The inscrutability of St. Vincent has been talked into the ground because it’s so central to everything she does. This translates, of course, into her videos. As the tormented housewife in the “Cruel” video, or the mean casting director of “Actor Out Of Work,” or the massive statue of a woman in “Cheerleader,” Annie Clark has always put on faces so coyly blank that she’s made it almost impossible to relate to her. “St. Vincent” is a cypher onto which Clark projects a whole host of things, depending on her mood. But “Annie Clark” is not one of these things.
When the new clip for “Birth In Reverse” came out, I was so taken with it that I watched it about five times in quick succession. I couldn’t say quite why – nothing about the video is especially exciting or revelatory or novel. It opens with Clark in a white dress, made up like death, singing in the white tiled room that adorns the cover of “St. Vincent.” Soon a frazzled Robot Clark appears, dancing mechanically in a room with dance-steps painted on its walls, wearing a bizarre jacket thing. After the first chorus, we lose serene, White Witch Clark in exchange for Rocker Chick Clark, who has straight hair, racoon-eye makeup, and a tiny dress, and who is going crazy on her guitar in a room that’s half arena stage, half outer space. Eventually Robot Clark is dropped and all we have left is Rocker Clark, who thrashes her way into smoky abandon. Rocker Clark’s face is almost invisible due to extreme backlighting and smoke, and when we can see her, her eyes are so heavily shadowed she could almost be anyone (such as “Igby Goes Down”-era Amanda Peet). All of this is laid over and next to nature shots in an almost MS Paint-y, amateurish manner reminiscent of cleaned-up vaporwave. Stupid-looking video effects, like flipping shots into negative, are deployed frequently. So are closeup shots of Clark’s wizard fingers on the guitar.
So what about this presentation makes the song – about which I was never really been that thrilled until now – so much better? I think it may have something to do with a comment Clark made this year, about how young musicians flail themselves around – you know someone is in their prime when everything they do looks poised and calm.
The video depicts the deevolution of Annie Clark as St. Vincent – her “Birth In Reverse,” if you will. Rocker Annie is the young amateur. She is a Van Halen-esque rock god, blowing everyone away with her riffs, but still totally anonymous. Robot Dancer Annie is her current incarnation, these mechanical dance moves having been a central part of her tour in support of “St. Vincent.” But she clearly feels trapped by them – the panicked look on her face betrays her unwillingness to participate in this particular performance.
Who’s the puppeteer then? Perhaps it’s White Witch Annie, the ghastly goddess who opens the video. Her cheeky eye shrug would seem to indicate as much. This serene, blank, unmoving woman – this is the next incarnation of St. Vincent. She is showing us, Viewers, herself transcending herself. If Rocker Clark is designed to be anonymous, face constantly obscured, and Robot Clark is made to look like a terrified doll, God-mode Clark’s face is entirely clear and calm, staring directly at us, made up to look deliberately un-made-up, exposed because she has nothing to fear. The strange editing, the cloud and sunset shots – these frame her as a supernatural being in a broader context. She is acknowledging her surroundings while making it clear that she is entirely in command – this is St. Vincent in God-mode.
All of this is to say that “Birth In Reverse” is thrilling because it’s the closest we’ve ever gotten to an in-the-flesh depiction of St. Vincent as St. Vincent. It may also be the closest we’ve ever gotten to Annie Clark.