Grimes' music has been noted by critics and journalists for its atypical combination of vocal elements, as well as an array of influences across electronic and pop, hip hop and R&B, experimental and medieval music.
Boucher was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is of Québécois and Ukrainian descent. She was raised Roman Catholic, and attended Catholic school. In 2006, Boucher relocated from Vancouver to Montreal to attend McGill University, but left the school in early 2011 before finishing her degree.
According to the timestamps on her original MySpace page, Boucher began writing music under the name Grimes in 2007. Grimes later confirmed that she took her name from grime music after discovering the existence of the genre on Myspace. Grimes is self taught in music and visual art.
Boucher's debut album as Grimes, Geidi Primes, a concept album inspired by the Dune series, was released on cassette in 2010. Later in 2010, Boucher released her second album, Halfaxa. After the release of Halfaxa, Boucher began publicly promoting Grimes and started touring beyond Montreal. In 2011 Boucher released five songs on her side of the split 12" with d'Eon, Darkbloom (through both Arbutus and Hippos in Tanks). Beginning in May 2011, Grimes opened for Lykke Li on her North American Tour, and the following August her debut album was re-released through No Pain in Pop Records, in CD and vinyl format for the first time. In 2011, she collaborated with DJ/producer Blood Diamonds.
Upon extensive touring and positive reception of her first two albums and her side of Darkbloom, Boucher signed with record label 4AD in January 2012. Widely considered Boucher's breakout record, Visions received critical acclaim from music critics and appeared on numerous music publications' year-end lists. NME included it on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2013. Visions won the Electronic Album of the Year Award and Grimes was nominated for the Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the Junos. Grimes also won the Artist of the Year Award at the 2013 Webbys.
The album's second single, "Oblivion", also received critical acclaim and was produced into a music video directed by Emily Kai Brock. Pitchfork ranked "Oblivion" at number one on their 200 Best Tracks of the Decade So Far list in 2014. In interviews following the album's release, Boucher explained that she was assigned a strict deadline by which to have her third album finished far before it was complete, resulting in her recording the bulk of Visions whilst isolated in her Montreal apartment for three consecutive weeks. Notably, this intensive recording session included a period of nine days without food, sleep, or company, with Boucher blacking out her windows since she generally could not make music as readily during the day. She described the writing process as being "equally enjoyable and tortuous", feeling that its difficulty contributed to its success.
In April 2013, Boucher posted a written statement addressing her experience as a female musician in an industry rife with sexism and expressed disappointment that her feminist stance was often interpreted as anti-male. When speaking about her preference to produce all her studio albums herself, she said, "I don’t wanna be the face of this thing I built, I want to be the one who built it".
On December 17, 2013, Boucher posted to her Tumblr that she had employed the services of Jay Z's management company, Roc Nation.
On June 26, 2014, Grimes premiered her new track "Go", produced by and featuring Blood Diamonds. It was a track that had been written for and rejected by Rihanna and was premiered on Zane Lowe's radio 1 show. Rolling Stone ranked it number fourteen on their Best Songs of 2014 list.
On March 8, 2015, she released a self-directed video for a demo from the abandoned album, "REALiTi", which received critical acclaim from music critics, being named Best New Music by Jenn Pelly from Pitchfork, calling it the "best new Grimes song since Visions."
On March 15, 2015, Grimes and Bleachers released their collaboration, "Entropy" for the HBO TV show Girls. On May 24, 2015, Grimes announced via a series of tweets to her fans that her upcoming album will be "surprise" released sometime in October. She also explained that the album would be a departure from previous singles "Go" and "REALiTi" and was recorded with "real instruments," a departure from the primarily synth and sampler driven composing of her prior releases. In the summer of 2015, Grimes toured with Lana Del Rey for several of her Endless Summer tour dates. She then toured into the fall of 2015 as the headliner of her own Rhinestone Cowgirls Tour with opener Nicole Dollanganger. On October 20, 2015 Grimes announced that the name of her upcoming album would be Art Angels by sharing the album's cover art on her Instagram account. On 26 October 2015, Grimes simultaneously released the lead single of the album, "Flesh without Blood," and a two act music video featuring both "Flesh without Blood" and an additional song from the album, "Life in the Vivid Dream." After its November release, the album received very favourable reviews, garnering an 88 (out of 100) rating on Metacritic and the Best New Music designation from Pitchfork. Jessica Hopper of Pitchfork described Art Angels as "evidence of Boucher's labor and an articulation of a pop vision that is incontrovertibly hers... an epic holiday buffet of tendentious feminist f***-off, with second helpings for anonymous commenters and music industry blood-suckers."
Art Angels was named Best Album of the year by NME, Exclaim! and Stereogum. It peaked at number 1 on the Billboard US Top Alternative Album Chart and number 2 on the Billboard Top Independent Album chart. Grimes won the 2016 International award at the Socan Annual Awards and the 2016 Harper's Bazaar Musician of the Year Award in October.
In the spring of 2016, Grimes toured Asia and Europe with supporting act HANA on the AC!D Reign Tour. Grimes continued touring through the summer of 2016, performing at various music festivals across North America and opening for Florence and the Machine on select dates of the How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful tour.
Continuing the series of music videos for songs off Art Angels that began with "Flesh without Blood" and "Life in the Vivid Dream" ("Act I" and "Act II," respectively), Boucher released the music video for "Kill V. Maim" ("Act III") on January 19, 2016 and the music video for "California" ("Act IV") on May 9, 2016. Boucher crafted a slightly remixed version of "California" for the music video in order to achieve a less "dissonant" visual/auditory mix. This alternate version of California has not otherwise been officially released for sale or streaming. On August 3, Grimes released the song "Medieval Warfare" as part of the soundtrack of the summer blockbuster Suicide Squad.
