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Reviewing boygenius’s “the record”
April 18, 2023
Supergroup boygenius, comprised of singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, released their album the record on March 31 along with a music video mashup entitled “the film,” directed by actress Kristen Stewart. Along with the album’s announcement on January 18 came three singles, each led by one of the boys.
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Dacus and Baker met in 2016 when they played a show together and began a friendship over email, and Baker and Bridgers met a month later. The trio learned they’d be touring together on a trip bill in 2018 and got together intending to write one song but instead wrote 6 – their self-titled EP which was released that fall. The name “boygenius” is in reference to overconfident men who are praised for their every thought.
Within the record is the duality of close-knit, vulnerable friendships. The feeling of a strong, unwavering bond and total admiration for the people you formed that bond with is juxtaposed with the belief that you are not good enough and will never be so there’s insecurity on your part despite the security you’ve found within these people.
Many articles and reviews written upon its release praised the boys for their debut album. I will review each song, dictating the feelings that arise within listeners as the record progresses, and heavily projecting my opinions of my own friends in my explanations.
“Without You Without Them”
the record opens with a harmonious barbershop quartet-like ballad in which the boys question who we would be without the friends we hold so dear. This song encapsulates a yearning for intimacy and closeness with these people – an infatuation that mimics that of romantic love. This is one of the few songs in which the boys sing together without a so-called lead allowing all of the thoughts voiced throughout this song to be collectively held beliefs.
Favorite lyric: “Speak to me, speak to me, speak to me / Until your history’s no mystery to me”
The first single of the album was led by Baker. While Baker sings the verses, Dacus and Bridgers join her in the chorus and often finish her sentences. This song resembles conversations with friends as their voices overlap in the bridge. The blend of their voices signifies their collective rage and their support for one another through those feelings.
Favorite lyric: “To the T-bird graveyard where we play with fire / In another life, we were arsonists”
“Emily I’m Sorry”
The second single is led by Bridgers and is an ode to a former relationship of hers. Her vocals are backed by Baker and Dacus in a way similar to friends supporting you through difficult times.
Favorite lyric: “But she’s waking up inside a dream / Full of screeching tires and fire”
“Since it was released early as a single, I have loved ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ because—like all songs written by boygenius—it is vulnerable, honest, and beautiful. The expressed feelings of uncertainty and guilt throughout the lyrics allow the song to transcend the particular relationship about which it was written, as boygenius has such a talent for creating music that elicits understanding and emotional connection from all listeners. Overall, I believe the record is a perfect album, and I feel incredibly grateful and lucky to live at the same time as the three artists who make up this supergroup. Long live boygenius!” said Aspen Hunter (’23).
The third single is led by Dacus and it details falling in love with your friends – a concept that is not lesser than falling in love with a romantic partner, but of equal depth. As the title quite literally means unwavering love, Dacus sings of the security and affirming aspects of her friendships and the accountability that comes with being perceived so well.
Favorite lyric: “I remember who I am when I’m with you”
“Cool About It”
Each verse of the fifth song on the album is a different one of the boys, the other song structure featured on the record. This song describes the crippling weight of a deteriorating relationship as each of the boys details a different experience. Baker depicts yearning to be around someone who is drifting away and learning to be okay with losing someone you once loved. Dacus sings about expecting an apology from someone who hurt you and instead being told that they had no regrets and hoping to be okay since that resolution will never come. Bridgers finishes the song with the hope that living through a loved one’s experience will help you alleviate their suffering, but instead, it is unbearable to know how they feel and you must attempt to ignore how debilitating being with them is.
Favorite lyric: “I ask you how you’re doing and I let you lie”
“Not Strong Enough”
Following the structure of “Cool About It,” this was the fourth single which was released alongside its music video on March 1. As is evident from the title, the concept of this song is the belief that you are not strong enough to there for those you love – a feeling derived from such aggressive feelings of worthlessness. In an interview, Bridgers explained that a self-hatred is a form of a god complex as you assume you have it worse than everyone ever and this makes you behave selfishly. This song was written to voice and combat those feelings and the music video celebrates the good times shared as they wrote the album.
Favorite lyric: “I don’t know why I am / The way I am / Not strong enough to be your man”
Another song led by Bridgers, “Revolution 0” describes the perceptions of a one-sided relationship. It is written as though it addresses someone who is distant which adds more depth to the idea that this person is not truly close to you, but rather exists in your head.
Favorite lyric: “I used to think if I just closed my eyes / I would disappear”
Led by Dacus, this song opens by detailing a true story of Bridgers driving the wrong way and adding an hour to their drive but, as detailed in the song, Dacus did not mind as it gave them more time to bond. This beautiful moment also resulted in the embarrassment that comes with being vulnerable. A quote from poet Leonard Cohen inspired the song’s themes of learning to understand that people will still love you despite your flaws. The last line “I never thought you’d happen to me” expresses the concluding feeling of gratitude for this kind of friendship.
Favorite lyric: “I might like you less now that you know me so well”
Within their respective verses, each of the boys poses the question “Will you be a _ with me?” essentially asking her counterparts if they would stick with her despite the changes she may undergo as she works towards being her truest self. Each of their examples – satanist, anarchist, and nihilist – expresses their personal fears of who they might be. Baker fears she might be someone the world perceives as evil, Bridgers that she is too difficult to handle, and Dacus that she thinks too cynically for others to be around. As the others join the chorus, their harmonies serve as an answer: yes, we will stand by you through everything.
Favorite lyric: “The collateral the devil’s repossessing from me / Trying to score some off-brand ecstasy”
Sofia Girgenti (‘23) said, “I think that ‘Satanist’ is a really poignant representation of connection and companionship in the midst of uncertain times, anxiety, and growth. Often the bonds that we make in order to survive are the ones that allow us to also live fully, and I feel that the song reflects that while poking fun at the seriousness of it all.”
“We’re In Love”
This ballad, led by Dacus, is a love song dedicated to her groupmates that details the depth of her love and devotion to them. This is emphasized by her references to past and future lives and her want for them to be together forever and always. The song details the beauty of seeing others and feeling seen by them and especially seeing all aspects of them and continuing to love them anyway.
Favorite lyric: “In the next one, will you find me? / I’ll be the boy with the pink carnation pinned to my lapel”
This song is led by Baker and was written after swimming in the too high tide on the supergroup’s songwriting trip in Malibu. Through this song, she examines her life as though she was on the brink of death looking back.
Favorite lyric: “Tried to be a halfway decent friend”
“Letter To An Old Poet”
The final song of the record is led by Bridgers and serves as a more emotionally mature continuation of “Me and My Dog” from boygenius. This song expresses the act of detaching from a relationship that is not good for you rather than ruminating on it, as described in “Me and My Dog.”
Favorite lyric: “But you’re not special, you’re evil / You don’t get to tell me to calm down”
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