Join the Phoeple for a Better Oblivion: Why You Should Be Listening to Phoebe Bridgers

Do you ever feel like a stranger? Do you go about your day feeling non-existent? Do you feel like you live in a dystopia? Are you grappling with the idea that none of this is real and that we don’t really exist? Well, you’re not alone. Hidden in the music world, there’s a group of us. We’re called the Phoeple. And our leader/savant/prophet is none other than Phoebe Bridgers. 

The California-born singer and songwriter insists she’s anywhere from her current home in California (get to know Phoebe in the New Yorker's excellent profile on her). Sure, she’s in Los Angeles physically: inhabiting the confines of her home, visiting the YouTuber ASMR artists next door, conducting waves of socially distanced video-interviews and cam shows from her room, or walking around the Silver Lake reservoir. But in her sophomore studio album, Punisher, released in June 2020, Bridgers insists she’s neither here nor there – her character drifts in another plane of existence like a ghost, freely narrating the current global situation. If there’s such thing as an acceptable god complex, Phoebe Bridgers has it.  

Punisher is a behemothic work of art, richly detailed with narrative in a world of its own. It may have a Californian undercurrent, but Bridgers takes the listener on a world tour, from Kyoto to Germany, inspired from her own experiences on tour. Every song on the tracklist is a standout character, both haunting and melodic. There is a sharp, sardonic tone to Bridgers’ lyricism; she’s jarring and sincere and values honesty above all, even if it hurts. She conjures images of fairy tales, holidays, nautical-themed birthday parties (anything nautical in general) and, most impressively, her favourite topic:  sleeping and dreaming. 

The album opens with “DVD Menu”, a haunting minute-long instrumental which later segues into “Garden Song,” a lush song about manifestation. Bridgers insists that “someday…” her anti-semitic neighbour will mysteriously go missing and she’ll “glu[e] in roses on a flatbed” and plant an artificial garden in her backyard, complete with red herrings. Then she starts dreaming about it. It’s about believing strongly enough in something that it eventually, someday, comes true. The song could even be interpreted as an empowerment anthem. It’s Bridgers’ way of taking something thematically dark and chiselling it into something, well, funnier. Something tolerable and liveable. 

Funny may be needed, after the despairing tone of Bridger’s first album, Stranger In The Alps (2017). Despite its softcore tone, it's a dark and visceral album, much deeper than the lightness that Punisher offers. The humour is what makes Punisher so appealing and accessible. It feels more like a storybook, Phoebe feels more like a character with a name. and the settings feel alive and habitated. The sound arrangements range from psychedelic to upbeat to orchestral. Some songs are gorgeous ballads, while others are pounding drums set in-synth alongside deep guttural screams specially delivered from Bridgers’ vocal case. 

The scream-song in question is appropriately named “I Know The End.” Lines such as “I’m not gonna go down with my hometown in a tornado / I’m gonna chase it” are reminiscent of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz, further fuelling the storybook-like element. Coming in dead last on Punisher’s track list, “I Know The End” is the most anthemic, despairing, and biblical song out of the bunch, narrating much of the current apocalypse happening outside of our windows in 2020.  If Punisher has a climax, this is it. 

Punisher has many full-circle elements in its lyricism, each song calling back and referencing previous works or foreshadowing those still upcoming. Its world is ample with discovery with many stories and idiosyncrasies best left discovered on their own. 

Bridgers becomes a prophet in her own narration with an open invitation for anyone to join her cause. There’s a fine line: you’re either one of the people, or you’re one of the Phoeple. Join the revolution. Become a punisher, for Phoebe.