What Makes #MASSEDUCTION A Gender-Fluid Masterpiece

By Zana Wilberforce

St. Vincent, known offstage as Annie Clark, released her new single New York back in summer 2k17 and then tickets went on sale, and then her sixth album was finally released in October. Moments before the show, I listened to her album in full whilst I was jogging away on the treadmill, and I listened very intently to her lyrics. I wanted to understand everything about New York, a ballad that laments her relationship with Cara Delevingne according to various internet sources swirling around. I wanted to understand Los Ageless too when it was released shortly after New York. I wanted to give the album a theme and unravel its intricacies, a familiar practice following Ms. Clark’s latest releases.

The show itself was less theatrical than I had expected. A static image in bright pink latex could be seen flung far across the room, statuesque and sturdy in form. She travelled across the stage almost robotically through each song, from left to right, as the curtain revealed more and more of the stage. St. Vincent moved from one microphone to the next, journeying on to her next song, and then finally taking centre stage. Once she made it to the middle, she pulled out her classics: Digital Witness, Birth in Reverse. I was moving my bum and shaking my hips and loving every minute of it. Then she disappeared and reappeared in a silver dress that resembled something I imagined to be worn by the Future Female; a Martian dress with blue sleeves made out of a reflective material and a reminder of David Bowie’s gender-bending and multifaceted costume changes.

Instead of a theatrical performance, the show was verging on a spectacle. The screen revealed video clips of bums and robust breasts marked with tape across nipples. Long legs appeared from TV screens as Ms. Clark vibrated casually and oh so calmly on what might have been one of those electric massage chairs you find in a motorway stop-off. So much was occurring on a screen behind St. Vincent as she stood like a sturdy Martian. Small clips repeated in the background and the backdrop rushed from hot pink to a mesmerising galaxy backdrop.

Similar to Bowie, who would hybridise elaborate bodily movements and routines played out in theatre, music and cinema, St. Vincent often incorporates dance and theatre into her live performances (think Rattlesnake), so I was looking forward to seeing how she does this in the flesh. This time, dance and theatre were swapped for art and cinema, an experimental gesture used to subvert essentialist notions of bodies and challenge normalised gendered behaviour.

On the tube home I thought more and more about gender in MASSEDUCTION, and how St. Vincent’s live performance brought this theme to the forefront of my mind. Throughout the album, there’s a flirtatious gender-fluid voice switching roles and oscillating from one to the next, and then back again – most prominently in Sugarboy: I am a lot like you, BOYS, I am alone like you, GIRLS. Ms. Clark’s repetition in this song becomes a ritualistic back and forth movement, making her mutating personas ceaselessly ambiguous.

I am a lot like you (boys)
I am alone like you (girls)
I am a lot like you (boys)
I am alone like you (girls)
I am a lot like you (boys)
I am alone like you (girls)
I am a lot like you (boys)
I am alone like you (girls)

This oscillating fluidity was also delivered vividly in her performance. The ambiguously-gendered pre-Martian (i.e. St. Vincent before she changed into the Martian dress) standing before an audience of onlookers, appeared erect in stature and very pink. Quite naturally, you’re thinking of a penis right now, right? Except St. Vincent’s erect and pinkish form was far more abstract and alien, especially matched with lyrics that scream something along the lines of “guess what world? I’m a lot like a boy and I’m a lot like girl too.” Such fluidity challenges everything we were ever taught about those classic “phallocentric symbols” of swords and sausages in Wuthering Heights. And good riddance!

Notably, the subject’s gender is unspecified in the entire album, instead referred to as a ‘young lover’, ‘hero’, ‘motherfucker’, but never ‘he’ or ‘she.’

Young lover, begging you please to wake up
Young lover, I wish that I was your drug

By omitting gender-normative pronouns and playing around with gender roles, Ms. Clark escapes definitive labels and captures the essence of fluidity both lyrically and visually. In this sense, MASSEDUCTION is more of a celebratory masterpiece about gender fluidity rather than a lament about a past relationship – although, I too, hear a deep and dark sadness in Slow Disco as the lovers slip away from each other:

Slip my hand, from your hand,

Leave you dancing with a ghost

Slip my hand, from your hand,

Leave you dancing with a ghost

On an early morning commute the next day, I re-listened to MASSEDUCTION for the umpteenth time – excluding gender from it all; imagining a pink and sturdy Martian picking me up and carrying me home to safety. Our hands in a firm grasp.

***

About the Author

Zana is a writer based in South London. Since graduating with an English Literature and French degree from UCL, she has been writing about fashion, music, travel and tech for various publications. She cites Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and Michel Houellebecq as some of her favourite writers, and particularly enjoys reading about gender and queer theory (preferably with a warm cup of coffee).

Editor

Daffyth Jenkins

 

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