Monday, October 26, 2020

MEET... Maggie Rogers

Some musicians will spend their entire music career patiently waiting for the moment when someone, whether a personal idol or just a prominent name in the industry, outspokenly acknowledges and praises their work. For Maggie Rogers, it was the complete opposite. Her “big break” came in 2016 when Pharrell Williams arrived at the Clive Davis Institute of Rock Music at NYU for a songwriting masterclass (unbeknownst to the students) and was left nearly speechless, claiming he’d never heard anyone like her before, by Rogers’s homework: a layered folk-pop track with breezy vocals called ‘Alaska.’ The interaction, which almost immediately went viral, ultimately launched Rogers into the spotlight - and rightly so.

Rogers, now a 26 year-old NYU Graduate and Grammy-nominated artist, had always been comfortable in her music, but the newfound attention that sparked from her interaction with Pharrell was of a different magnitude than what she was used to. Originally from a small town in Maryland, Rogers was raised by her working class parents who had continuously encouraged her to pursue her music interests. 

After winning a songwriting contest at Berklee College of Music, Rogers continued to learn and teach herself instruments as well as music programming and production, self-releasing her first folk album that would ultimately secure her place at NYU in 2012.

NYU Masterclass with Pharrell Williams and Maggie Rogers:

While at NYU Rogers had the opportunity to live her life as an average American university student and deal with two prominent emotions that were a result of it: self-doubt and self-discovery. Contemplating a career in music journalism, Rogers worked as an Intern for several music publications before ultimately self-releasing her second folk album in 2014. After struggling with writer’s block for several months following her second self-release, Rogers studied abroad in Paris and Berlin where she gained discovered a newfound love for electronic dance music, a trait that is especially noticeable in some of her discography as she merges pop and folk style and electronic style beats. 

...And then came ‘Alaska.’ While Rogers is commonly claimed as being “discovered by Pharell,” she holds her own with her own authentic, eclectic genre and ordinarily honest yet comforting lyrics. After being pursued by several record companies, Rogers signed with Capitol Records and released ‘Now That the Light is Fading,’ a five- track EP that merges her folk roots, her love of pop music and her desire to be unapologetically apparent in her lyrics. Whereas ‘Color Song’ allows Rogers to introduce the EP with her isolated folk-like vocals, ‘On + Off’ has an energetic, repetitive cycle type beat with attention-grabbing drums and lyrics about “coming up slowly, high on emotion.”

Her studio album ‘Heard It in a Past Life’ was released in 2019 and offers listeners an introspective outlook on her life - both as a songwriter who spent her time writing songs in her Maryland bedroom and as a viral sensation launched into the spotlight and gaining the attention of hungry music labels. 

The album debuted at number two on the Billboard charts and was met with positive reviews from a wide range of critics and music publications. With Lorde and Stevie Nicks type of influences, the album encompasses retro, folk, pop genres and emotions that have somewhat become Rogers’s signature brand.
‘The Knife,’ presumably named after the lyrics about “the knife of insight tore it’s way in me” has a retro feel and powerful vocals about self-reflection. ‘Past Life’ is a stripped back piano ballad that alludes Rogers’ anxious feelings about her viral rise to stardom and the aftermath with lyrics like “I could feel the changes coming, I could feel the shadow coming.”

Maggie Rogers Fallingwater music video:

‘Fallingwater,’ a kind of counterpart to ‘Past Life,’ feels somewhat like a spiritual awakening as Rogers belts lyrics about falling into shadow-like feelings over a light piano and drum percussion. Rogers not only directly refers to one of her influences, Stevie Nicks, in ‘Retrograde’ but also seems to accept her fate to “come out of the darkness” with upbeat vocals and equally upbeat base track.

The ending track ‘Back In My Body,’ however, is probably the best track that fully summarizes the album: telling the very true story of Rogers’s real disconnect and sudden onslaught of overwhelming feelings while touring places like London and Paris to promote her EP. Although Rogers had suddenly become an up-and-coming artist that intrigued everyone from fans to music industry professionals alike, her talent shines possibly most powerfully in her acoustic set such as her NPR tiny desk concert.

Regardless of her reputation or Pharrell’s praise for the young songwriter, Maggie Rogers continues to make her music feel like an authentic and cathartic conversation with herself, at times filled with self-doubt yet still ready for self- discovery regardless, and making us - the listeners - feel and listen well.

Maggie Rogers tiny desk concert

- Emily Savidge
Twitter: @emilysavidge 

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