In The Modern Classics, I’ll examine songs from the 2000s and 2010s that I think will be remembered as the classics of our time. What makes them different than the other songs we love, and why do I think they’ll resonate years down the line?
#1. Grimes – Oblivion
From the 2012 album Visions
Deep cuts do not make a modern classic, and I’m hardly alone in my love of this song; Pitchfork named it the best song of the 2010s so far. The rest of that top 10 contains songs I love like Kanye West’s Runaway and Frank Ocean’s Pyramids, as well as songs some that don’t work for me like Drake’s Hold On We’re Going Home and Ariel Pink’s Round and Round, but Oblivion is the only track that I am positive will hold up years later as an emblem of its time.
So why this one? First and foremost, that bouncy synth bassline is unfairly catchy. Grimes’ lyrics are fairly mumbled, so the hook had to come from another source, and a rhythm as active as that bass works in spades. It’s immediately recognizable and omnipresent throughout the song; hearing any five seconds of it having ever heard it before identifies it immediately. Compare it another great Grimes track, Realiti, which similarly has tremendous texture but doesn’t own its rhythm quite as much, relying more on the melodic hook in the chorus to distinguish itself.
But Oblivion isn’t a banger by any stretch. At its heart, its beat poetry, telling a story of sexual assault and the scars it carries. The fact the lyrics are difficult to parse on a first listen allow it to survive as great groove music outside of its context, but its depth gives it a lasting appeal. It’s topical to today’s movement against sexual violence and the taboo inherent in it, and its forwards politics will surely give it lasting appeal to future generations. Grimes has released plenty of great music before and since, but Oblivion remains her crown jewel.