boygenius Are Together for the Hell of It on 'the record'
Published Mar 27, 2023When Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus first formed their supergroup in 2018, they were tired of being lumped together by labels like "women in rock" or "sad girl indie" — designations that erased their unique, distinct styles. They sarcastically named the group boygenius, spoofed Crosby, Stills & Nash on the cover of their debut EP and spoke out against the idea of their gender being a genre. The message was and is clear: this supergroup ought to be treated the same way you'd treat any other.
Since that critically acclaimed EP, the members of boygenius have each climbed new heights of indie-rock stardom. Bridgers had a major breakthrough in 2020 with her second album Punisher, which earned her four Grammy nominations, a Saturday Night Live appearance and collaborations with Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney and Lorde. The following year, Baker and Dacus also found new highs with their respective third albums Little Oblivions and Home Video, further defining their already sterling songwriting.
With all of that individual achievement, the fate of boygenius was fuzzy. But now five years later, the group has reunited to make a debut album that shows the strength of their friendship and symbiotic artistry while also reinforcing their individuality. Dacus brings a sense of wit and sensitivity; Bridgers a quiet melancholy; Baker a raw ferocity. the record combines those individual instincts into a group effort that's compelling in all sorts of ways — and one that's also charmingly (and, in a way, fittingly) imperfect.
Though every song on the record is credited to all three members, it's not often hard to tell where a song first germinated. The lead singles — "$20," "Emily I'm Sorry," and "True Blue"— most closely match the styles of each performer, acting as a sort of taste-test of what's to come. Still, even those songs are noticeably a group effort; within a few seconds of "$20," you can pinpoint Baker as the author of its thumping, odd-metered grunge and lyrics depicting self-destructive impulsivity, but it's the intertwining melodies and harmonies from her bandmates — including thunderous screams from Bridgers — that make it so climactic. Similarly, the dulcet tones of Bridgers' half-whispered voice and baritone guitar on "Emily I'm Sorry" are extremely Punisher, and the wistful, driving storytelling of "True Blue" is a Dacus staple, but all three artists make their presence known on each.
As you get further along, you continue to hear each writer's unique artistry given its space, supported and reinforced by her peers. Bridgers goes right for the jugular: "Revolution 0" and "Letter to an Old Poet" both have the emotional heft of a signature Phoebe Bridgers song, with a quiet, dusky sound that tends to make you stop and stare off into nothing for a while. Conversely, Baker's influence tends to push the trio to play louder: the driving guitars, booming rhythms and rafter-reaching vocals on "Satanist" and "Anti-Curse" give the record some explosiveness. And Dacus's songs offer emotionally striking and occasionally playful vignettes: "We're in Love" is a beautiful, wistful ballad that's quiet, sparse and tender; "Leonard Cohen" is a cerebral heart-breaker that feels like a stylistic cross between Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell, with lyrics that charmingly recall a road trip gone slightly awry and take a kindhearted jab at the titular poet.
As was expected from the beginning, Baker, Bridgers and Dacus mesh together naturally and wonderfully. Just as they do on their own, they make undeniably lovely music together. But it does often feel more like three people supporting each other than it does a group; it would be fascinating to hear a version of boygenius where it isn't so easy to tell who wrote what. Arguably the best song on the record is "Not Strong Enough," a lively, rousing centrepiece that showcases each of them equally and sounds like them, all at once.
That said, the stylistic diversity of the record — the fact that it still sounds like three individual, fully formed creatives with their own distinct voices — reasserts the idea that largely motivated the supergroup's formation: none of them needs each other, just like the Traveling Wilburys or Crosby, Stills & Nash didn't need each other. boygenius exists simply for the joy of being together, and that togetherness makes them such a joy. (Interscope)