Phoebe Bridgers Fan Style: rock and roll cosplay
The first thing I saw at the Pitchfork Music Festival was a group of girls in skeleton costumes – the kind of polyester onesie sold in Party City – sipping plastic beer mugs. Although music festivals tend to attract fancy fashions, I immediately knew who they were and why they were there, however they wanted. They were fans of Phoebe Bridgers. And they were there to see Phoebe Bridgers.
Festival goers were, of course, dressed as Bridgers herself. The musician has made the skeleton her signature look since the release of her second album punisher, the album of catchy and worthless emo-folk songs that took her from independent darling to superstar. On the blanket, she wears the jumpsuit, bathed in red light, gazing at the stars. It’s a reference to the cover of his first album foreigner in the alps, a baby photo of herself painted to look like a ghost, as well as her love of “cheesy and scary stuff”.
The skeleton costume has become deeply entrenched in Bridgers’ work. She has worn and dressed her band in costumes for most of their performances over the past two years, during which time she racked up a list of awards, TV appearances, viral tweets, and collaborations so extensive that it would just be easier for you to read about them in one of the few dozen magazine profiles. She wore a Gucci rib cage on Saturday Night Live and a beaded bone Thom Browne dress on the Grammys red carpet. A pair of sweatpants with bones down the legs and Bridgers’ name printed on the buttocks, which fans love to post with the caption “Phoebe Bridgers owns my ass,” are still out of stock. It makes sense that fans are so obsessed with the tongue-in-cheek visual, which fits into its world like a puzzle piece: turn around, make a joke of it.
Later that night, tiptoeing to the side of the crowd, I spotted several other groups of skeletons, staring at their anatomically incorrect leader and band of corpses. The sighting was nothing special. For the biggest Bridgers fans, nicknamed “Pharbz”, attending his shows in skeleton costumes at his height has become a beloved ritual. Almost every concert review from her current tour mentions onesie-d fans. On Reddit and the Memes Groups, where fans browse through shows, skeleton photos abound.
Watching the Skeleton Girls watch Bridgers, I was transported to the Barclays Center auditorium, where I once saw KISS spitting blood and shooting fire from their guitars over a sea of their lookalikes. Since the 1970s, fans of the band AKA the KISS Army have performed a ritual of mimicking the elaborate costumes of the four band members, from their makeup to their platform boots, during their shows.
KISS is the most extreme, codified, and certainly the most rustic example, but there is a long tradition of fans cosplaying as favorite bands at their shows. In rock, these antics have been supported most aggressively by the aging fan base of classic rock and metal bands. To this day, Metallica and Iron Maiden devotees wear their shirts at shows like sports shirts, while a popular accessory for the latter includes a mask from the band’s zombie mascot, “Eddie The Undead.” For more examples, check out the Smashing Pumpkins “ZERO” t-shirt that became a fan staple in the 90s after Billy Corgan started performing in the skateboard brand t-shirt or The Acolytes. of My Chemical Romance in military jackets.
It’s common today for Beyoncé or Harry Styles fans to pay tribute by wearing costumes or merch to their shows. But unless you’re a metalhead, you rarely see this kind of full-blast, avant-garde display of fandom in rock shows. Until recently, in the indie rock world from which Bridgers has emerged, as critic Steven Hyden recently explained in his “Ask a Music Critic” column, it was an unwritten rule that, as much as wearing the A band’s t-shirt at their show, let alone a head-to-toe costume mimicking them, is lame.
People have never stopped dressing like rock stars. Stroke enthusiasts may have been disguised as Julian Casablancas, given the ubiquity in the 2000s of his uniform of leather jacket, Converse, and skinny jeans. Or take Vampire Weekend fans in cardigans with ambiguous irony. People who imitate musicians or artists, if not signal their musical allegiances, then articulate their identities by trying to graft the qualities linked to these artists (in the case of the Strokes: youth, sex appeal, sullen unease; for Ezra Koenig: fantasy, sensitivity, self-awareness) in their image.
Something broke with Bridgers, however. There is a difference between wearing a leather jacket to try to look cool and dressing up in a silly costume in public to show others that you are an artist’s biggest fan. The kind of cosplay that Bridgers – and KISS and others before her – inspire is what happens when fans see the opportunity to participate in something that feels bigger than themselves. Right now, as the Bridgers star has soared higher than any other rock artist for a long time, branding yourself as one of his tribe has great appeal. It gives fans a way to carve out a place for themselves in his cultural moment.
To dress like Bridgers is to think of yourself as a fan. But it is also a form of sartorial expression like any other outfit. The phenomenon suggests that there are fans who relate to Bridgers so intensely, that they use his image as a shorthand for what they want to express about themselves, and can say more by doing it than by doing it. assembling their own set. The Skeletons not only advertise that they love Bridgers’ music, but also that they share or at least identify with his charm, his morbid sense of humor, his casual way of dealing with trauma, his anxiety about the world and his outlook on life filled with both horror and possibility.
Of course, one should be wary of the desire to subsume one’s identity as that of a celebrity. (And certainly to wonder how a band like KISS turned their fans’ habit into a merchandising empire). Some will be less than happy to see antics, which can be disturbing and even violent, flourish in rock music. But fandom, at its best, is about a collective experience, in which artists simply become a shortcut to finding your people. Attending a disguised show and knowing that others will follow suit can turn live music from consuming entertainment into a joyful ritual of belonging. At Bridgers’ shows, skeletons can spot their corpse mates through a crowd and know they understand without saying a word.