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Grimes Admits to Hacking and Extorting the Music Blog Hipster Runoff

"We were actually able to DDoS Hipster Runoff and basically blackmail them"

grimes hacking extorting hipster runoff blackmail blog music ddos attack
Grimes, photo by Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
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    Grimes has seemingly admitted to a cybersecurity crime, and she did it with a smile on her face. As first reported by technology and security expert Jackie Singh, Grimes bragged about hacking, blackmailing, and extorting the music blog Hipster Runoff in a new interview with Vanity Fair.

    The relevant admission did not appear in the print article, but instead in a supplementary video uploaded to YouTube. During the interview, Grimes was shown a series of photographs and asked to explain the stories behind them. One image, from 2012, showed her kissing a woman with long blonde hair.

    “Oh yeah, ok, so this one’s funny, I’ve always wanted to tell the story about this one,” Grimes said. “Back in the day, before the ‘woke’ era, I actually got cancelled for this, which is so crazy. I was just at a party with my friends, someone took this photo, and it got leaked to this website called Hipster Runoff. And he ran this story. I was trying to be all integrity, and you know, start my career, and it was like ‘Grimes Gone Wild’ or something and it was just this super wack mean story, and it was this meme which was going all over the internet.”

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    Hipster Runoff (aka HRO) was a well-known — some would say infamous — blog run by pseudonymous writer Carles from 2007 to 2013. The site had an undeniable impact on music writing. It’s credited with coining the term ‘chillwave,’ and at a time when so-called ‘indie’ music was getting commodified by big music labels, Carles cast a skeptical eye on the scene and what he often referred to as the “Corrupt Indie Machine.”

    Carles was notoriously pugnacious, and Grimes seems to have been a frequent target. Some HRO headlines included, “Grimes acts like insane woman in new video. Does she look HOT, KRAZIE, or BOTH?”, “Ohio school shooting teen TJ Lane listened to Grimes. Has fringe indie become the sound of teen angst?”, and of course, “Is Grimes the next BIG Indie Diva, or an overhyped product of the Corrupt Indie Machine?”

    According to Grimes, the photo of the same-sex kiss pushed her over the edge. In response, she prompted a tech-savvy friend to orchestrate a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, which overwhelms a system with superfluous requests so that legitimate requests — like a reader attempting to access the website — can’t be fulfilled.

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    Grimes explained, “My friend who worked for — I will not say which video game — had access to — ok, I don’t want to get him in trouble. But anyway, we were actually able to DDoS Hipster Runoff and basically blackmail them. We were like, ‘We’re not going to let you put your site back up until you take the story down.’ And he did, in fact, take the story down. It was my coolest hacker moment.”

    Carles gave an interview on the cyber attack to Motherboard in March 2012 shortly after the attack. “My server disk has crashed and remote backups were sabotaged,” he said. As for the culprit, “I have my suspicions, but I can’t confirm anything at this point… I can’t really name names, but I know that my site is frowned down upon in the indie community. All of the other sites hate me, and many artists and labels do not support my site. I am paying a price for not being part of the Corrupt Indie Machine.” He also hinted at the massive problem facing HRO: “Most likely site will be back, but at this point unsure if old posts will still exist.”

    Grimes’ cyber attack may have been the beginning of the end for Hipster Runoff. Most of the old content couldn’t be salvaged, and as Brooklyn Vegan noted, Carles stopped posting in 2013 before selling the site for about $20,000 in 2015.

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    Not all of that can be blamed on Grimes’; HRO had begun losing some of its audience by that point. Audiences had started to look at indie rock as a genre rather than a descriptor of label or contract status, while hip-hop began to drive the overall conversation, even as the tone of internet writing shifted to be less snarky and more supportive. HRO was a mainstay of a bygone era, and today, a lot of those old headlines would be more likely to elicit a wince than a chuckle. But still, the timing is quite suggestive, and Carles could likely make a case in court that Grimes caused the site’s downfall.

    He may get a chance to do so. Singh, who worked for President Biden’s campaign as a cybersecurity advisor, notes that there is no statute of limitations on cybercrime in Grimes’ native Canada, though if the attack originated in the United States, it’s unclear how the law may proceed. Check out the interview below, with the relevant section beginning around the 2:16 mark.

    As part of that same Vanity Fair profile, Grimes also admitted that she and her former partner Elon Musk had secretly had a second child named Y. Since then, Grimes has been romantically linked to Chelsea Manning, which may have prompted Musk to share a transphobic meme. Her next album, Book 1, is expected later this year.

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