How St. Vincent Became A Popstar With Her Most Experimental Project Yet

Written By Sam Murphy on 11/14/2017

St. Vincent has always bent the rules of any genre she’s traded in but looking at her 2007 debut Marry Me alongside her 2017 record MASSEDUCTION, it’s somewhat difficult to believe it’s the same person. Over 10 years, she’s transformed into one of the most exciting, daring musicians in the world, adopting a captivating visual accompaniment to her music that has become increasingly mainstream while being nothing like anything in the mainstream right now.

For the MASSEDUCTION campaign Clarke has performed on everything from US Late Night shows to Ellen unafraid for perhaps the first time to dabble in the commercial world. And it’s better off for it. On Ellen, she performed Los Ageless, a song driven by a woozy synth-line and pulsating bass line, wearing a pointy pink cone bra and knee-high leather boots. The audience all went home with a copy of MASSEDUCTION, a record world’s away from the Sam Smith and Adele LPs that the Ellen audience are used to heading home with.

Clarke is unashamedly playing in that space between alternative and mainstream and it’s captivating to watch. MASSEDUCTION was co-produced with Jack Anotonoff who has most recently produced half of Taylor Swift’s Reputation and the title track of P!NK’s new album Beautiful Trauma. Sure, it’s a pop album but not the kind you’re used to. It’s a wild, inventive, detouring album that deals with power and seduction. It’s full of furious beats (Sugarboy), reverb-soaked guitar (Fear The Future) and haunting, almost comical choruses (Pills). Unlike most pop records, the most accessible moments melodically are far from mundane. Ballads New York and Happy Birthday, Johnny give us her most personal and direct moments yet.

Over the past few years, Clarke’s once personal life has entered the spotlight. A high-profile relationship with actor and model Cara Delevingne plus increasingly popular music has taken her from Pitchfork to gossip mags. The temptation for artists who were once underground is often to shy away or sand back the edges for the mainstream but Clarke has taken a much different approach. She’s boldly expanded on her artistic identity with stark colours and powerful statements on the notion of femininity.

When asked about her fame by The Guardian, Clarke replied, “What am I gonna do? I’m just gonna keep making music.”

“I know this is another Pollyanna answer, but it’s about the music. Did I write better songs than on the last album? Did I sing them better? Did I play better guitar? Did I connect?”

You hear artists proclaim that it’s “about the music” so often but with Clarke it’s believable. She’s embraced her new platform but she hasn’t really changed anything at all to cater for a larger, more diverse fanbase. She invites people into her world unapologetically without changing herself to ask for acceptance into other people’s world. If that were the case she would’ve been standing in front of a mic stand in a nice dress on Ellen singing New York, without any mention of “fuck”. These are the sort of popstars that are exciting. The one’s that show us their world and imagination without considering the one the most people want to see. Lorde, Kendrick Lamar and Kelela are a few examples of others that have done that really successfully this year.

A London Interns correspondent saw St. Vincent at O2 Academy Brixton just weeks after the album was released. She agreed to having “mixed feelings” about some of it but was struck by the “bold” nature of it. Clarke stood up there by herself, without a band, backed by “feminist/anti establishment” visuals. The crowd loved something as wild as Los Ageless while the delicate intimacy of Happy Birthday Johnny provided a rare chance to hear Clarke’s voice with little else surrounding it. Clarke’s shows are never going to be straight-up. She ditched a support act for a self-directed short film and intrigue is one of the strongest feelings felt but that’s the excitement you invest in as a St. Vincent fan. In many ways, it’s better than being left feeling unchallenged which is something many pop shows these days offer up, despite astronomical production costs.

The St. Vincent show is an extension of the strong visuals served in the videos for New York and Los Ageless and while it looks spectacular, it’s about so much more than that. Something as simple as pink background for New York says so many things. It’s strong, emotional, unwavering – a blank canvas that Clarke populates with her lyrics while still allowing the audience to bring a piece of themselves to the response.

That’s why Clarke is such a different type of popstar. Everything she serves to us from the lyrics to the visuals is a piece of her world and imagination but she’s not afraid to place it in the hands on the viewer or listener for interpretation. In a pop world where so much of what is delivered comes with a chart prediction or intended audience,one that can be targeted via data and analytics, Clarke is refreshingly unpredictable.

We’re giving away a signed postcard and MASSEDUCTION pink vinyl. All you’ve gotta do is fill out the form below.