Swathed in her signature skeleton suit and ready to sing about how the end is nearer than we’d hoped, Phoebe Bridgers has become a modern icon in the indie rock scene, as well as a bleak beam of hope in these unprecedented times. From becoming a Grammy-nominated artist at the age of 26 with her sophomore album, “Punisher,” to consistently speaking out against racism and transphobia, while simultaneously supporting immigrants in her city of Los Angeles, there’s no surprise as to why she’s this year’s recipient of Billboard’s “Trailblazer Award.”
The award is presented to “a standout female artist who breaks convention to make a unique mark in music and pave the way for the other talent” at the annual Billboard Women in Music Awards. On March 7, Bridgers attended the ceremony with her mother, Jamie Bridgers, to whom she dedicated her award as well as other survivors of domestic violence. This action itself illustrates why she deserves such an honor.
But it isn’t because Bridgers has her own record label or 6 million listeners on Spotify that she’s made her mark on the indie rock scene. It’s because she harbors a unique gift for bringing listeners into the depths of her soul while they spill their own. With lyrics tainted with existentialism, and paired with a perfectly dreary production, she sends her audience spiraling into the black hole she’s crafted with her own hands. The deeper beauty lies in such deep, enveloping darkness that once you’ve found your way in, you never want to come back out.
Here are some of Bridgers’ hardest-hitting tracks from her monumental discography and some evidence as to why she’s the brightest star in a galaxy that is already beginning to revolve around her.
A folky ballad about grief and loss, stylistically in the vein of Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan, “Funeral” combines a melancholic melody with lyrics that promise to leave the listener with tear-stains on their cheeks. The song follows a girl as she sings at a funeral for a kid a year older than she is, capturing the enormity of depression and its ability to run our everyday lives.
With a severing simplicity, Bridgers delivers the most damning line of the song — “Jesus Christ I’m so blue all the time and that’s just how I feel / Always have, and I always will” — with a detached deadpan air, sealing the fate of her narrator. By combining assured lyrics with the sad swell of an acoustic guitar, Bridgers creates the ultimate song for when it’s suddenly 4 a.m. and you’re doing nothing again and again.
The third single from her debut album, “Stranger in the Alps,” deals with the simultaneous feelings of independence and desperation that come from breaking free from an abusive relationship. Inspired by Bridgers’ own experience with musician Ryan Adams, whom she dated when she was 20 and he 39, the song details the “emotional motion sickness” that comes with that kind of relationship and the eventual realization of just how much damage it causes.
Known as one of the more upbeat songs from her catalog, Bridgers incisively tears apart the resulting pain and confusion from being manipulated for so long, conveyed in the song’s opening lyrics — “I hate you for what you did / And I miss you like a little kid” — especially when Adams was the one to set her on the path to stardom. This track is propelled forward with soaring vocals, electric guitar and drums worthy of head-banging, making it apparent that Bridgers was able to let go of the past, and urges her listeners to do the same.
This five-minute track perfectly captures the bittersweet awkwardness of running into someone you never thought you’d see again. Bridgers sets the scene, “walking Scott Street feeling like a stranger / with an open heart, open container” with “a stack of mail and a tall can, it’s a shower beer, it’s a payment plan,” then stumbling across the one that got away.
She also intersperses dialogue throughout the song — “I asked you ‘How is your sister, I heard she got her degree’ / Well I said ‘That makes me feel old, you said ‘What does that make me?’” — making the interaction feel much more personal and painful as one stands in that vacant space that love used to fill. Despite the overall absent nature of the song, the reoccurring “anyways don’t be a stranger” fading out, layered on top of traffic sounds and various vocals, adda a whimsical effect that fortifies the tenderness lingering after two people drift apart.
Bridgers wrote this song about the estranged relationship she has with her father, ricocheting back the resentment that many people feel with abandonment. The song’s upbeat production soars over Tokyo skies with lyrics that stand in solidarity with teen angst, most notably, “I’m gonna kill you if you don’t beat me to it.” Bridgers has captured the moment you realize the people in your life who were never around don’t actually matter, and there are smaller joys out there to be found, such as going on a world tour.
A cult classic among her fanbase, this moody ballad about unrequited love is poignantly depicted within the metaphor, “So I will wait for the next time you want me / like a dog with a bird at your door.” Bridgers paints a picture of someone who is willing to do anything for the person they love — “And if I could give you the moon, I would give you the moon” — even when they’re sick and dying and couldn’t possibly feel the same. Rumored to be about her close friendship with Bright Eyes frontman, Conor Oberst, with whom she formed the band Better Oblivion Community Center, this contemplative track is made for those whose hearts only grow fonder and more prone to yearning as time goes on.
“I Know The End”
Perhaps the most on-brand with Bridgers’ existentially charged image, this rollercoaster of a song makes peace with how cruelly time continues to go on. Beginning as a slow contemplation on the ending of a relationship — “Always pushing you away from me, but you come back with gravity / And when I call you to come home, a bird in your teeth” — the song eventually bleeds into a larger portrayal of what it means to survive in a world that never seems to end, littered with government drones and alien spaceships.
The solution seems to have come with finding a “new place to be from” and making peace now that “the end is here,” which Bridgers frantically repeats at the end of the song, accompanied by chaotic instrumentals and heavy metal screams. In contrast, it seems that such a catastrophic conclusion stems from the simple fact that no matter how dark everything gets, there will always be a way to find the beauty in it — a lesson that Bridgers knows and throws back into the echo of the black hole for all to hear.
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