St. Vincent's Attention To Technology Keeps It Timeless
By Amanda Silberling
An eponymous album marks a major moment in an artist's career. For ladies, owning one's work, body, and artistry can be especially powerful, even political. During Women's History Month, MTV News is highlighting some of those iconic statements from some of the hugest artists on the globe. This is Self-Titled.
My friend died about a month ago, which is still hard for me to understand. We remember it once her relatives tag her in Facebook posts, throwing every picture they have of her into the digital ether, desperate create ensure she is going to continue to exist. Or, we remember it as soon as we log onto Spotify and we no longer visualize what songs she’s listening to.
made a similar observation eight years back, that the social internet isn’t built to accommodate death, or to decide what it really means as soon as someone aids in preventing logging on.
“I’m entombed in a shrine / Of zeroes and ones / You know,” she sings on “Huey Newton
.” She isn’t just saying “you know” because it sounds good with the music — she tells us that we know, because needless to say we know. Anyone who has lost anyone since advent of the world wide web knows.
St. Vincent’s self-titled record came out in early 2014, a digital moment before TikTok, and before we all had to learn what NFTs are. Looking back, the record put a novel spin on the idea of timelessness. We call something timeless as soon as it would’ve made just as much sense hundreds of years back as it does right now, although these days, technology is so entrenched in our lives that any time musicians disregard the contemporary moment, it could some days feel like an element of how we interact with the world is missing. For those of us who grew up on the world wide web — who remember listening to “Birth in Reverse” for the opening time by way of the a Tumblr post, any time some fellow teen girl blogger observed how surprising it was to hear St. Vincent sing the word “masturbate” in the opening single on an eponymous album — it’s hard to imagine a time any time once you wouldn’t find out that your friend died by means of the Instagram DM.
It’s probably not a coincidence that I noticed comfort from St. Vincent
in a time of grief. It’s gritty and fuzzy, some days upset, occasionally reverent, although but still a fun listen.
“I set out to create a party record you can play at a funeral,” St. Vincent, whose real name is Annie Clark, told NME
at the time of release. She gravitated toward these differences, saying that she wants her music to stay in the middle of the Venn diagram of approachability and lunacy. After saying this, she attempted to explain on mainstream television that there’s a little bit of “technoshamanism” in her music, nodding to the conflation of spiritual and technological themes — so much for approachability!
“Everything we do is order kind of [a performance]... You’re wearing that suit, and I have this hair, and we’re communicating things about ourselves in this analog way,” she said
on The Colbert Report
in 2014, sporting her white, teased bob and also a dark, smoky eye. “But we right now have this other realm, which is the digital realm, to redeveloped ourselves, to prepare digital versions of ourselves.”
Any time we talk about these dual personhoods — our online projections and our “true” selves — typically we’re talking about how our curated Instagram grids aren’t reflective of reality. Nevertheless already in 2014, any time Instagram boasted merely 200 million users, compared to its 1.4 billion today, St. Vincent nodded to fact that the world wide web isn’t all bad. For queer kids attempting to identify who they are, maybe it’s good
have the ability to try new identities on the world wide web, connecting with others who are going by means of the same experiences. What if we imagine that our online personas might be more real than the ones we inhabit in day-to-day life?
St. Vincent knew that before we did. As she sang on “Digital Witness,” “People turn the TV on / It looks just like a window, yeah.” And there’s that affirmation, again, that she understands more than us: the “yeah” of it all. Yeah, we know that social media has taken over our lives, and it’s probably also late to reverse course. However is that habitually all bad?
Some days, it seems like the person St. Vincent gets to be in her music is a refuge from who she has to be in real life — a musician with the pressures of answering questions from press about who she is, or more accurately, who they think she is. How many articles were shared online
praising her refusal to respond to queries about “being a woman in music,” or declining to figure out as a “female headliner
” of a Australian festival?
On “Prince Johnny,” she introduces us to a sort of gender fluid royalty: “You’re kind nevertheless you’re not simple / By right now I think you know the difference,” she sings to describe a character who considers what it means to be a “real boy” or a “real girl.”
While promoting St. Vincent
, a Rolling Stone
reporter straight-up asked Clark if she “identifies as either gay or straight,” as though those would be the only two responses to a question about sexual identity.
“I don’t think about those words. I believe in gender fluidity and sexual fluidity. I don’t really identify as anything,” she responded. “I think you could fall in love with anybody. I don’t have anything to hide [...] Nevertheless I’d rather the emphasis be on music.”
Clark appears on the cover of her self-titled album, styled the same way she was in that Colbert interview, sitting on a white throne. Certainly, there’s religious iconography involved in her music — just imagine her nickname, plus her claim that her grandmother baptized her “with a cigarette in one hand along with a martini in another
.” She positions herself as a holy figure who also happens to be a robot; while touring this record, she performed choreographed dances on stage that made her look like an animatronic.
She made it clear while in the promotion of St. Vincent
that she exists in her body, nevertheless that she is more than just a body. It was throughout this time that she collaborated with Ernie Ball to develop her signature guitar
, designed to prepare room “for a breast, or two.” However she still didn’t answer “women in music” questions, even voicing her discomfort with being called a woman (“Am I a lady? I forget,” she said
). While in an era of music journalism as soon as asking an artist their sexual orientation or gender identity wasn’t seen for the invasive question it is, she proved that a body isn’t routinely a complete reflection of oneself. What’s it like to be someone with boobs on stage? Some days, they get in the way.
On St. Vincent
, Clark introduces herself as a cyborgian deity on her pure white, innocent throne, nevertheless she also firmly tells us who she is outdoor of this performance: someone who doesn’t owe us any more statistics than what she’s prepared to share.
“I determined to self-title my new album because I was reading Miles Davis’s biography, and he talks about how the hardest thing for any musician to do is to learn how to play like yourself,” Clark said
at the time. “I think I did that on this record.” And whether she’s calling herself a heretical “Bad Believer” or preparing us to cope with death, she plays like herself on St. Vincent
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