Phoebe Bridgers’ critically acclaimed second album, Punisher, could have easily been a premonition of the impending doom of the pandemic. Since its release in 2020, it beautifully painted itself as a soothing backdrop for the apocalyptic nightmare we’ve all been living. But if you’re a fan of Phoebe’s work, you already know that makes total sense. “I write about my own experience and then people flock to it with the same experiences,” she tells me over video call.
Bridgers is a master storyteller. Her painfully honest, and quite often blunt lyrics come hand in hand with dreamy hooks of escapism and haunting romanticism; ‘I’m gonna kill you, If you don’t beat me to it. Dreaming through Tokyo skies,’ she sings on ‘Kyoto’. Her music is both equally eerie and gentle and at this point – we’d be fools to expect anything less. “I’m definitely gonna have a haunted next album, for sure.”
While speaking with Bridgers over my temperamental WiFi connection, I found it difficult to comprehend. Secluded in the countryside for what felt like years, it’s my first in-depth conversation in quite some time. I begin worrying about overtalking; would I forget social etiquette entirely? Ironically, Punisher was titled as a joke at the expense of someone who doesn’t know when to shut up. It’s true, I’m in panic mode as I am a self-proclaimed Phoebe Bridgers stan and I’m also at high risk of being labelled something she also likes to describe as “fan-splaining”. I’d been constantly plugging my ears with Punisher in isolation, helping ease my anxiety. For many of us, music has helped fill the lack of real-life noise we miss so dearly.
“I’m trying to make less noise,” she tells me. “I think that some people in [America] are making noise more important than me. I’m trying to amplify people, instead of my own opinions about things. We need to uplift people who don’t usually get a huge megaphone. Share something you think is poignantly written by a non-white person.” She’s not wrong. I’m speaking to her just one week after white supremacists stormed the US capitol building with little repercussion.
I think that some people in [America] are making noise more important than me. I’m trying to amplify people, instead of my own opinions about things. We need to uplift people who don’t usually get a huge megaphone. Share something you think is poignantly written by a non-white person.
Months earlier, Bridgers announced that she’d drop a Maggie Rogers collab track if everyone voted Trump out, but of course, for more pressing reasons, we were all thankful it got released. “I feel this side of relief for sure cause there’s not a literal white supremacist in office anymore but, like, there needs to be such serious reform but it’s hard to be hopeful. You know it’s already a failure that millions and millions of people voted for him. I hope I live to see AOC President. I hope I live to see police being abolished, but definitely, if there were another four years of Trump, I would just be feeling total doom.”
Upon our mutual agreement of feeling trapped in a constant loop of chaos, it led us to discuss the importance of appreciating things that bring us solitude. “Just bring small amounts of joy to people because I don’t think there’s going to be some big ‘I fixed it’ stamp on anything in the near future,” Bridgers explains.
Ahead of our call, Bridgers received four Grammy nominations. “It’s nice, although I still have to remind myself that it’s happening.” Phoebe laughs it off whilst feeding her dog peanut butter on a spoon. As an artist that refreshingly doesn’t take herself too seriously, she assured me her life “hasn’t changed in a substantial way at all”.
The incredible success Bridgers has made since her first solo debut of Stranger in the Alps (2017), still hasn’t eliminated her from music criticism.
Last year, Bridgers called out the apparent double standard in the music industry while being accused of being an “Industry Plant” by a music journalist on Twitter. Bridgers compared how successful cis male musicians like The Strokes, that have extensive music connections and resources are celebrated, while women who have had the same, are often dismissed as being inauthentic. “I wish I was an industry plant, I probably would have been better sooner,” she laughs.
People like to get really nit-picky about peoples’ backgrounds. People literally find out that somebody’s parents have money and if you’re a woman, they will in-authenticate their music.
“People like to get really nit-picky about peoples’ backgrounds. People literally find out that somebody’s parents have money and if you’re a woman, they will in-authenticate their music.” Similarly, queer pop musician King Princess was outed by music fans for having “rich access to music” since being a child (she is the great-granddaughter of the co-owner of Macy’s and her father owned a recording studio).
“When it started happening to me, I was so flattered because I do not come from money,” she continues. “It is so important to understand privilege. It’s not bad if you have it, you just have to acknowledge it and use your powers for good. I just think for people who do get development deals, they should be more diverse.”
Bridgers begins to discuss how she often wonders if people would be upset if they knew some of their long-time favourite artists got industry help. “Kate Bush got signed to a development deal, they were like, ‘we’re going to send you to dance lessons and vocal lessons, let’s see what you can do.’ That’s fucking awesome! I think we’re all glad that Kate Bush exists but if it were to come out now, that they were basically creating an artist, I wonder if people would be upset?” But a record label is not supposed to be like, ‘Hey stand here, do this, write this kind of song’. They’re supposed to be like, ‘you are the artist, how can we support you?”
Expressing her admiration for Billie Eilish, a dream collaborator she previously described as “the boss”, she says; “Her label was like ‘you know what, we don’t know what’s cool, let this 16-year-old cry black makeup and give her millions of dollars to do whatever idea she wants. That’s exactly what a record label is supposed to do!”
Between a global pandemic, Twitter criticism and political turmoil, I wondered what brought the 26-year-old artist a sense of relief. “It’s comforting to know that I’m not going through this exact thing alone,” adding that sharing records with friends and taking calls with Julien and Lucy from Boy Genius bring her much needed, relatable sense of calm. “The thing that I like about that friendship is that it’s a mirrored experience… they’re both touring musicians, we’re both in the same places in our lives.”
According to Phoebe, she also finds comfort in fiction, even if it’s ‘dark shit’. “I really loved I May Destroy You, even though it’s such a traumatic show. I also just started reading [The] Haunting of Hill House which has been fun, the scene-setting with this tinge of darkness. It’s so cool!”
It comes as no surprise that Bridgers’ favourite storytellers are sci-fi, horror or thriller writers. “My favourite author is Carmen Maria Machado who wrote, Her Body and Other Parties, and there’s this very specific tone which I feel like I get a taste of in Gabriel Garcia Marquez too, these kinds of, magical, realism writers.”
As a prolific collaborator, having worked with singer-songwriters Fiona Apple, Conor Oberst, Phoebe hopes her next collaboration will perhaps be with an author, poet or dancer. “Someone who’s super talented that has nothing to do with music. I have felt so stuck in my same exact process. I’d love for somebody to shake it up, there’s no specific person, I’m just looking for new patterns.”
Speaking of the future, we end our conversation on hopes and dreams for a post-covid world. “I want to go to a diner with my friends or bowling, touching a public bowling ball and then putting your hands in your mouth to eat French fries, like, just shit, I can’t imagine doing right now, that’s what I’m so excited to do.” Sounds pretty chill for a four-time Grammy nominee.
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