A comprehensive beginner’s guide to the sad girl music world of Phoebe Bridgers
Wet, cold and crying? Time to stick Phoebe on
You haven’t known autumn/winter peace until you’ve walked around with a coffee with Phoebe Bridgers discography ringing in your ears. The Californian queen of indie rock I fear for many is someone they know via her relationship with Paul Mescal – which saddens me deeply when she’s an artist of extremely high calibre. Both of Phoebe’s albums, her collaborative work and EPs have all been released to universal acclaim. But the work of Phoebe Bridgers can be daunting if you don’t know where to start dipping your toes into the snow – here’s a comprehensive beginner’s guide to her sad girl music universe.
The straight-up bangers
The second single from Phoebe Bridgers’ debut album Stranger in the Alps is her biggest hit, period. At 211,000,000 Spotify streams, it’s her biggest commercial success and a certified classic as far as I’m concerned. “I have emotional motion sickness, somebody roll the windows down / There are no words in the English language I could scream to drown you out” is an amazing refrain to build a chorus around.
Motion Sickness is instantly accessible, and features Bridgers’ devastatingly strong songwriting with an uptempo soft rock instrumental. If I was Ryan Adams, her ex that she’s confirmed this song is about, I would simply pass away listening to this annihilation.
The Phoebe Bridgers bop of all bops follows the trend of Motion Sickness in that it’s the second single from an album and absolutely slaps. Kyoto is the most outwardly, unapologetically fun song she’s ever released. Grungy with a big 90s vibe, it’s an anthem for imposter syndrome inspired by Phoebe’s first trip to Japan and feeling like she was living someone else’s life as her career hit new highs of success.
It’s a song you just never tire of.
The moody main character anthems
With its guitar plucked bass notes sounding straight off the theme tune to Twin Peaks, nothing sets the tone of an album quite like Smoke Signals. It’s one of the most cinematic songs Phoebe Bridgers’ has ever penned – her pop culture references throughout the lyrics and how vivid everything feels whilst remaining conversational is just so fascinating. An extremely special track.
I have a distinct memory this year of saying how Sidelines is one of the best tracks of 2022 to my friend Molly, a fellow Phoebe lover. She said she wasn’t sure and that she thought the song didn’t really go anywhere. I told her to give it some time and once it clicks it’s phenomenal. Two weeks later – she agreed.
Sidelines is a moody piece that takes its time unfolding its layers and rewards repeat listens. When she gets to the chorus and the instrumental kicks in full it’s practically euphoria. The way she sings “To wanna go outside” hits so hard. It’s the only original song she’s dropped this year, and for that we will cherish it endlessly.
Soaking into the way Phoebe Bridgers opens albums is essential for any guide to her music, because she just sets the tone of both her albums so well. Garden Song was Punisher’s lead single, and it’s about a recurring nightmare Phoebe has on tour. Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero reminds me a lot of it. If you like that song, you’ll love this.
The devastatingly sad weepers
On Moon Song, Phoebe Bridgers said it was a song about “the-wanting-to-be-stepped-on-feeling” – wanting someone to treat you badly because at least they’ll have treated you at all. Ouch. Really felt that.
The chorus makes me feel like crying just when I think on it, let alone when I press play. “You couldn’t have stuck your tongue down the throat of somebody who loves you more / So I will wait for the next time you want me like a dog with a bird at your door” is the kind of chorus that we can all relate to a specific situationship hell. And if you can’t, you’ve got it to come. Lucky you. “If I could give you the Moon, I would give you the Moon.”
AND the Eric Clapton diss never fails to stop me in my tracks.
“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 about it too much I can’t breathe” is a devastating way to open a track, and it’s just the beginning. Phoebe wrote this song about a close friend of hers who died from an overdose. She still struggles to perform it live, because it’s so personal and emotional for her.
It doesn’t need much explaining for why this song is so heart-wrenchingly sad.
The collaboration tunes
MUNA signing to Phoebe Bridgers’ label was the best thing the band ever did, shown in full force with their lead single Silk Chiffon – featuring Phoebe herself. Silk Chiffon is quite simply, untouchably, one of the greatest pop songs of 2021. It’s a tour de force. Impossible to dislike. Pure joy, and a queer love anthem delivered from LGBTQ icons. Cherished.
Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America
Phoebe Bridgers and The 1975 coming together for a gentle folk duet about LGBTQ rights that I hold so close to my heart. Phoebe’s verse has some of my favourite songwriting of her entire career: “I’m in love with a girl next door, her name’s Claire / Nice when she comes round to call, then masturbate the second she’s not there.” I gasped.
Taylor Swift announcing Phoebe Bridgers as a guest feature on Red (Taylor’s Version) was a huge collapse for me. Gay panic set in, if you will. A pop music crisis and emergency! Taylor Swift getting Phoebe on board for a country ballad inspired by A Case Of You by Joni Mitchell is reason enough for this song to be preserved in a museum for the rest of time.
The Christmas covers
If We Make It Through December
No guide to Phoebe Bridgers’ music would be complete without a nod to these. I love that there’s now a yuletide tradition that every year Phoebe Bridgers will drop a Christmas cover with the proceeds going to charity. Her 2020 cover of Merle Haggard’s moody If We Make It Through December was the first one I heard from her, and I love it with all my heart. I love a mopey Christmas. It fits her style so much you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an original song.
So Much Wine
Wake up babe, new Phoebe Bridgers Christmas cover just dropped for 2022! I love this song so much and it’s barely been out two days. I’d never heard the original by The Handsome Family, buy I’m going to spend the rest of the year with this on loop and you should too.
The theme tune to the apocalyptic end of the world
I Know The End
The end is HERE! Both a great lyric fro the track, and the actuality of this Phoebe Bridgers music guide coming to a close. This is how you end an album, people – caterwauling into the flames of global destruction and existential dread with one of the best mid-song shifts ever until Happier Than Ever outdid it a year later. The outro changed the trajectory of my life forever.
Featured image credit via @phoebebridgers