It takes two hours and forty-five minutes to get from Los Angeles to San Diego by train, and a little longer than that if there is a mechanical delay, which on this day there was. Claire Boucher, curled up in a window seat on the train’s non-ocean-view side, didn’t seem to mind, or even notice. It was July, 2014, and, because she hates flying and doesn’t relish driving, she was heading, slowly, to Comic-Con, which attracts huge numbers of geeks, many of whom bring along their alter egos. Boucher’s alter ego is Grimes, the name under which, since 2009, she has been producing and singing home-brewed electronic music that is irreducibly weird but insistently pop, a term that describes both its sound and, increasingly, its reception. She fills tents at festivals, and this summer she toured with Lana Del Rey; her music videos have amassed tens of millions of views on YouTube. That weekend, CraveOnline, a media company aimed at young men, had hired Boucher—or, rather, Grimes—to be the celebrity d.j. at a party aboard the U.S.S. Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier moored in San Diego Bay.
“Should my d.j. set be more chill?” Boucher wondered, not for the first time. (“Chill,” one of her favorite adjectives, can mean “mellow” or “good” or, most often, both.) “Or more dance?” She was thinking about songs, as she almost always is.