When Pitchfork asked Annie Clark, better known by her stage name St. Vincent, how she celebrated winning a Grammy for her self-titled album St. Vincent, she responded, “I just took a shower. [Laughs.] I’m having a coffee with cocoa.” After beating artists like Jack White and Arcade Fire, Clark has decided that the award belongs at her mother’s house “on her piano next to the childhood photos of everyone.” In an industry where feuds often erupt from offhand comments, the interview presents Annie as a refreshingly self-aware figure in popular music—placing just as much emphasis on her groundings as her successes as an artist.
But her music is completely ethereal. In her song “Digital Witness,” Clark repeats, “This is no time for confessing/ I want all of your mind/ Give me all of your mind,” as if commanding listeners to wholly give themselves to the otherworldly spell she casts. Observing a St. Vincent dress rehearsal, the Village Voice’s Devon Maloney was left with the impression that “St. Vincent has crafted a magnificent mythology on her own terms.” In between songs, the singer burst into dramatic monologue: “You once tried to make a hot air balloon out of bed sheets. You were disappointed when it did not fly, but you did not give up.” Evoking the dreamy eccentricity of the writings of French photographer Félix Nadar, St. Vincent transports herself from the stage to an unsettling reality where desire is answered with escape. Carefully practiced, these same words were repeated during every performance throughout her tour. Like a recitation of sacred text, the spellbinding effects of these performances leave the audience hypnotized.
The covers of St. Vincent’s records have always featured Annie, the single goddess of this “magnificent mythology.” From an austerely beautiful headshot in her debut album Marry Me to a close-up of her parted lips and teeth wrapped in a white plastic for Strange Mercy, St. Vincent’s album art remind the listener of their originator—Annie’s gaze omnipresent as her songs play. The cover of her most recent album displays St. Vincent sitting on a throne with the cross of the band’s O + V logo over her chest, reminiscent of the idols of bygone pagan religions.
However, Clark never ties her religion-invoking moniker to any explicit conceptions of faith. In an interview with Metro Pulse, Clark said that the group is named after her great-grandmother’s middle name “as a way to bring her along on the adventure.” However, in another interview on The Colbert Report, she said that St. Vincent comes from the lyric: “And Dylan Thomas died drunk in / St. Vincent’s hospital” from the Nick Cave song “There She Goes my Beautiful World.” A Google search for Saint Vincent leads to the Wikipedia page of Saint Vincenca, deified after the Romans martyred her for her Christian beliefs. These fragments of information then form the relics of her music. Commenting on the composition process of her self-titled album, Annie said, “I wrote the first song, ‘Rattlesnake,’ as a sort of new creation myth: you really are alone in the universe. You didn’t come from somebody’s rib, you didn’t listen to the snake and cause the downfall of man or anything like that.”
St. Vincent has since gained a cult following. Aware of their fans’ loyalty, the band’s official website is found at ilovestvincent.com, seemingly encouraging this cult of personality around Clark. Her twitter account boasts over 477,000 followers and regularly retweets media shared by fans dedicated to Annie. A mirror selfie from the user @Butt_Father with the O + V logo tattooed on his bulging bicep is especially jarring.
There is even an anonymous community dedicated to St. Vincent on the popular website Reddit. Visitors of the subreddit /r/AnnieClark uncover a community where believers of the St. Vincent mythology share rare versions of songs and boast about real-life encounters with Annie. Regular posters like Prince_Johny—his username surely a reference to the St. Vincent song “Prince Johny”—demonstrate an especially enthusiastic devotion: one of his posts links to a hundred-picture gallery of outtakes of Annie from an obscure 2007 photo shoot.
Nevertheless, this mythos is seemingly undone by Annie Clark’s inexplicable media presence. In the depths of Vimeo, there is an instructional video by Rookie Magazine titled “How to Do a Rainbow Kick with St. Vincent,” where Annie runs around an abandoned warehouse after a soccer ball. As the video begins, she stares into the camera and introduces herself, “Hey Rookie. This is Annie a.k.a. St. Vincent and I’m here to teach you how to do a soccer move that’s called a rainbow.” With this foray into athleticism, conceptions of Clark as an otherworldly rock goddess are broken—transforming the musician into something more human: a being with a real, relatable past.
She traces the origins of her skill, “I learned this when I was in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade—it actually took like three years to perfect—while I was sitting on the bench watching the good players play on my select soccer team.” The Annie Clark whose wide-eyed stare follows the airborne ball is utterly endearing: in that moment wholly committed to teaching her invisible, and probably nonathletic, audience how to do a rainbow. The myth of St. Vincent as a manifestation of human loneliness independent of reality or religion is broken—her closing words are “Oh Jesus!,” as she accidentally projects the ball into an unseen window.
But these glimpses of St. Vincent’s—or more precisely, Annie Clark’s—humanity are strangely captivating. These disclosures break the gradually crafted perfection of the Clark mythology, which point towards the tantalizing possibilities suggested by “Marry Me” off of St. Vincent’s first album. “So marry me, John, marry me, John/ I’ll be so good to you/ You won’t realize I’m gone,” St. Vincent repeats. This escape into music—a world where we rejoice to the sound of Paris burning and births occur in reverse—tempering the absence of ornament observed in Annie’s regular existence. The listener confronts both a being of mythical perfection and a human figure that can receive love—who implores, “I prefer your love to Jesus” as she crafts her fantasy. But this is exactly what draws the listener in: her music a passageway to a land where no one—including Annie Clark—has to settle for reality or fiction.