We kick off our Women’s History Month with an indie icon, Annie Clark – a.k.a. St. Vincent. The last time we heard any studio work from St. Vincent was back in 2017 with her record Masseducation. That record had St. Vincent’s trademark bold musical arrangements and heartbreaking vocals. Pay Your Way in Pain is the single she released ahead of her upcoming record Daddy’s Home.
I fell in love with St. Vincent with her debut record Marry Me in 2007, after she left the Polyphonic Spree, and the touring band for Sufjan Stevens, to branch out on her own. I actually saw her as part of that touring band in Australia. Since then she has released six records and each has gotten more experimental and lyrically complex than the previous release. Daddy’s Home will be her seventh studio release and judging by Pay Your Way in Pain, we are in for the best record of 2021.
St. Vincent has always explored feminist themes and issues throughout her music. Some tracks that come to mind are Cheerleader and Year of the Tiger, which are both off of Strange Mercy. Both of those tracks explore St. Vincent shedding women’s traditional gender roles in favour for her own self – agency. However, she sings about how defying such roles is fear inducing and may lead to being marginalised by society. Pay Your Way in Pain explores similar themes as the main character becomes marginalised by her community due to her refusal to fit classic “lady-like” societal norms. The woman in this track is bold, sexual and powerful; however, society does not accept her, “So I went to the park just to watch the little children / The mothers saw my heels and they said I wasn’t welcome.” The idea of women owning their sexuality and power only to be ostracised by society is also evident in Dolly Parton’s Harper Valley PTA and Betty Davis’ They Say I’m Different. For St. Vincent, women who do not fit society’s gender construction pay for that in pain and shame.
Musically, this single is a new avenue for St. Vincent to travel and I love it. Early in her career St. Vincent was known as an accomplished guitarist. Throughout her career we have seen her as an indie guitar forward artist, a neon soaked syth god, an austere doomsday prophet and finally back to basics with the keyboard focused MassEducation remix in 2018. Pay Your Way in Pain sees her channel her inner Prince and Betty Davis as her sexualised falcetto flows over some of the dirtiest synth and cow bell you have ever heard on a St. Vincent record. The track itself just oozes of early 1990s Prince sex, which is in stark contrast to the pain and shame the track’s subject experiences during the song. Annie Clark and Jack Antonoff produced the record and you can definitely hear a bit of Taylor Swift’s 1989 mixed with Clark’s dark subverted edge.
St. Vincent’s Pay Your Way in Pain subverts the sexualised Prince and funk tracks for the 1970s – 1990s, in how the male singers in those tracks are venerated for their sexual prowess, while the woman St. Vincent sings about is shun for her sexuality. This track is a bold statement both musically and lyrically for Annie Clark. I love this track musically and conceptually, which puts it at the top of my songs of 2021….thus far. If the rest of the record lives up to this single, Daddy’s Home will easily be my record of the year.
Listen to Pay Your Way in Pain