Monday, October 12, 2020

Phoebe Bridgers ‘I Know the End’ on Late night with Seth Meyers - Review

Since the release of her second solo studio album in June, Phoebe Bridgers has been performing singles all over the internet in innovative, off-beat ways, ranging from playing ‘Kyoto’ in her bathtub with a fake microphone to covering Radiohead’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ in a church with Arlo Parks.

The performance of ‘I Know The End’ which aired on Late Night with Seth Meyers begins with Bridgers in a Victoriana style dress, enmeshed in a warm red light. Opening with a piano accompaniment in a room illuminated with candles, Bridgers looks angelic. The song choice immediately strikes as deliberate, though.

Female artists in 2020 have frequently called on the current global situation as inspiration for their work; the release of ‘I Know the End’ was followed by the release of Taylor Swift’s song ‘mirrorball’, which also contains the line ‘hush, I know they say the end is near.’ Similarly, Lana Del Rey’s collection Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass mentions frequently the climate crisis, toxic air, and wildfires.

In her latest NPR TinyDesk performance, performed in a dupe of the Oval Office, Bridgers paused to tell her audience, ‘hope everyone’s enjoying their apocalypse.’ The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered musical performance, and Bridgers intends to highlight this.

The melancholic sincerity of the performance is punctuated with knowing smiles behind lines which call on the specifics of a ‘rusty swing set’ and ‘fear of God’. Bridgers understatedly weaves together the song’s narrative of simultaneous disillusionment with and amusement at contemporary American culture.

As the song picks up pace, Bridgers moves out from the opening room, draped with red velvet curtains, to a fluorescently lit corridor, before rising from below into an empty theatre. The blue light cascades around her alone at the arrival of the line, ‘let the ultraviolet cover me up’ – no piece of this performance was accidental.

Bridgers is no longer singing to the camera, but instead addresses the empty room. Standing on her own, performing without her backing band, who are, instead, projected in the background, she sings ‘either way we’re not alone / I’ll find a new place to be from.’ The scene feels as though it has been plucked from a post-apocalyptic horror film, whose protagonist finds herself wholly abandoned. 

Jumping off the stage, the lights are dimmed, leaving only the eerie blue glow of the spectral projection of Bridgers’ band. At the song’s crescendo, miscellanea falls from the ceiling as Bridgers dances around, screaming. Bridgers recently added to her Instagram story a screenshot of Ben Levi Ross watching the performance, saying he was ‘thrilled to watch [his] friend perform an exorcism on national television.’

Bridgers’ music offers social and political critique carefully balanced with humour and artistry. Although lauded for her song writing abilities, Bridgers often seems underrated as a performer. This rendition of ‘I Know the End’ feeds visual imagery back into the song, connecting with its core message and varying tones of expression. The timeline of the performance, moving from opulent scenes through to sterile blues, culminates in the highly textural, visual portrayal of the decline and chaos that the screaming at the end of the track – and the album – represents.

- Tallulah Roberts


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