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5th April 2023

Boygenius’ the record reminds us just how good supergroups can be 

Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus release their full-length debut, compactly summarising sisterhood, comedy, love, heartache and hatred in one 42 minute album
Boygenius’ the record reminds us just how good supergroups can be 
Photo: the record – Official Album Art

“You could absolutely break my heart / that’s how I know that we’re in love” boygenius member and singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus sings on the song ‘we’re in love’. In this one tragically beautiful line Dacus has managed to succinctly sum up the record; it will break your heart and make you cry and by the end you’ll absolutely be ready to be broken down all over again just for another chance to listen to this instant classic.

But the heartache felt here isn’t just tragic: it is beautiful, uplifting odes to friendship and vulnerable, intimate anecdotes about love and loss, held together by three artists, and three close friends who help each other shine. This is the beauty of boygenius; individually Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus have demonstrated their ever-growing artistic prowess and creative confidence, and when they come together they create pure magic. 

Before the release of the much-loved 2018 self-titled boygenius debut EP, Bridgers, Dacus and Baker had all established cult followings and created acclaimed records, but in the five years since, their careers (and their artistry) have flourished to the point where fans, and the “boys” themselves were unsure if they had time to commit to a full-length comeback. But the boys are back! And with their return they have matured into a sound that feels a lot more confident and measured than their brilliant, but overly self-conscious debut, and it’s a joy to see.

Photo: Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker @ Harrison Whitford

The record opens acapella style with the muted and harmonious ‘Without You Without Them’, an introduction into the world of boygenius. It’s short, poignant and sung in almost total synchronicity, seemingly as a nod to the sisterhood that shapes the record, and gives glimpses of the moments of narrative intimacy to come: “Give me everything you got / I’ll take what I can get / I want to hear your story and be a part of it”.  

They follow this with the three lead singles ‘$20’, ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ and ‘True Blue’, which were recorded individually so each highlight a different lead vocalist and a different member’s style. The synthesis of the opening track helps shape the section that follows as not just collaborative solo singles but as part of a wider project that sees the boys as fundamentally working, creating and curating together whilst allowing each other time in the spotlight.  

For Baker, ‘$20’ allowed her to explore the fun side of working together, incorporating what she felt the band needed, namely “more sick riffs”. ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ sees Bridgers bringing her trademark slow-burner melancholy to the group, but here her intimate stories of heartbreak and queer love are supported and lifted by the vocal harmonies of her friends and bandmates. And on ‘True Blue’, Dacus takes on witty and acute observations of what it feels like to really be seen in a relationship; “I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself” she calls, and even when it’s uplifting, the raw emotion feels so intimate that it still hurts to hear.  

‘Cool about it’ tells different stories about running into an ex and trying to remain “cool”. Each of the boys takes a verse, depicting anecdotes of the pain, the annoyance and the will to move on. The acoustic melody feels reminiscent of the Plain White T’s‘ ‘Hey There Delilah’  but its content, in typical boygenius style, is more comical and more cynical than the earnest attempts of trying to make it through a long-distance relationship. ‘Cool About It’ shows the opposite of being earnest, how, when encountered with an ex, we “practice method acting” just to make it through the awkward interactions.  

In ‘Not strong enough’, the mid-point of the record, all of boygenius’ branding and humour coalesces into one climax. Their band name emerged as a semi-facetious comment on the commonplace overpraising of men (especially in the arts) as being god-like, versus the treatment of women as underappreciated and essentialised as “female artists”. The song begins as a straightforward indie pop tune, and slowly we see boygenius feeling brow-beaten, “second guessing” themselves as they begin to feel “not strong enough” to cope with the expectations of others. By the bridge it almost feels like a different song as boygenius come to realise on the repeated refrain that they are “always an angel never a god” and so they yell their “revelations” into the proverbial void. 

On this track they reference Sheryl Crow’s ‘Strong Enough’ as they debate if they are “not strong enough to be your man”, and later recall listening to The Cure’s ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. This is a move that is typical of boygenius’ writing style, in that they are continuously incorporating pop culture and musical references into their art.  

On ‘Leonard Cohen’ for example, boygenius don’t just reference the eponymous “horny poet” but the whole song revolves around the idea of getting so lost in someone else’s music (specifically the ten minute version of ‘The Trapeze Swinger’ by Iron and Wine as revealed in Rolling Stone) that boygenius don’t even notice that they’re driving the wrong way down the interstate. It’s a track that shows utter appreciation and humility towards the art of others, whilst highlighting the crucial relational aspect that makes the music of boygenius feel so intimate and idiosyncratic, namely their friendship. When they sing “You felt like an idiot adding an hour to the drive / But it gave us more time to embarrass ourselves / Tellin’ stories we wouldn’t tell anyone else” it unveils a part of the inner-workings of their friendship, keeping the audience outside of their inside jokes and embarrassing stories, but allowing us a peek into how they talk to one and other. 

The trio triumph on their wittier, louder songs, like joking about whether satanism, anarchism and nihilism are deal breakers for a relationship on ‘Satanist’. But they equally shine on the more stripped-back cuts, like on ‘we’re in love’ or most prominently on the gut-wrenching (or as Bridgers sings, “stomach punching”) closing track ‘letters to an old poet’. Over sombre piano chords, Bridgers takes the vocal lead as she relays the feelings of hatred felt through a toxic relationship: “I love you / I don’t know why”. After hearing her open declaration of feeling trapped, the last verse becomes tragic: “I wanna be happy” becomes the saddest lyric in the whole album when followed by the solemn whispers of “but I can’t feel it yet”. 

It is a testament to their friendship and combined artistry that boygenius can create something that compactly summarises sisterhood, comedy, love, heartache and hatred in one 42 minute album, and have all those feelings hit so deeply. The record will lift you up and break you down ten times over before it’s finished. But, in line with the macabre humour of boygenius, that’s all part of the fun of it!  


You can stream the record below:

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