It’s 10:19 am on December 7, 2020, in Los Angeles, and earlier this morning I listened to Phoebe Bridgers for the first time.
Honestly, I had not knowingly heard a single second of any one of her records, and upon listening to them I realized I legitimately didn’t recognize any of the songs.
I could blame my lack of awareness on quarantine; I haven’t really been exposed to anyone else’s tastes for quite a while and have been deeply engrossed in early 2000’s nostalgia. But her first record on Spotify was released in 2018, and I’ve been a music writer since before then so I’m not quite sure what the fuck is going on.
Anyway, at 6 am this morning I was on the 110 headed into the city from the South Bay. I was listening to “exile”, the Taylor Swift track with Bon Iver from folklore, a record which I viscerally dislike, but I was sad and there is a lot of Justin Vernon with minimal falsetto in that track, so it really does the trick sometimes. The song was coming to an end and Phoebe Bridgers just popped into my head, an act of god. I threw on “Motion Sickness” and the first notes of the ethereal vocal rang through my car speakers right as the downtown skyline, lit up in the sunrise, came into view. It was a serene experience, really great honestly. It might be tough to recreate those exact conditions. It would take an exceptional fireball induced hangover and a really shitty coffee, coupled with disappointment and sleep deprivation, but if you can pull it off I reckon it’s the best way to listen to Phoebe Bridgers for the first time.
Even under these extreme circumstances, I didn’t fully get it. I mean I get it, it’s Tumblr right? It’s music for people who were on Tumblr. A specific side of Tumblr, but if you know you know, it’s not something that can be explained particularly well. It’s literally “pale blog” music: a “Soft grunge/indie” situation. Granted, it’s done exceptionally well, it hits the nail right on the fucking head.
But we all know why that kind of Tumblr or that specific ‘soft grunge’ ‘pale blog’ aesthetic is a joke now. It’s corny, and so is Phoebe Bridgers.
It’s now 11:04 am and I’ve listened to both of her records on Spotify. She’s nominated for four Grammy awards, for what? For nostalgia peddling. It’s all a little too on-the-nose. There seems to be a very simple formula for making a Phoebe Bridgers track. Take a Sidney Gish song, take out all of the fun, strip down the instrumental until it’s barely there, heap in a shit load of small-town-homesickness, get some really epic Coldplay horns in there and add more breath to the vocal. Presto! Phoebe. Somehow there is some Yung Lean in there too, but of course there is. He was the king of Tumblr. The difference between our dear Lean and Phoebe is he was on the cutting edge and still struggles for mainstream recognition for his achievements. Phoebe came a few years too late artistically, and has received a mountain of praise from everybody and their mother.
There’s a formula for everything. Distilling something complex to a shopping list is a cheap writer’s trick to making anything feel trivial; Phoebe does rule. I’m not disputing that. She’s got a very cool thing that people are obviously into, but musically she’s not bringing in anything new, she’s not touching on anything we haven’t heard before. What Phoebe does better than anyone else is package an aesthetic, supply an emotional backdrop for you to project whatever you’re feeling, and be cool. She manages to jam the ‘Tumblr’ aesthetic into a vapor-wave / Coldplay hybrid that is just perfectly contemporary. The societal malaise we’ve grown accustomed to in 2020 epitomized perfectly. We don’t want to work for our music anymore, just tube feed us nostalgia. It’s lobotomy music. So why the four Grammy nominations for Phoebe and none for Sidney Gish? Because she’s cool, I guess.
Her nominations highlight the deep absurdity and irrelevance of the Grammys, not that the Grammys were ever particularly relevant, or kind to trailblazers. She received four whole nominations to The Weeknd’s zero. The Weeknd’s snub, and Phoebe’s celebration represent, as Drake said, “the disconnect between impactful music and these awards”
Phoebe Bridgers is scratching the same itch for me as Taylor Swift. She’s more, The Fray than Bon Iver.
Musical junk food, easy listening, pop music for kids who were on Tumblr in 2008. That being said, I heard Phoebe’s music for the first time five hours ago and have been listening for the last five hours straight. I like her stuff, but it doesn’t deserve four Grammy nominations. It doesn’t even deserve one, but maybe ‘Best Rock Song’ and ‘Best Rock Performance’ this year was really that light that “Kyoto”, a corny power pop anthem that could be a Coldplay demo deserves it. They should give all of the Grammys to Yung Lean. Nobody would be vibing to “Kyoto” by Phoebe if Lean had not made the first “Kyoto”. But hey, I had never heard a Phoebe Bridgers song until today; I obviously don’t pay enough attention.
Phoebe Bridgers makes lobotomy music, but fuck, a lobotomy sounds kind of nice right now.
Somebody stick a metal rod up my nose and scramble my brain, jam a feeding tube down my throat, and play Phoebe Bridgers’ discography on repeat until my bed sores get infected and I die. Maybe she does deserve all the Grammys. I suppose that an artist that can make you feel that strongly one way or another deserves a lot of credit.