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Fake Grimes

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APRIL 27, 2023

On April 23, the New York Times published an article titled “An A.I. Hit of Fake ‘Drake’ and ‘The Weeknd’ Rattles the Music World.” I initially thought that the piece must be referring to a fake song by Drake and The Weekend that was AI-generated in a lyrical sense, some chat bot presumably writing the lyrics. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me (though perhaps it should have been given the diction of “fake Drake”) that it was in fact a musical deception on nearly every level — and notably, on a vocal one.

“Heart on My Sleeve” is a garden variety Drake track. Created by a user on TikTok named ghostwriter977, the song was removed from the internet after roughly a week for copyright reasons. The timing of all of this is significant: In recent months, Universal Music Group, the label both The Weeknd and Drake are signed to, has sought to strengthen its legal defense of intellectual property in the face of emerging technologies like deep fakes.

To date, this column has taken a broadly anti-AI and AI art stance. I intuitively know that the primary reason I feel this way is due to a personal aesthetic aversion to AI art. I stand by this claim, but I think maybe I was subconsciously not acknowledging that my aversion is not inherent to the art itself, but the self-seriousness of it all. 

This critique extends to really anything having to do with AI. It makes perfect sense. The unfamiliarity and rapidly evolving nature of the technology logically begets fear and awe. Recently I’ve noticed that every time I go on Twitter, I get recommended tweets that sing the praises of AI and its myriad creative capabilities, like this one from Nathan Lands: “The music business is about to change forever now that AI can make Drake’s songs better than Drake can.” 

He continues, “And Grimes has a brilliant proposal for the future of AI music. This isn’t the next Napster moment. It’s bigger than that.” 

The irony of these kinds of tweets is that they themselves feel like they could be written by ChatGPT. Lands (who, from my research, operates a newsletter about AI and purports to have coined the term “gamify”) isn’t saying anything new. He’s actually not saying much at all, and he’s not alone in that fact. The weird, psyop-y vibe of these tweets notwithstanding, they are incredibly vague in their framing of the emergence of AI as a totalizing paradigm shift without any followup.

Lands’ Grimes idolatry would be more forgivable if she herself had any ability to offer clarity for how AI should function in music more broadly, that is beyond the musical project that is Grimes. In response to the NYT piece, the copyright infringement and subsequent extermination of “Heart on My Sleeve” from the Internet, Grimes tweeted: “I’ll split 50% royalties on any successful AI generated song that uses my voice. Same deal as I would with any artist I collab with. Feel free to use my voice without penalty. I have no label and no legal bindings.”

Maybe I’m missing something, but how is what Grimes is proposing at all different in product from a remix? The product of AI or not, a song that uses Grimes’ voice is generative of the same sound. All she’s doing in effect is encouraging and providing a financial incentive for people to rip her off and devolve her (admittedly often brilliant) artistry into something anemic and derivative.

An AI-generated rip off of a Drake song is a wholly different animal than an AI-generated Grimes song because every Drake song already sounds AI-generated. What exactly is so disruptive about it then? And why don’t we feel a little more shame about the way we talk about AI and its impact on art and music as if it’s some profoundly good or profoundly evil when maybe it’s just profoundly banal?

Writing this weekly column about tech and art (where I’ve often taken a specific interest in AI) has shifted my thinking in the sense that I now realize it’s kind of not that serious. AI has a long way to go before it can replace creative pursuits in their entirety. Art that is truly good and meaningful creates its own market and solidifies its own staying power purely on the basis of merit. 

The AI “paradigm shift” that everyone from crypto bros on Twitter to your socially inept cousin have been sounding off about won’t be catastrophic. It’ll be gradual, a drip-drip, water torture-style degeneration. But anticipating this decay can help create the conditions for its resistance too.

Contact Emma Murphree at 


APRIL 27, 2023