Sisterhood in song – Grimes and female friendships

You may know (especially if you’ve spoken to me in real life) that Grimes’ new album has come out. She marked its release with a music video for ‘Flesh Without Blood.

Flesh Without Blood basically sounds like a Top 40 break-up song. The video itself features Grimes (alias of Claire Boucher) crawling around after being stabbed in the heart. The language leads you assume that Boucher is discussing an ex: presumably one she lived with (‘our’ window).

Remember when we used to say

I love you almost every day

I saw the light in you

Going out as I closed our window

You never liked me anyway.[1]

It’s interesting then, to note, that Boucher has stated the song is about a former best friend of hers. For all the songs you hear about intense love, you will rarely hear one about an intense friendship. Another recent (and obvious) one I can think of is Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’, infamously about her feud with Katy Perry. Like Boucher, she refers to them as ‘baby’.

‘Cause, baby, now we got bad blood

You know it used to be mad love.[2]

Baby believe me

You had every chance

You destroy everything that you love.[3]

Can platonic relationships be as intense as romantic ones? More specifically, is a heterosexual, romantic, relationship inherently more important and more valid than a platonic, same-sex one?

I would argue it isn’t, despite what dominant cultural narratives would have us believe. My relationship with my best friend (who I’ll call Celia), is probably more extreme and enduring than any romantic relationship that I’ve ever encountered. This is additionally complicated by the fact that I identify as queer. Although people find this confusing, it’s fairly easy for me to separate different types of relationships. I love Celia an overwhelming amount, I’m incredibly inspired by her, I want to spend as much time as her as possible. The fact that I’m not sexually attracted to her doesn’t decrease these feelings. It also doesn’t mean that my relationship with her is less complex than someone that I am dating.

When I read Boucher’s lyrics, I can see myself in their overdramatic nature, their ambiguous placement mid-way between friendship and romance. I can understand why you would write a song about the break-down of a friendship. Celia and I have had fights involving throwing things at each other, screaming, melodramatic crying, etc, in which the aftermath felt just like dumping someone/being dumped.

Another recent representation of the brilliance and complication of female friendship was in the 2014 film ‘Frances Ha’. The film depicts an intense friendship between two women, which is the focus of the film. Its queer connotations have already been widely discussed. Sarah Smyth, for example, made the excellent point that:

By suggesting the possibility of finding love, commitment, satisfaction, and fulfilment from female friendship, Frances Ha breaks down a construction of sexuality, love, and relationships which privileges patriarchal power, dominance, and authority…”[4]

This sums up succinctly what I find particularly important about female friendships: not only in real-life, but in mainstream cultural depictions. It is unfortunate that our culture encourages us to prioritise romantic heterosexual relationships above everything else. Quite often, I find that fulfilling female friendships you have in high school are something that you are presumed to ‘grow out’ of, as if childish in some way. Moreover, there’s the implicit presumption that such a friendship would be unworthy of cultural discourse. When you listen to either of the two songs I discussed above, you automatically assume they are discussing the break-down of a heterosexual relationship.

Another work that deals with friendship with the complexity it deserves is Anais Nin’s ‘Henry and James, or any of her journals. Her relationship with writer Henry Miller’s wife, June, was just as tempestuous and emotionally fraught as her one with him. June and Nin are intoxicated and consumed by one another’s presence.

By the end of the evening I was like a man, terribly in love with her face and body, which promised so much, and I hated the self created in her by others I want to run out and kiss her fantastic beauty, kiss it and say, You carry away with you a reflection of me, a part of me. I dreamed you If I love you, it must be because we have shared at some time the same imaginings, the same madness, the same stage’….[5] 

It is interesting that alongside such romantic and intoxicating imagery, Nin continually denies the possibility of a sexual relationship between the two. Her obsession with June doesn’t require sex: her infatuation is not physical. Rather, she sees June as an extension of herself, ‘a reflection’. Just as Boucher crawls around on the ground, bleeding from the heart, Nin is distraught when June eventually leaves, saying, ‘you carry away with you a part of me reflected in you’. As I have so often found in my own experience, the relationship is not a casual friendship, nor is it a ‘romance’ as such. The intensity of that liminal space is something which has been (and continues to be) extremely formative to my life.

If Nin had been born in 1988, rather than 1903, could she have written a text like ‘Flesh Without Blood? The essential idea in Nin’s work and the music of Grimes or Swift is the same, whether it is expressed in a deceptively ‘pop’ tone, or carefully worded journal entries. The complex and beautiful nature of female friendship is worthy of being art: as much as the endless heterosexual love stories we are exposed to on a daily basis.

[1] Boucher, Claire. “Flesh Without Blood”. Art Angels. 4AD. 2015.

[2] Swift, Taylor. “Bad Blood”. 1989. Republic Records. 2015.

[3] Boucher, “Flesh Without Blood”.

[4] Smyth, Sarah. “The Queer Female Friendship of Frances Ha.” (accessed 16 November 2015).

[5] Nin, Anais, Henry and June. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1986.

Image: Art Angels cover

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