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Sometimes I sit in the smoking section, hoping one rogue spark will land in my direction — St. Vincent, “Smoking Section”
St. Vincent is on fire. I maintain there is nothing more beautiful on this dear planet than witnessing a woman at the height of her power, and on her fifth full-length album, Masseduction, Annie Clark is nothing if not that. Hang on me, she urges at the beginning of the record, confident she’s strong enough to keep both parties afloat. But one pair of wings is never enough. And the rest of her new record, along with its rollout, portrays a woman who is very much at the end of her rope. “I lost my mind, I lost people, I gained people, I stopped touring,” she told Buzzfeed of the time between 2014’s self-titled and her return in 2017. Loss is everywhere on Masseduction, a record littered with shed skins.
Details from Annie Clark’s meticulous, marvelously curated life were selectively doled out to the journalists who could endure the grueling gauntlet of her barely-veiled disdain for the press, as communicated on Instagram, the self-directed platform of choice that massive stars like Beyonce and Taylor Swift have adopted as their own. With the help of ex-girlfriend Carrie Brownstein, the narrative thrust of Masseduction unfolded on social media in sardonic diatribes that skewer journalists who stick to rather tired narratives about New York versus LA (Clark’s two lead singles were odes to these respective cities), women in rock (she has her own guitar line, which she posed with in a “bikini shirt” for the cover of Guitar World to skewer gender stereotypes) or banalities like “inspiration” and “songwriting.” Indeed, how droll.
As uncomfortable and awkward as this sardonic artifice was, the actual interviews were somehow still worse. Clark showed up to one interview in a bathrobe, nearly prompting a crisis for the male journalist in question, got under the covers of her pristine, hip hotel bed for another, and suggested pilates classes for at least two other meetings with journalists (It never worked out). Even in the best of these pieces, her cheekbones are “insane,” and in the worst — in what might be a testament to the validity of some of her gripes with the press — Vogue notes her “doe eyes” and “near-translucent” skin, a trope that is somehow reprising The New Yorker, where she’s “almost translucent.”
Despite the much-discussed state of her skin in these overly long and tellingly short features, she’s nothing close to transparent, stoically repeating terrible phrases like “monastic fantastic” and calling press a “necesary evil” in service to her art, while her heartbroken pop album earned her accolades as a rock-goddess with an album about sex. Better critics heard her as a titan, which is more suited to the mythical scope of Masseduction, an album far more concerned with death and loss than sex, and one that leaves her rock throne all but abdicated.