On October 5, 2016 Boucher with friend and collaborator Hana Pestle, more commonly known by stage name HANA, released "The AC!D Reign Chronicles," a lo-fi series of seven music videos including songs by Grimes (Butterfly, World Princess Part II, Belly of the Beat, and SCREAM (feat. Aristophanes)) and HANA (Underwater, Chimera, Avalanche), each starring in their respective segments. Additional appearances include Aristophanes in SCREAM and two of Grimes' backup dancers, Linda Davis and Alyson Van, throughout the series. "The AC!D Reign Chronicles" were recorded over the course of two weeks during the duo's time touring Europe and were made with minimal production, shot exclusively on iPhones with no crew aside from Boucher's brother, Mac Boucher, who assisted with filming. Post production, Claire Boucher and Hana Pestle edited the videos in their entirety. "Concept & Art direction" are credited to Claire Boucher.
On February 2, 2017, Grimes premiered on Tidal the high budget futuristic music video of "Venus Fly", starring herself and Janelle Monáe. The video was uploaded on YouTube on February 9. She won Best Dance Video for “Venus Fly” at the Much Music Video Awards. In 2017, Grimes won a JUNO Award for Video of the Year, featuring "Kill V. Maim".
Grimes' music is varied, including an eclectic mix of styles which she herself describes as "ADD music", it shifts frequently and dramatically – "I go through phases a lot." Her work has been likened to various artists, including Björk, Siouxsie Sioux and Enya and she was described by Tastemakers Magazine as an "alien love-child of Aphex Twin and ABBA" The Guardian summarised her musical style: "By sounding a little like everything you've ever heard, the whole sounds like nothing you've ever heard." Her music has experimented with elements of art pop, synthpop, witch house, baroque pop, dream pop, ambient, and electro-R&B.
According to Grimes, around when she first began songwriting she had a realization as to how music was created after listening to Panda Bear's album Person Pitch, which she describes "jumpstarted" her mind. She explains, "Up until that point I had basically only made weird atonal drone music, with no sense of songwriting. I barely understood anything about music, it seemed like a mystery. But suddenly all music clicked into place and seemed so simple and easy. I was pretty much able to spontaneously write songs immediately after listening to this album once." On her music making process she has also said, "I have a nervous tic. When I was a kid, I would constantly be banging on things with my foot. Making music has been a really good mechanism for releasing some kind of percussive issue that I have. It's usually about finding a perfect beat; I play around until I get a tempo I like and then it's just a matter of filling in the blanks". Grimes utilizes looping and layering techniques, particularly with vocals; many of her songs feature layers of over fifty different vocal tracks which create an "ethereal" sound.
Grimes cites the following as influences: Marilyn Manson, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Enya, Kate Bush, Beyoncé, Bikini Kill, Joanna Newsom, Burial, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Blue Hawaii, How to Dress Well, Cocteau Twins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Panda Bear, Tool, Dandi Wind, Outkast, the Dungeon Family, New Edition, TLC, Michael Jackson, Black Dice, Aphex Twin, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, the Spice Girls, Jedi Mind Tricks, Paramore, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Geinoh Yamashirogumi, Yoko Kanno, Kenji Kawai, David Bowie, Queen, St. Vincent, Mindless Self Indulgence, Chris Isaak, Salem, Al Green, and Blink-182, as well as the Dune novels, The Godfather Part II, K-pop, artist Yayoi Kusama, The Legend of Zelda, Akira, and medieval music.
Grimes created the album art for all of her albums, as well as art lithos for each track on Art Angels that were sold with the vinyl release. Her art is influenced by Japanese anime, manga, and comic artists such as Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes. Grimes illustrates her merchandise, including T-shirts, album art and show posters. Her illustrations have appeared in gallery shows, including at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. She created an alternate cover for Image Comic’s The Wicked + The Divine and designed a capsule collection of T-shirts for Saint Laurent in 2013. That year she also curated a two-day event at the Audio Visual Arts (AVA) Gallery in NYC with a silent auction to benefit the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s campaign to raise awareness of violence against Aboriginal women in Canada.
Boucher has a step-brother who raps under the name Jay Worthy; they collaborated on the song, "Christmas Song", released on the Rough Trade bonus disc of her album, Visions. One of her brothers, Mac Boucher, was involved in the making of some of her music videos, such as "Go", "Realiti", "Flesh Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream", "Kill V. Maim" and "Venus Fly".
In 2014, Claire Boucher wrote a blog post expressing her aversion to hard drugs and regretting having lost friends to drugs and alcohol: "I don’t want [hard drug use] to be part of my narrative," she said.Geidi Primes (2010)Halfaxa (2010)Visions (2012)Art Angels (2015)HeadliningHalfaxa tour (Canada, 2010) co-headlined with Pop WindsDarkbloom tour (Canada/US, 2011) support by DoldrumsVisions Tour (World, 2012-2014) support by Born Gold, Myths, Elite Gymnastics, Ami DangRhinestone Cowgirls Tour (US/Canada, 2015) support by Nicole DollangangerAC!D Reign Tour (Asia/Europe, 2016) support by HANA, Aristophanes, Lupa JMarch of the Pugs Tour (US/Canada/Mexico, 2016) support by HANA, Tei Shi, Christine and the QueensOpening actLykke Li – Wounded Rhymes Tour (2011)Diplo and Skrillex Full Flex Express Canadian Train Tour (2012)Lana Del Rey – The Endless Summer Tour (2015)Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful tour (2016)