Eldritch YouTube star Poppy and bleepy-bloopy publicity disaster Grimes seem like they’re operating on much the same wavelength. They’re both electronic musicians with surrealist alter egos, high-thrown voices, and a pop ethos undercut by some type of social commentary. You can make a case either way for that last part: are their takes worthwhile or just a patina of wokeness spread like jam over simple pablum? Who knows.
Anyway, the Venn Diagram of their fans is probably closer to one circle than two, so the two girlpop electronica stars were a match made in Tartarus for a collab. And the result, “Play Destroy,” is exactly what you’d expect and nothing at all like what you’d expect.
But I’m burying the lede here, so: what do I think of “Play Destroy”? It’s well produced – no surprise there, Grimes is if nothing else a meticulous producer – and extremely fun. The two artists have clear chemistry on the track, different enough to remain distinct, but similar enough to mesh like an artisan dovetail. But then comes the bad stuff.
First, the good. “Play Destroy” channels a seriously different energy than any of the artists’ previous material. For one, Poppy and Grimes eschew their electronic dance temperament for all of the song except the chorus. “Play Destroy” is metal. And I mean that literally. There’s even a guitar solo that could have been the work of James Hetfield. But actually, there’s an even better precedent for “Play Destroy” than the grungy old dudes from Metallica or Iron Maiden. Kawaii metal.
Hate it or love it, bands like Babymetal have become immensely popular with Western audiences. “Play Destroy” is a canonization of kawaii metal, a genre metalheads have long disparaged. The mix of feminine playfulness with stereotypically masculine instrumentals and violent lyrics make “Play Destroy” a clear homage to the genre.
It makes the tune fun too. Poppy and Grimes want to cut your face, destroy your favorite toy, and burn down Raytheon, and they’re going to do it to raging guitars before segueing into an electronic chorus soaked in reverb.
Still, though, this doesn’t make it anything special. Poppy and Grimes’s thrown high voices, the violence of the guitars and lyrics – the song can’t be anything but an homage. “Play Destroy” is stuck being a rather trite reflection of a genre I imagine the two artists appreciate, rather than an interesting collaboration between two artists that, in theory, have undeniable chemistry. And in fact, a lot of their edginess backfires.
The title, “Play Destroy,” is clearly meant to have the cadence of a child’s fantasy game. Play make believe, play doctor, play destroy. Aside from the lurid weirdness of hearing two adult women infantilize themselves, the combination of cute, violent metal reeks of painfully dated internet art, pink bunnies from the MySpace era saying “I’ll cut you.” The tepid social commentary, to be far to generous, doesn’t make up for this ungraceful social tardiness. We all know Wal-Mart, Monsanto, and Raytheon are manifestly evil, so dropping those names in the chorus feels like a misguided and pandering digression.
So, why am I bringing all of this, both gripes and praise, to you when we should be focusing on the next true electronic song, the next banger? Well, it’s still exciting that two electronic pop artists decided to make such an off the wall song, and even if Poppy and Grimes floundered here, I’d like to see more of these mix ups both in pop and in electronic music on the whole. It won’t be the catalyst for innovation, but “Play Destroy” is certainly a reflection of it. And ultimately, it’s still going to make my workout playlist. But I’m not happy about it.