Wednesday, October 14, 2020

MEET... Phoebe Bridgers

Everyone likes a good sad song, and my fellow songwriters will know that it’s sad songs that people start with, it’s the most accessible range of emotion to write about. But getting a sad song right is a nuanced thing: it involves vulnerable, relatable lyricism, an ability to carry emotion in their voice, not to mention the craft that goes into actually creating the tone musically. Enter Phoebe Bridgers who seemingly effortlessly carries all of these components and graces us with beautiful music. She is not a sad person, she says, and you can see it in interviews and on social media where her content alternates between self-deprecating humour and little tirades about, well, anything really. That being said, I’d call her the contemporary queen of the sad song.

Born in Pasadena in 1994, a ‘fender bitch’ from a young age (I’m quoting her directly after spending probably, at this point, hours of my life stalking her social media), she grew up playing the Pasadena farmer’s market for some extra cash. Reportedly obsessed with music from a young age and growing up in a household deluged with Joni Mitchell, the Pretenders, Neil Young and other greats, it’s hardly surprising she found her calling in music. At 13 she tried out for Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA, incidentally I have family members that went there, excuse me while I fangirl over this six degrees of separation moment) and got accepted within a single verse of her prepared rendition of ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’ (a Stephen Foster classic).

Her musical influences are varied. From her classical folk/indie roots to a spell of punk music in her early teens (playing bass in the band Sloppy Jane), her music is individual. Supported by her mother who would drive her to gigs, both to play them and to watch them, who would create playlists for her to listen to and drive her to lessons, Bridgers says she grew confident in her music before it was necessarily merited. However it happened, I’m glad it did, because her song-writing and playing are just damn good. In an era of social media putting filters on all we see, Bridgers creates an echo chamber of honesty. In her opinion, only writing about things that are uncomfortable and maybe a little ugly are really worth it.

It is fitting therefore that her first great commercial success came from her song ‘Motion Sickness’, written about her emotionally abusive relationship with Ryan Adams. Initially nervous to bring out the song because it was ‘mean’, this is undoubtedly the song that really got her noticed. It was released, among other songs on the PAX AM label, produced by Adams.

Motion Sickness:

Her debut album Stranger in the Alps, produced by Tony Berg and Ethan Fruska, garnered a ton of praise, although only really coming into its own after its release. She steadily gained popularity supporting artists such as Julien Baker and the 1975, and forming groups such as boygenius with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, and Better Oblivion Community Center with Conor Oberst. She has also at this point, I’m pretty sure, featured in more NPR Tiny Desk Concerts than anyone else.

NPR Tiny Desk Concert:

Preparing for a year on the road, she was working on what would be her hit of an album Punisher when the world stopped. It was in this period that she release her songs ‘Kyoto’ and ‘Garden Song’, giving us a glimpse into her latest creation and a welcome reprieve from having to think about the world.


Not only did the world stop, it zoned in on the biggest social justice movement the world has ever known. With the news cycle being so focused on Black Lives Matter (and rightfully so), many wondered if Bridgers would release her album at all. Well she released it and she released it early, and the reason for it makes me like the album even more. She spoke about the issue on James Corden, her reasoning essentially being that not being able to achieve things for oneself negates the cause. Anti-racism needs to become infiltrated in all aspects of people’s lives, so it was never a question of not releasing the album. We love a socially active, ultra-talented musician. And thank god she did because it turned out to be one of the most well curated albums I’ve ever heard. I don’t think there’s a song on it I haven’t listened to more than 10 times at this point. I feel like music has reached a junction where to create a full album meant to be listened to from start to finish is quite brave considering we all, let’s face it, have the attention span of goldfish. But listen to this album all the way through. Once you’re done doing that, come back and listen to the songs as stand-alone songs, they’re great as stand-alone songs. But the whole picture she’s painted is one that should be admired (especially considering the final song on the album pretty much encapsulates what we’re all feeling at this point).

‘I know the end’:

Mind you this was all within about 4 years. It just really solidifies my opinion that she is the type of musician who makes music any way she can and with whoever she wants to because she needs to make music. There’s a gift there, and that’s not to say she hasn’t worked hard to become who she is as an artist, not to mention the fact that she remains an individual independent of her identity as a songwriter. Phoebe Bridgers is one to watch, one to endorse, a thoroughly good artist and a damn interesting person. 

- Chloe Boehm



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