Phoebe’s greatest strength is helping the listener see themselves in her stunningly specific, intricate stories. Punisher, her brilliant second album, is all about the masks she wears as she finds her place in the world.
I moved across the country to New York City in September 2018. I hardly knew anyone, and the people I did know hardly knew me. It was a fresh start, and with fresh starts come a lot of fresh, impressionable faces.
I quickly realized this was a chance to reinvent myself, to be someone new. I could present myself however I wanted, trying on different masks as I met different people. “Baby, it’s Halloween, and we can be anything,” Phoebe Bridgers sings on her standout track “Halloween.” Punisher, her brilliant second album, is all about the masks she wears as she finds her place in the world.
One of those masks is the mask of being a fan. Another funny thing about moving, particularly to a big city, is knowing that your heroes live there. There’s something fascinating about seeing yourself in your heroes, and living in the same place makes that feel a bit more real.
Frank Ocean is one of my heroes. He also moved to New York in 2018. Sometimes I’d wander around SoHo and wonder if he’d want to be my friend. What would we talk about? I know he loves cars. I don’t love cars, but I love driving. Does he miss driving too?
Phoebe gets it. The album’s title track finds her reflecting on living in the same place as one of her heroes, the deceased Elliott Smith. She’s never met him, but feels like she knows him. “I can’t open my mouth and forget how to talk/Cause even if I could/Wouldn’t know where to start/Wouldn’t know where to stop.” When I met one of my heroes last summer, I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t speak properly. Phoebe not only knows the feeling, she impeccably puts it into words. It’s a gift.
As I came to love my new friends in New York, the masks I wore began to fall off. I stood with my strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities laid bare. Phoebe gets it. That’s exactly what happens on “Graceland Too,” Punisher’s stunning penultimate song with Phoebe’s boygenius bandmates. She falls in love. She’s done caring about facades. All she wants is to make someone happy. “I would do anything you want me to/I would do anything for you.” We’ve all been there.
I spent my last semester of college studying abroad in London. I was so excited. I talked about it incessantly. At times it was blissful. Most of the time, however, I was stricken with a severe episode of depression. My friends would go out and explore the cities we visited while I was stuck in the hotel. It didn’t feel like a choice I was making. It's just the way that it was.
I never felt understood until I heard “Kyoto,” Punisher’s stunning second single. She’s traveling in Japan. Everybody is having a blast but her. She stays behind at the hotel. “I wanted to see the world/Then I flew over the ocean/And I changed my mind.” Phoebe’s greatest strength is helping the listener see themselves in her stunningly specific, intricate stories. Phoebe gets it, and that is something to be grateful for.