How many (living) artists do you know whose songs rack up tens of millions of views on YouTube and whose biggest hit, “Blood // Water” has accrued over 182 million Spotify views would you not recognize walking down the street? That’s right. None. Not one. We even found out who SIA was pretty quickly—but the conspicuous wig might have helped with that. Grandson’s Cali-curls and tees are way subtler.
Point is that American-Canadian musician, Jordan Benjamin, AKA Grandson, has made no purposeful efforts to disguise his identity. It just kind of seemed to happen that way.
The activist and “alternative’ artist whose lyrics form the backbone and red thread that connect his forays through musical experimentations with rock and roll, hip hop and electronic sounds, is concerned with more important things. Either that, or he’s tuned into some kind of cultural anti-Zeitgeist; one in which his democratically referred to fans—the grandkids—are sick of images and Instagram and marketing and back-slapping and award shows. One in which these discerning fans care more about the music and the message; at once decidedly anti-authoritarian and deeply introspective.
In this respect, Grandson is a true anomaly, a triumph of the power of digital platforms to distribute good music—yes, through algorithms, which can sometimes be sinister but also radical and proliferative—in order that artists built up loyal online fan bases. When amNewYork Metro mentioned this peculiarity in an interview with Grandson, he seemed happy with this set up stating, “I don’t really care for social media so I only really listen to YouTube.” So, Influencers, don’t expect any selfies, he is not, indeed, a Fame Monster. All in all, when it comes to promotion, Grandson’s political projects: such as his the XX Resistance Fund and Defeat by Tweet that—more power to him—worked to encourage marginalized communities in swing states to vote.
Grandson will be celebrating the release of his Debut album, “Death of an Optimist” internationally on Dec. 17 by way of a virtual show at the Roxy Theater.
When asked about his creative process, Grandson explains that it all starts with the—often delicately poetic—lyrics that the music then grows out from. For Grandson, this technique often results in a better end product, especially as he takes his time with the process that may or may not involve a level of uncertainty in terms of germination, “A lot of songs I kind of establish a clear narrative of what I want to talk about and maybe find a phrase that encapsulates something. And then I kind of sit with it. I try not to be too quick.”
That being said, when the musical elements are introduced, Grandson is no stickler, and open to restructuring, moving things around, introducing new guitar riffs, chord progressions and listening to the advice of his producers until the music and lyrical content fuse together pleasingly.
Grandson continues to work with longtime producers Krupa and Boonn, while “Death of an Optimist” also features guest producers Blink-182’s Travis Barker and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. Although Grandson feels privileged to have worked with these producer, whom he describes as ”greats,” identity and authenticity are important to him: “While working with these new producers and artists who have accomplished so much, I’m still working with the people who helped me develop my own unique identity, like Krupa and Boonn. And that’s how I made sure I didn’t lose myself in working with new collaborators.”
In earlier hits such as “Bills” and “Blood // Water” Grandson used juxtaposition between insanely catchy melodies and dark lyrics to great effect. This interplay still exists in “Death of an Optimist,” although the music itself has become a touch darker too, in general, incorporating a “metal-lite” guitar tone, and more of an electronic influence. The varied vocal styling’s and mix of fast and slower tracks makes for an excellent listen.
Needless to say the writing of “Death of an Optimist” was inspired, or some would say, necessitated by the near-apocalyptic 2016 election of Donald Trump, while the video for “Dirty” was filmed under conditions of compound devastation, when the rampant, deadly coronavirus had cast its dark cloud over the globe.
The video for “Dirty“ continues the powerful aesthetic that has accompanied Grandson’s career—namely faces with their eyes symbolically crossed out—but takes it to the next level. It is probably the closest encapsulation of how Grandson referred to his music as, “cathartic, confrontational and a little confusing.”
Visually stunning, the video revolves around a confrontation between Grandson and his menacing, bureaucratic alter ego X, who, backed by an army of hooded minions are indiscriminately injecting people with an unknown substance via hypodermic needle. Sound timely? Yeah, it is. As is the spray-painted VOTE at the video’s end.
As far as I know, Grandson is not an anti-vaxxer. Whether he is or not is immaterial and completely irrelevant. Sure, it’s a symbol of our inoculative times, but to me it’s a metaphor for freedom, subservience and control. It speaks to being governed by power and instances of indiscriminate force, conducted without transparency by tyrannical leaders and their invisible manservants. But, you should make up your own mind, there’s plenty in it to work with.
Grandson believes that art has the ability to affect social change by spreading ideas, encouraging action, awareness and fostering discourse—in the manner of Rage Against the Machine, but delivered in a less sonically vitriolic way. And this theme is also crystallized in the video for “Dirty”. Character X’s abuses of power are being televised and absorbed by a young person—one of the few that are “paying attention,” as the song lyric goes. Needless to say the youngster is deeply alarmed by what he sees, tries to point out the unfolding insanity, and is duly ignored, notably due to the fact that he is sitting in a room with what looks like two mannequins wearing VR headsets.
A buoyant, energetic and not at all depressing performer, Grandson’s shows are sure to be fantastic. Ever aware of the importance of community, Grandson’s shows will include a real-time chat room, “So that this provides a virtual space for us all to send off this very confusing year and hopefully give you good vibes going into 2021.”
So tune in—eyes and ears—it’ll be virtual, but it’ll still be real.
Visit https://nocapshows.com/artist?name=grandson for more information on the show.