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The Genius Behind boygenius

It’s been more than four years since indie supergroup boygenius graced the world with their self-titled EP and made sadgirl history. The group, composed of solo artists Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus, initially began their collaboration through a mutual appreciation for each others’ music. For the debut EP, each member brought two songs to expand upon with the rest of the group and from there a band was born.

Now, after Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus have all released incredibly successful solo studio albums, the time came to reunite. After rumors swirled around on Twitter, three new surprise singles dropped, each representing a member’s distinct style.

‘$20’, the first song, begins with an explosive guitar riff. “It’s a bad idea and I’m all about it”, Baker admits, immediately ushering in the new era of boygenius with a confessional edge. “Can you give me twenty dollars?” Bridgers screams at the end. It’s the sequel to Baker’s ‘Souvenir’ on the debut EP, except more demanding, angrier, and braver.

You can tell Phoebe Bridgers wrote ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ from the opening chords. Penned to an old paramour, Phoebe ruminates on past mistakes years later. “I can feel myself becoming somebody I’m not” and “I’m twenty-seven and I don’t know who I am” she sighs as Dacus and Baker harmonize in the background like a tragic Greek chorus. To make the ballad even more heartbreaking, Phoebe composed the song then sent the others a demo, timidly requesting “Can we be a band again?”.

‘True Blue’, Lucy Dacus’s contribution, addresses someone in the second-person, a common Lucy flourish. Some moments fall flat, “You fuck around and find out” the group sings, as if they were reading a Tweet out loud. Arguably, the song’s strongest part is its bridge, “You’ve never done me wrong, except for that one time / That we don’t talk about” is delivered so sweetly that you want to forgive whoever it is yourself.

It’s thought-provoking to see how much larger of a scale boygenius’s music is now on. Back in 2018, they remained relatively underground compared to the smashing success of the members now, especially Phoebe. In fact, it’s difficult to separate a lot of the recent work from the online popularity (and infamy) Bridgers has garnered in the past four years. From ‘Scott Street’ and its incessant appearance on TikTok to accompany anything remotely melancholic to Lucy Dacus performing an entire set while laying on a couch due to an injury, boygenius is on the largest stage yet. They represent a generation of (mostly) girls, wistful and nostalgic for childhood friends, exes, and the right person, wrong time.

Whatever the band is experiencing, their songwriting reflects. Evidently, Phoebe’s large-scale fame has troubled her, she is 27 and still struggling to figure herself out and remain in touch with her past. Lucy forgives and heals, resigning herself to a love she deserves. Julien reflects on who she used to be, “in another life, we were arsonists” in her childhood in Tennessee.

Yet the crowning, unique feature that makes boygenius the genius project it is is how seamlessly each member combines not into a homogenous blend, but an eclectic mix of screams, heartfelt pleas, and sighs. It is clear, from listening to their solo music, who wrote each song, yet it still retains the addition of the other voices that make it distinctively boygenius.

I’d argue that ‘Souvenir’ off the debut EP is the quintessential boygenius song, with each member featured on a deeply personal verse. “Dreamcatcher on the rearview mirror / Hasn’t caught a thing yet”, Julien muses at the beginning, still haunted by bad dreams. The nightmares continue for the others, keeping them up late at night. “Always manage to move in / Right next to a cemetery / And never far from a hospital” Phoebe sings quietly in the second verse. And it’s true- in ‘Halloween’ off her second album Punisher, Phoebe wakes up in the middle of the night from sirens. Yet the crowning achievement is Dacus’s verse.

“Pulling thorns out of my palms /

Work a midnight surgery /

When you cut a hole into my skull /

Do you hate what you see?”

For a moment, the whole world pauses until the group melts together and fades out into an echo, “like I do”. Here, Dacus captures the uniting fear that permeates the group’s music: can you love what you know completely?

As the members grapple with lost love, lost senses of self, lost time, anxiety remains a focal point that they draw upon through their art. Boygenius is not only a project, it’s a sisterhood of musicians who, despite their success, talent, and intelligence, are human. The depth of those confessions makes the music all the more impressive upon millions everywhere and renders Julien, Lucy, and Phoebe as treasured oracles of honest, raw expression within the indie music scene.

Photo: Creative Commons

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