I loved St. Vincent’s song “The Melting of the Sun” right up until the moment I heard her explain what it was about. At first, the second single from her album Daddy’s Home (which came out in full on May 14) had been a familiar treat: slow, sultry verses, an operatic chorus, and a sexy guitar riff for the bridge. It seemed evidence that the upcoming album would bring as much joy and entertainment into my life as all her others have. Then St. Vincent, whose real name is Annie Clark, posted a video to her Instagram in which she explained that “The Melting of the Sun” was an ode to her female artistic heroes who had been “met with hostility in the world that they did not deserve, and a lot of times it was just because they were telling the truth.” I immediately became annoyed.
I wasn’t so much bothered by what St. Vincent said, I was irked by the video itself. It obviously had been filmed at the same time as a similar one she made about the album’s first single, “Pay Your Way in Pain”—she was wearing the same maroon jumpsuit and sitting in front of the same white piano. These prepackaged selfie videos dropped like press releases, to be regurgitated in entertainment rags’ inevitable, identical “Listen to St. Vincent’s New Single” posts.
These slick Instagram posts were just a small part of a glossy two-month-long album rollout that had already been giving me the heebie-jeebies. There were partnerships with Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon, and the press “profiles” had all the same info: the album was dually inspired by her father’s release from prison (he was sentenced to twelve years for his involvement in a stock fraud scheme) and the atmosphere of seventies New York. Every new piece of press brought to mind the sentence “Annie can give you twenty minutes,” said in a publicist’s voice. (Annie didn’t seem to like these bland Q&As either and got one killed after the fact, though no one’s really sure what irked her about that interview in particular.)
So, however sincere the feminist sentiments behind “The Melting of the Sun” may be (and I do think they are!), they are presented with such obsessive polish that they just come off as #YasQueenGirlboss pandering. Authenticity doesn’t count when it’s prerecorded and packaged and sold to you with an additional note telling you to check out more of its authenticity over on Amazon.com. It’s further undermined by the paint-by-numbers vapidity of celebrity media. All of this makes it harder to just enjoy the music. As a listener and a longtime fan, I’m having trouble interacting with St. Vincent’s new art without hearing the tinny voice of her PR team. I wish she could have just dropped the album and said absolutely nothing at all.
Which brings me to whatever is happening with Kacey Musgraves right now. The rollout for her next album has already begun: we don’t yet have a title or release date, but we have an official press release from her record companies, and a couple of magazine profiles that repeat the same anecdote about the medically guided mushroom trip she took while listening to a playlist that had been curated by doctors at Johns Hopkins to aid her self-reflection.
The narrative being presented—that 2018’s Golden Hour was her psychedelic ode to falling in love, and this new one is going to be about the subsequent divorce—is something fans have known was going to happen since the minute her divorce was announced. So what purpose do the details actually serve? Does knowing the specifics about how exactly Kacey did her soul-searching do anything to stoke anticipation? And these early pre-scripted junkets are just the beginning. There could be months of this, which means that when the album is, at last, released and we hear the actual song that was born of that oft-cited mushroom trip, we might by that time have choked to death on the commodified version of Kacey that her publicists have been pushing down our throats. (Kacey responded to an Elle profile by posting an image from the photo shoot on her social media channels, including the caption “legs longer than my marriage,” which showed a sharpness and wit that makes me far more excited about her new music than any of the profiles could.)
You see, Beyoncé has spoiled me. Since she surprised-released her self-titled album in 2013, I have become accustomed to almost never hearing from my favorite artist. Bey doesn’t do interviews. She doesn’t really promote at all, she just releases and leaves the Beyhive to search for meaning on its own. Of course, when she puts out something “real,” like a behind-the-scenes photo on her Instagram, or a documentary like Homecoming or The Lion King: The Gift, it is obviously polished, professional Bey propaganda that makes the Kremlin look amateur. But the crucial distinction is that her self-promotion serves as an extension of her art. And it works! It gets me excited about her work. She doesn’t sell the volume of records she did in her twenties, but she’s still racking up awards and dominating the discourse.
Now, Bey has far more industry power than the likes of St. Vincent and Kacey Musgraves—even Disney couldn’t make Bey pose for a Lion King cast photo. So when she saw that traditional PR rollouts weren’t serving her or her music, she could simply stop doing them. But since 2013, Bey’s silence has allowed her music to speak for itself. It is the epitome of showing and not telling, and I do wish other artists could do the same.
St. Vincent and Kacey Musgraves may be beholden to Faustian contracts with the record companies releasing their music. But their proven talents as songwriters and artists alone would keep us excited to see what they will do next.