St. Vincent's Masochistic 'Cheerleader' Video Dissected: Is Annie OK?

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Devon Maloney WRITTEN BY
Devon Maloney

Today, St. Vincent dropped the video for "Cheerleader," off last year's Strange Mercy (which we recently named No. 34 on our best albums of 2011 list). The song's lyrics fit in remarkably well with the theme of the video, but we're starting to wonder: Annie (Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent), are you OK? Are you OK, Annie? (Hat tip to Vulture, but we were thinking it, too!)

True to recent form (see: the equally gruesome video for "Cruel"), Clark's latest short film brings the eyelinered, benzadrine-dream gaze and horrifically unlikely cause of death. This time, however, she's not exactly human. As we gaze into her cold, dead eyes, it becomes apparent that the porcelain-skinned Clark is ... actually made of porcelain, on display as a giant museum exhibit hoisted by some seriously allegorical rope for slack-jawed gallery types to ogle. As she proclaims (still with that zombified expression), "I don't want to be a cheerleader no more," she suddenly breaks free of her pulleys and attempts an escape down the museum halls. However, just when the viewer is convinced she's broken free, the gargantuan china doll freezes, and her limbs slowly shatter: She is, after all, very delicate.

On the surface, the Hiro Murai-directed clip is about what the song describes: objectification, powerlessness, "the man," if you want to go there. But what's it telling us about Annie Clark? Onstage, shredding covers like Big Black's "Kerosene," or Pearl Jam's "Black," or the Beatles' "Dig a Pony" she's a vibrant, real powerhouse. She can also be hilarious, like when she recruited a pre-Portlandia Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein for — and was equally funny in — the video for her song "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood".

On record and in her recent videos, though, Clark is someone else — nearly PhotoShopped into objectified art. In "Cruel," an equally distant but physically perfect Clark gets abducted, then buried alive as she sings. Now, with "Cheerleader," this distinct, new image of the artist is cemented (pun totally intended): Clark's haunting messages are obscured by her videos' hyperfocus on her physical flawlessness. Twice, now, we've received a pretty three-minute story in which beauty, rather than intent, takes the driver's seat.

Maybe Clark is dividing herself into the surreal and the relatable intentionally. But should we be taking St. Vincent as fact (the hilarious, axe-wielding goddess of rock) or fiction (the immaculate art project that gets kicked down every time it rebels)? And if the answer is both, is it possible for Clark to portray them simultaneously rather than piecemeal?

Watch the video below, and in case you need to brush up on your St. Vincent, turn to our recent cover story on the nervy pop songstress.

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