Wrapped up in her signature skeleton costume and ready to sing about how much closer the end is than we ever hoped, Phoebe Bridger has become a modern icon of the indie rock scene, as well as a dark ray of hope in these unprecedented times. From becoming a Grammy-nominated artist at the age of 26 with her second album, “Punisherto constantly rise up against racism and transphobiawhile simultaneously support immigrants in his city of Los Angelesit’s no surprise that she’s this year’s recipient of Billboard’s “Trailblazer Award.”
The prize is awarded to “an outstanding female artist who breaks conventions to leave a unique mark in music and pave the way for other talentsat the annual Billboard Women in Music Awards. On March 7, Bridgers attended the ceremony with her mother, Jamie Bridgerto whom she dedicated her award as well as other domestic violence survivors. This action itself illustrates why it deserves such honor.
But it’s not because Bridgers has his own label Where 6 million listeners on Spotify that she made her mark on the indie rock scene. That’s because she has a unique gift for bringing listeners into the depths of her soul as they pour out theirs. With lyrics tinged with existentialism and paired with a perfectly bleak production, she sends her audience spiraling into the black hole she created with her own hands. Deep beauty resides in a darkness so deep and enveloping that once you find your way, you never want to come out again.
Here are some of Bridgers’ most impactful tracks from her monumental discography, and evidence of why she’s the brightest star in a galaxy already beginning to revolve around her.
A folk ballad about grief and loss, stylistically in the vein of Johnny Cash Where 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 the funeral of a child one year older than her, capturing the enormity of depression and its ability to deal with our daily lives.
With heartbreaking simplicity, Bridgers delivers the song’s most damning line – “Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time and that’s just how I feel / I always have, and I always will” – with a deadpan detached air, sealing the fate of its narrator. Combining assured lyrics with the sad swell of an acoustic guitar, Bridgers creates the ultimate song for when it’s suddenly 4am and you’re doing nothing over and over again.
The third single from his debut album, “Stranger in the Alpsdeals with the simultaneous feelings of independence and hopelessness that come from breaking free from an abusive relationship. Inspired by Bridgers’ own experience with the musician ryan adamswho she dated when she was 20 and he was 39, the song details the “emotional motion sickness” that accompanies this kind of relationship and the eventual realization of the damage it causes.
Known as one of the most upbeat songs in her catalog, Bridgers incisively tears through the resulting pain and confusion of 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 who set her on the path to stardom. This track is propelled forward with soaring vocals, electric guitar and head-butt-worthy drumming, which shows that Bridgers was able to let go of the past and urges his listeners to do the same.
This five-minute track perfectly captures the bittersweet awkwardness of bumping into someone you never thought you’d see again. Bridgers sets the scene, “walking Scott Street feeling like a stranger / with an open heart, an open container” with “a stack of mail and a big can, it’s a shower beer, it’s a plan of payment”, then stumbling over the one who got away.
She also intercuts dialogue throughout the song – “I asked you ‘How’s your sister, I heard she graduated’ / Well I said ‘That makes me feel old, you said ‘what does that do to me?'” the interaction feels much more personal and painful when standing in that vacant space that love used to fill. Despite the overall absent nature of the song, the recurring “anyway, don’t be a stranger” fade, superimposed over traffic noises and various vocals, adds a whimsical effect that reinforces the lingering tenderness after two people distant.
Bridgers wrote this song about the estranged relationship she has with her father, ricocheting the resentment that many people feel with the abandonment. The song’s upbeat production soars over the skies of Tokyo with lyrics in solidarity with teenage angst, including “I’ll kill you if you don’t beat me.” Bridgers captured the moment when you realize the people in your life who were never there don’t really matter, and there are smaller joys to be found, like traveling the world.
A cult classic among its fans, this brooding ballad about unrequited love is poignantly portrayed in the metaphor, “So I’ll 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 – “What if I could give you the moon, I would give you the moon” – even when sick and dying and he can’t feel the same. Rumored to be his close friendship with the leader of Bright Eyes, Conor Oberstwith whom she formed the band Better Oblivion Community Center, this contemplative track is for those whose hearts only grow fonder and more inclined to desire over time.
Perhaps most on brand with Bridgers’ existentially charged image, this one-song roller coaster makes peace with the cruelty with which time keeps ticking away. Beginning with a slow contemplation on the end of a relationship – “Always push you away from me, but you come back with gravity / And when I call you home, a bird in your teeth” – the song ends with bleed into a larger representation of what it means to survive in a world that seems to never end, littered with government drones and alien spaceships.
The solution seems to have come from finding a “new place of origin” and making peace now that “the end is here”, which Bridgers repeats frantically at the end of the song, accompanied by chaotic instrumentals and shouts of heavy metal. In contrast, it seems such a dire conclusion stems from the simple fact that no matter how dark everything gets, there will always be a way to find beauty in it – a lesson Bridgers knows and echoes back to the black. hole for all to hear.