If “Oblivion” says anything about our collective psyche at the midway point of a decade already defined by seismic, globe-altering revolutions, it’s that the personal will always be political. The song recounts a specific sexual assault (“One of the most shattering experiences of my life,” Grimes, who was born in Vancouver as Claire Boucher, told SPIN in 2012) by describing the psychic fallout: “And never walk about after dark/ It’s my point of view/ Because someone could break your neck/ Coming up behind you always coming and you’d never have a clue,” she lisps in her high, pinched voice. It’s a dazzling, paralyzing performance, in part because Boucher sounds almost playful, and in part because the skronking behind her—the song’s springy, propulsive synth line was one of 2012’s most unforgettable—indicates something other than victimization. “See you on a dark night,” Boucher repeats.
The song’s video, directed by Emily Kai Bock, features a tiny, pink-haired Grimes lip-syncing “Oblivion” at a McGill football game (and later at a motorcross rally), wearing skeleton gloves and clutching a plastic boom box. There aren’t many women hanging in the stands besides Boucher; one, darting up behind her, swats at the hood of Boucher’s sweatshirt, a vaguely combative gesture that somehow seems more goofy than aggressive. On the field, a squad of taut-bellied cheerleaders, their hair pulled back with candy-colored bows, soar forth and land. Grimes, mouthing the lyrics to “Oblivion,” dances the way people dance when no one is looking: a desexualized, mostly arrhythmic twitching that does not seem to be for the benefit of anyone else at all.
The particular kind of masculinity that gets amplified by organized sporting events—the same feral, drooling aggression Bill Buford made infamous in Among the Thugs, his harrowing account of hooliganism among English soccer fans—would be an easy target for a feminist with a video camera, but Grimes is received warmly by the crowd. In that sense, it is a triumph—of perseverance, if not humanity—and it feels consistent with her mission. The subversion of expectation is a part of Grimes’s founding aesthetic, and she frequently marries more defiant genres like noise and punk with propulsive pop production, outfitting her dissent in studio glimmer. The melody can be so sweet as to feel bubblegum, and when Boucher sings a bit like “I will wait forever”–a line that always jumps out–“Oblivion” starts to seem like a very different kind of lament.
But what “Oblivion” ultimately offers is victory. It’s the sound of one woman turning personal devastation into not just a career-making single, but a lasting anthem of transformation. —Amanda Petrusich
From Pitchfork’s Top 200 Song of the Decade So Far where Oblivion was named #1.