It’s difficult to quantify the immense fatigue of trying to keep up with Grimes’ antics. With her latest single “Player of Games,” it’s evident the stress has taken its toll on her as well. A shudder-inducing eulogy of her breakup with everyone’s favorite union-busting tech oligarch turned middle-aged edgelord — somehow the track’s most offensive quality is its staggering lack of camp. “Player of Games” is the car crash you can’t tear your eyes away from, the summit of all the Twitter detritus accumulated by their radioactive relationship.
A lush cyberscape of synths and pixelated blips, Grimes’ sound mingles with laboriously-rendered digital iconography, spitting out an Internet-spawned cyborgian personality to match. In the weeks since her split from Elon Musk, Grimes has seemingly only sunk to further depths of terminally online “de-Bouchery.” In a TikTok she posted Nov. 28, for instance, she likens herself to Marie Antoinette, before espousing her idea to create a “radical utopia,” the details of which she neglects to further elucidate.
The single’s release comes shortly after her formation of NPC, an AI-fronted girl group, whose announcement coincided with the release of a single under the NPC name. Grimes’ efforts to disentangle her music from her derisive persona are conspicuous with the rollout of NPC as well as on her latest climate dread-fueled LP, Miss Anthropocene. These aims are thwarted on “Player of Games,” a track so cornily enmeshed with her personal life it broaches self awareness — but doesn’t quite surmount it.
Sonically, “Player of Games” sorely lacks the intrigue of the backstory that inspired it. The track is mired in garden variety digital art pop that skimps on both the experimental instrumentation and conceptual artistry audiences have come to expect from Grimes. Opening with what can only be assumed is the sound of a rocket launching, the ensuing synthetic warbling is as forgettable as it is grating over the track’s four-minute run time.
The derivative instrumentation was enough to firmly situate the single within the realm of mediocre break-up anthems, but the lyrics — holding court somewhere between cringe and quotidian — twist the knife even further. “Sail away/ To the cold expanse of space/ Even love/ Couldn’t keep you in your place,” Grimes waxes melancholy on the first verse. It’s a refrain that would be slightly embarrassing even if your ex was a normal person, and not a centibillionaire space cowboy.
Featured on the accompanying soundtrack for the video game Rocket League, “Player of Games” is perhaps too meta, both in theory and execution. “I’m in love with the greatest gamer/ But he’ll always love the game/ More than he loves me,” she wallows. It is inevitable that given the great Grimes-Musk schism of 2021, Grimes would seek to extol the breakup via her music. Unfortunately, “Player of Games” falls unbelievably short of the mark.
With Adele’s 30, Snail Mail’s Valentine and Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour, 2021 has proved to be a fruitful year for breakup albums. Few artists’ relationships have been as high profile, controversial or downright bonkers as Grimes and Musk’s, so it’s only fitting that they should get the breakup anthem to match. Instead, listeners are met with homogenous synths and tepid lyricism that only intermittently precipitates a wince. More often, it begrudges a yawn.
The single’s silver lining is just that — it’s only a single. Hope for a better, more worthy musical chronicling of one of the zaniest moments in pop culture history is not yet lost.