Mistress of seduction

Listening to St Vincent's fifth studio album Masseduction, you hit the Eureka button: Wouldn't this be the perfect soundtrack for the recently concluded exhibition Human +: The Future Of Our Species at the ArtScience Museum?

St Vincent, or known to her mom and pop as Annie Clark, is famous for her reinventions, tinged with a wink-wink awareness of modern society's penchant for self-augmentation.

She is Madonna +, if you like, or a character from Blade Runner 2049 who may be a replicant, or better still, a hybrid human-android. You smile too, remembering Clark's masochistically precise robot dance duet with Moog player and guitarist Toko Yasuda at Laneway Singapore in 2015.

Such fluidity characterises the Oklahoma native's role-playing, right from her blithe upending of gender roles in her 2007 debut Marry Me, through to her 2014 self-titled album where she proudly brandished a grey mane.

Masseduction, co-produced with Jack Antonoff, is her most direct and maximalist record yet, taking on gender dynamics and power relationships. It's a summation of her life so far, a reflection on heroes, lovers, and past and present loves.

It also happens to be released in an opportune time where misogyny and sexism are trending in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

American musician St Vincent is famous for her reinventions.
American musician St Vincent is famous for her reinventions. PHOTO: LOMA VISTA RECORDINGS

In a Facebook press conference, she said the album title "is a little play on words", adding that "mass seduction, seduction of masses, my seduction… am I being seduced, or am I the seducer?"



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These questions shadow the title track where she chants, "I can't turn off what turns me on", against bodacious beats and squelchy synth bass and a sample of Yasuda singing over a Japanese track Power Corrupts.

"I hold you like a weapon," Clark gasps, out of willing submission or subjugation.

She zeroes in on the tug-and-pull allure of sexual politics, and implicates everyone in the game.

In her opening song Hang On Me, the one-time girlfriend of model-actress Cara Delevingne may well be whispering to her ex-paramour, "We're not meant for this world", as synths rise and a serpentine bassline worms through.

This is followed by Pills, a cartoonish parody on self-medication and America's obsession with pharmaceutical cures, featuring vocals by Jenny Lewis and Delevingne; and Sugarboy, a jaunty, synth-slicked declaration of her gender identification.

"I am a lot like you (Boys)/I am alone like you (Girls)," goes the shout-and-response chorus in the latter track.

In a funky, come-hither track Savior, she confesses that while she loves playing dress-up, from a nurse's outfit to a teacher's little denim skirt, she is neither saviour nor martyr.

Whether you call her Annie, or St Vincent, or what moniker she adopts, one thing is clear. These identities are not masks. They constitute her myriad personality, just like New York, the city of her adoption, and the title of a moving disco elegy.

"I have lost a hero/I have lost a friend/But for you, darling/I'd do it all again," she recalls in the song New York, pining the passing of musical icons David Bowie and Prince, and promising to do justice to their legacy. Watch this star rise.

Yeow Kai Chai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2017, with the headline 'Mistress of seduction'. Print Edition | Subscribe