Grimes is a jack of many trades—a singer, a producer, an aspirant sailor and, apparently, something of a cyber hacker. In a Vanity Fair video interview released March 10, the musician revealed that, back in 2012, she blackmailed the founder of the once-prominent music culture blog Hipster Runoff, in order to force them to take down a photo of her kissing a friend at a party.
In the interview, she explained that she asked a friend who worked for a video game company to assist her in hacking the blog, who ran said photo with an accompanying “mean story”. She said they performed a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack, which floods a particular server with traffic, rendering it unusable.
“We were actually able to DDoS Hipster Runoff and basically blackmail them. We were like, like, ‘We’re not gonna let you put your site back up until you take the story down.’ And he did, in fact, take the story down. And it was like my coolest hacker moment,” Grimes said.
Hipster Runoff was a website that ran during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reporting on, but also poking fun at indie culture (think: the heyday of Urban Outfitters and American Apparel). Run by an individual under the pseudonym Carles, the blog attracted a large following covering figures like Grimes, Best Coast, and Lana Del Rey. According to a Vulture retrospective on the blog, it was kind of an art piece unto itself: “Carles is a caricature of someone whose identity is constructed entirely on being in the know.”
Hipster Runoff never fully recovered after the attack, and was sold for a little over $21,000 in 2015. In March 2012, Carles did an interview about Hipster Runoff being hacked with Motherboard. At the time, they speculated that a musician or someone “in the indie community” could possibly have been the perpetrator. Apparently, what happened was more serious than a standard DDoS attack, as Carles told Motherboard that the site’s “server disk [had] crashed and remote backups were sabotaged.”
In a blog cited by Pitchfork, the cybersecurity professional Jackie Singh wrote about the potential repercussions Grimes could face. According to Singh’s Medium site, “Canada does not have a statute of limitations on cybercrime,” meaning that what the musician admitted to could have legal blowback. (In June 2020, an American man was sentenced to five years in prison and fined over $500,000 “in restitution” for a series of DDoS attacks he had coordinated against media outlets.) As Pitchfork noted, DDoS attacks are illegal in both U.S. and Canadian law—and at the time the hack took place, Grimes was living in Montreal.
Singh also noted that the photo in question first appeared on another popular website, Last Nights Party, which documented the indie social culture of New York City. “It seems like a misrepresentation to imply this was a private photo for which the blogger was deserving of retribution for publishing,” she wrote.