think what is really exciting about the internet right now is that, up until now, culture targeted to teenagers was made by adults, and now, when people talk to me about representation—because I gave a TED talk about representation of women on TV and in movies, and then I got asked about it a lot—it doesn’t matter as much as it used to. Before, TV was your lifeline to the outside world if you were a teenager.
BOUCHER: Yeah, there was a monoculture—a few major magazines, a few major TV networks—just a few places you could get media.
GEVINSON: We all have the people we follow on Tumblr whose opinions or taste we respect. And I think because you see so much more variety of opinions and everything on the internet, it’s less decided that something is good or bad. It’s more like we all just sort of like what we like. I really like that aspect of it. It’s super-weird that adults should be dictating what teenagers like in any way, aesthetically or morally.
BOUCHER: I read your essay on Taylor Swift in The Believer. I’m a massive Taylor Swift fan, and I really appreciated it. But I think a lot of the stigma of Taylor Swift comes from the fact that her work is made by a young woman and it’s intended for a primarily young female audience. People refuse to acknowledge that there is anything meaningful or good about it, or assume that it’s inherently low brow because it’s explicitly young and female. A lot of the work you’ve done has been able to bypass this idea. You’ve always had this intellectual, adult thing for your age.
GEVINSON: A lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction that if something is mainstream, then it must not be good. Besides really loving and connecting with her music, I’m just so impressed with the way Taylor has built all of this. And she’s never underestimated her fans or her audience. She’s never ever let anyone think for a second that she isn’t super-grateful.
BOUCHER: The neat thing is it’s smart. The references are smart. To me, it’s adult music. I could see any 40-year-old liking it.
GEVINSON: I could easily talk about Taylor with you forever. I think it’s so well crafted. And even Neil Young endorses the music, not that we need some old guy to tell us if something’s okay—but it does have to do with people thinking it’s dumb, young girl music. Which is frustrating because it kind of waters down all experiences of all young women and says that those experiences are somehow invalid. Sleeping with a guy for the first time can be a big deal for a lot of girls. And it’s really amazing that she kind of tapped into that consciousness and gave all these girls something to relate to and in a way that I think is pretty feminist.
BOUCHER: Is there any feminist dimension to the roles you take, with regards to playing your age or how you’re perceived, and how women in general are perceived?
GEVINSON: I’m not exactly in a position where I get to be super-picky about the roles I get. But I would also never want to be a part of something that I think is poor in taste or doesn’t align with what I believe in. I haven’t given much thought to the age thing yet. There have certainly been parts in the scripts I get for, like, a hooker with a heart of gold or a woman saving a man, as if that’s our job in relationships, and I just don’t even want to fuck with it at all, so I just don’t audition. But with Rookie and with acting, my feminism is just part of how I view the world, so it naturally comes into play. It’s not like I put on my feminist glasses. It’s just kind of naturally there.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE
CLAIRE BOUCHER IS CURRENTLY WORKING ON HER FOURTH STUDIO ALBUM AS GRIMES, DUE OUT IN EARLY 2015.