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The Holy Trinity of Alternative Indie: Phoebe Bridgers, Charlie Hickey and Christian Lee Hutson

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

I’ve been a superfan of Phoebe Bridgers since the release of her sophomore album “Punisher” in June 2020. For my psychology class senior year of high school, I wrote an essay about her heart-wrenching cover of Mark Kozelek’s “You Missed My Heart.” I’ve accumulated a plethora of ghost-and-skeleton-themed articles of clothing, learned to play guitar in open D-flat and spent a copious amount of money to see her in concert last May. 

What I like about Bridgers is that her songs don’t depend on obscure metaphors or aggressive harmonies to draw a reaction out of the listener. Much of the time, her lyrics are wishes, hazy recollections, explicitly-stated feelings or slivers of rigid conversations that have left her feeling alien. All of these anecdotes are typically layered over a J45 acoustic guitar and then handed tenderly to listeners for them to decide what it all means. By virtue of Angela Deane, there’s a ghost painted over a childhood photo of Bridgers for the cover of her first album, “Stranger in the Alps.” I think that this visual is poignantly emblematic of the feeling that comes up time and time again in her music: trying to return to spaces that no longer exist.

I have naturally become familiar with other artists Bridgers associates with, my favorites being California-based singer-songwriters Christian Lee Hutson and Charlie Hickey. Hickey (now 21) met Bridgers at a club show when he was 13 and signed to her record label “Saddest Factory Records” in 2021. Since then, he’s released one EP [“Count The Stairs” (2021)] and one full-length album [“Nervous At Night” (2022)]. 

Bridgers and Hutson met in 2018. Hutson co-wrote and played on Bridgers’ albums “Boygenius” (with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus) and “Better Oblivion Community Center” (with Conor Oberst). Bridgers produced and performed backing vocals on Hutson’s debut album “Beginners” and sophomore album “Quitters.” 

Although Bridgers’ duos have never directly collaborated on any projects apart from Hutson being listed as a contributor on “Nervous At Night,” the worlds they create within their music seem to parallel each other in themes and setting. Hutson and Hickey talk about a girl they used to know named Ruby (in “Teddy’s Song” and “Planet With Water”), feel nostalgic for their childhood rooms (in “Twin Soul” and “Dandelions”) and reminisce about working in a smoothie shop as adolescents (in “Northsiders” and “Month of September”). Hutson interviewed Hickey about the recurring subjects of distance, truth, and self in “Nervous At Night” for Nylon Magazine last May. Read it here

Each of these artists brings a different style to the table (Phoebe: dreamy Elliot-Smith-esque melodies over acoustic guitar; Christian: storytelling more similar to that of Simon and Garfunkel; and Charlie: an approach intersecting bedroom pop and yearning ballads). Through their music, each artist encapsulates some element of coming of age, introspection or fragmented visions of the future. Not only is this evident in the abstract content of their lyrics but in their exact lines as well. They illustrate what it’s like to feel estranged in early adulthood [“I’m starting to feel like my friends barely know me” (Hutson, “Teddy’s Song”); “Smiling through a hole in a cut-out body” (Hickey, “Notre Dame”); “Anyway, don’t be a stranger” (Bridgers, “Scott Street”)], and listening to each artist evokes what I can only describe as “kind of a bad feeling, kind of a good feeling.” It’s a conversation with a long-lost friend, missing your sister and starting to figure out who you are. It’s noticing the passage of time from faraway places, like the bottom of a pool or a midwestern playground or a drug store. It’s facing life head-on, in all of its sadness, weirdness and beauty. 

Perhaps most importantly, these three are undyingly honest about mental health challenges—some that are chronic, and some that have resulted from having to navigate the Internet, the pandemic, and adulthood amidst an increasingly complex world. Bridgers touches on these struggles in a number of songs, the most famous being her sincere portrayal of incurable sadness in “Funeral.” In an interview about “Mental Health & Music” for the GRAMMYs, she says, “When you think to yourself: ‘Am I allowed to say that?,’ the answer is yes. If it’s the truth, I feel like it will come across as genuine (29:07).” Hutson expands on this point in his Nylon interview with Hickey when he notes, “I think it’s annoying to be thought of as a sad songwriter, and I don’t feel that I fully am, but there’s a lot of pressure that gets put on people who write songs in a sad way.”

Hickey’s album “Nervous At Night” explores a similar side of emotional vulnerability and makes room for the uneasiness that comes with navigating masculinity in a healthy way. “Along with growing up, anxiety forms this theme on the album of trying to hold space for your childhood self, to unlearn some of the myths you have about yourself, of transitioning into an adult, and all the anxieties that come with that,” he says in an interview with Jack Press for “Dork.”

If you want to dive into the music of these three creative geniuses, here are my top three songs from each artist: 

From Phoebe Bridgers:

“Chinese Satellite”

“I Know The End”

“Scott Street”

From Charlie Hickey:

“Mid Air” 

“Month of September”

“No Good at Lying”

From Christian Lee Hutson: 

“Lose This Number”

“Strawberry Lemonade”

“Teddy’s Song”

Sydney is a contributing writer and Editor in Chief for Her Campus (CU Boulder). She joined Her Campus during her first semester of freshman year, and her favorite things to write are concert/album reviews, reflective essays and pieces about local events or organizations. She loves getting to empower women to explore their voices and contribute their insights. When she's not writing or studying, you can find her taking photos, hiking or trying her hand at barre chords on guitar. Sydney is currently a junior majoring in strategic communication and pursuing minors in journalism and creative writing. She is a Norlin Scholar, an active member of PRSSA and interned with Renewable Energy Systems' marketing department over the summer. Following undergrad, she hopes to combine her passions for creative writing, public relations strategy and clean energy to ensure a brighter future for upcoming generations. While she's not writing or studying, you can find her playing music, attending concerts around Denver, shooting senior portraits, hiking at Chautauqua or spending time with her family. She hopes to publish a novel someday.