The ever-evolving persona and stage presence of St. Vincent

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St. Vincent’s current “Fear the Future” tour is drawing rave reviews from around the country for its creative staging, audio-visual accompaniment and just how purely hard it rocks out.

Yet it’s worth stepping back from the hype and looking with a critical eye at just how such a unique image was created and is maintained.

It’s no secret that much of pop and rock criticism relies on points of reference as a means of describing an artist to someone who may never have heard that type of music before: “St. Vincent sounds like or her show’s costuming reminds me of Y, etc.” But with this artist such a description does her a great disservice, and it is worth instead pointing out who she isn’t like.

Taylor Swift recently made the great leap forward (or backward, judging from recent reviews of “Reputation”) into pop music. The album’s EDM/rap-tinged songs with a sexual slant are tarnished by Swift’s tendency to play the victim, wear her heart on her sleeve and fail at subtlety, instead creating meaninglessly veiled diss-songs like “Look What You Made Me Do.”

St. Vincent’s “MASSEDUCTIONalbum released this year retains what she has maintained throughout her whole career: mysteryHer songs are abstract, fragmented but still with an emotional core that doesn’t alienate her listeners. The songs on her recent album alone are sharply-edged pop songs that rival the sexual politics prevalent in Elvis Costello’s best lyrics. Unlike  Swift’s ex’s, the ubiquitous and elusive “Johnny” appears in several St. Vincent songs yet remains anonymous, perhaps a consolidation of every ex who ever existed.

While always remaining mysterious, St. Vincent made her own great leap forward after her collaboration with ex-Talking Head David Byrne with 2012’s, “Love This Giant.” Her songs starting with her 2014 self-titled album were just as influenced by the horn instrumentation of that album as they were with Byrne’s esoteric and cerebral song construction. Some may argue her recent live show’s staging with ninja-type stage hands was influenced by Talking Heads’ own “Stop Making Sense” tour.

Following her collaboration with Byrne, her stage persona came into its own, distilling a wide range of influences and yet remaining distinctly her own artist. Her aesthetic in both albums and live shows show influences like Japanese theater, the shock of glam rock, the bleeding heart horror of a classic femme fatale and the guitar intensity of a Nirvana show. Her recent foray into film directing only solidifies her persona and adds depth to her body of work.

It’s easy to say who St. Vincent sounds like, yet to call her derivative is nothing short of an insult. She remains unique and magnetic, with a stage presence that is both evolving yet always with the same familiar feminine eccentricity.

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