Back in 2017, Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) was all edges. With her fifth album, Masseduction, the intimidating yet playful indie darling became the dominatrix pop star she’d always hinted lay within. Four years later, Clark has transformed again. “Pay Your Way in Pain,” the first single off her upcoming album Daddy’s Home, trades latex for the softer trappings of a ’70s starlet: blonde bobbed wig, a suit that manages to be simultaneously slouchy and fitted, and a sleazy sensuality. The song is an overload of influences: a honky-tonkin’ opening piano line gives way to thrusting funk à la Prince, and it’s impossible not to hear Bowie lamenting fame circa Young Americans in the way she curls her lips around the word “pain” in the chorus. “Everybody just wants to be loved,” Clark told the Guardian’s Laura Snapes.
But “Pay Your Way in Pain” doesn’t comment on celebrity as much as it indicts modern life. The song’s protagonist drags herself to the grocery store where there’s no food, which is fine since she doesn’t have the cash. “So I went to the bank to check my checking/The man looked at my face, said, ‘We don’t have a record,’” she sighs. While there’s not much warmth in “Pay Your Way in Pain,” there’s plenty of desire: At the track’s conclusion, Clark twists one final declaration—“I want to be loved”—into a hoarse, guttural shout. No matter what character she’s channeling, her uncanny ability to transform makes her a rockstar.