St. Vincent Presents: Gender-Defying “Prince Johnny”

Before Dallas-raised Annie Clark was recognized as St. Vincent, she drove around Texas blasting music from her favorite heavy metal group, Pantera, “hoping something would happen.”

For Clark (and so many former teenagers), adolescence was a period of exploration.  While many people experiment with recreational drugs or voraciously read their teen lives away, to escape the “hotbed of very conservative values” of Texas, she took took asylum under Nirvana, whose songs she found “so radical, punk and queer.”

Listening to Nirvana transitioned into engaging in the political spheres and raw energy of feminist riot grrl groups like Sleater-Kinney.  Clark, a self-described “Texas freak”, rebelled against the culture of fear instilled from living in Texas with music, where she found a place she could exist and “not feel weird and alien.”

As far as the media has peered into Clark’s sexuality, her answers deviate the pre-packaged sexualities of ‘gay’ and straight’.  She ardently believes in “gender fluidity and sexual fluidity” and that she could fall in love with anybody.  Since her youth, the concept of queerness has been far more significant to her than more static labels, because it “transcends sexuality” and welcomes anyone who feels ‘Other’, which, in her opinion, people feel the most aligned with.

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(“Annie Clark”. Photo from Propeller Magazine) 

St. Vincent’s musical style, which largely falls under the indie rock umbrella, has been characterized by critics as a fusion of chamber rock, pop, indie rock, and cabaret jazz.  Her producer, John Congleton, comprises a large percent of St. Vincent’s eclectic, unorthodox feel.  He has co-written and produced three of her four albums, and works alongside Clark to cultivate the sounds of the album as they go; they often call each other their musical-soulmates-in-chief.

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(Annie Clark and John Congleton in the studio)

     “Prince Johnny”, a song from her self-titled album St. Vincent, epitomizes her exploration of the Other through her friend, the “kind, but not simple” transgender Prince Johnny, whom the speaker prays for and reveals his desire to be “a real boy”.  This track is a ballad to her self-destructive friend Johnny, who spends his nights roaming the “downtown freak, weirdo, queer scene” of New York, but comes home to hollow heartbreak from others’ rejection of his authentic self.

Toward the end of the song, the lyrics point to the narrator’s longing to be a “real girl”, too, despite the initial impression that she was confident in her identity.  In turn, this song offers a compassionate vision into the confusion felt by people who have never fit into traditional boxes of the male or female gender.

Annie Clark is a defiant figure in the indie rock world, both in her music and her identity, because instead of succumbing to limitations of language, she resists definition, and manifests her queerness through her genre-bending sound.

She would rather be noted for her musical prowess than the fact that she’s a female in rock, which to her, is not a mind-blowing theme whatsoever.  She refuses to define her identity, because, while her queerness is no secret, “the emphasis should be on the music.”

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