Phoebe Bridgers’ songs are perfect anthems for sobbing. Many young women find her lyrics extremely resonant, which adds to the emotional listening experience. Whether you’re already crying or need to induce a good weep, these songs are tear-jerkers and heart-breakers, covering themes from lost love to missing people to death to despair to mental illness.
- “Smoke Signals”
Maybe I’ve just spent too many years in “The X-Files” fandom, but this song hits me like a train every time. It was the first song of Bridgers’ I heard back in January 2017 and remains the song I consistently come back to when I’m sad and need more sadness to be comforted. I found Bridgers’ unique imagery captivating (“We’ll watch TV while the lights on the street / Put all the stars to death”; “I buried a hatchet / It’s coming up lavender”). The chorus is atmospheric and reverberating, dizzying in its vowels (“And you, you must’ve been looking for me / Sending smoke signals / Pelicans circling / Burning trash out on the beach”). Bridgers’ provocative statement, “Something happened when you were a kid / I didn’t know you then and I’ll never understand / Why it feels like I did,” reflects the album’s theme of growing apart after an intense closeness that feels like it has spanned entire lives. The song’s final line (“You are anonymous, I am a concrete wall”) drifts through my ears but remains in my thoughts long after the music changes.
“Georgia, Georgia,” I love this song. The desire in Bridgers’ voice as she describes an insecure relationship chills to the bone and sounds like the acoustic embodiment of angry tears. Her juxtaposition of cleanliness (“He’s a fine new addition, so young and so clean”) and filth (“And sometimes in the pouring rain / He’ll fall in the mud and get back up again”) makes me feel desperate and breathless. Her acknowledgment of the worst parts of a relationship, as well as the mountains of unanswered questions she has about her partner, are heartbreaking — she wants to believe that that relationship will work, a sentiment I’ve felt with many friendships in my own life. Bridgers’ final musings (“And if I breathe you / Will it kill me? [...] If I fix you, will you hate me?”) move me to tears as I bask in my contemplation.
I know that there are too many songs from Stranger in the Alps on this list, but the emotional motifs that pepper the lyrics are too good for me to ignore. In “Killer,” Bridgers’ own worst traits take center stage, to the point that codependency and toxicity surround the relationship. With classic Bridgers themes of death, love, filth and sickness, “Killer” holds some of her most intensely emotional pleadings and solidifies her reputation as an incredible lyricist: “But when I’m sick and tired, and when my mind is barely there / When a machine keeps me alive, and I’m losing all my hair / I hope you kiss my rotten head and pull the plug / Know that I’ve burned every playlist and I’ve given all my love.” “Killer” is a song my friends and I share when one of us needs a good cry, and it never disappoints with its gently sung yet disturbing reflections on mortality.
The gut-punch at the beginning of the song (“I’m singing at a funeral tomorrow / For a kid a year older than me / And I’ve been talking to his dad, it makes me so sad / When I think too much about it I can’t breathe”) perfectly sets the tone for this tragedy of a song. The guilt Bridgers describes feeling when she’s suffering but aware that others have it worse is a familiar emotion to many, including myself (“Wishing I was someone else / And feeling sorry for myself / When I remember someone’s kid is dead”). The chorus of the song takes a hauntingly defeated tone (“Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time / And that’s just how I feel, always have and always will”), making me not only feel sorry for the father of the deceased boy but for Bridgers as she navigates the liminal space between adolescence and adulthood.
- “Moon Song”
This is the ultimate cry song. I seriously can’t make it through this one without feeling like someone kicked me in the stomach. The way the guitar notes slur together, combined with Bridgers’ poignant enunciation, contributes to a sense of anguish that only mounts in the last verse. As if Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” wasn’t sad enough on its own, Bridgers’ mere name-drop intensifies the sadness of her song (“We hate Tears in Heaven / But it’s sad that his baby died”). Her use of a bird motif (“So I will wait for the next time you want me / Like a dog with a bird at your door”; “When you saw the dead little bird / You started crying / But you know the killer doesn’t understand”) makes me want to curl into a ball and cry at the picture of tenderness mixed with contempt. The crescendo of the song is spat with venom: “You are sick / And you’re married / And you might be dying / But you’re holding me like water in your hands.” It’s a miracle if I make it through this song without shedding tears, and the few times I’ve dared to listen to it in public, my friends have been genuinely concerned about me. Don’t make the same mistake as I have — listen to it in the seclusion of your dorm room.