Phoebe Bridgers's 10 Best Songs Ranked

We run down the highlights of her solo catalogue, as well as with boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Center

Photo: Karen K. Tran

BY Alex Hudson and Megan LaPierrePublished Jul 28, 2023

"Whatever she wants."

That's the line from "Graceland Too'' that a group of young girls near me sing-songed in conversation as we left the boygenius show at Toronto's Budweiser Stage, encapsulating their love for Phoebe Bridgers as an all-encompassing surrender. 

It's hard to believe a singer-songwriter of her notoriety has only released two solo albums at this point — the latter of which, Punisher, shot the indie darling to fame in the early pandemic depths of pyjama-clad quarantine livestreams.

In 2023, Bridgers is a TIME Woman of the Year and the founder of her own label with an all-star roster including MUNA and Claud. She has two successful supergroup side-projects, boygenius (with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus) and Better Oblivion Community Center (with Conor Oberst) under her belt — and Keith Urban accidentally blowing up her and (alleged) boyfriend Bo Burnham's spot when she was opening for Taylor Swift's Eras Tour.

It's a near-unfathomable level of fame for the same artist who released her debut album Stranger in the Alps on Dead Oceans relatively quietly in 2017. Bridgers's music has experienced a similar form of crescendo, stretching itself out with faster tempos and horn sections while further developing her reputation for delivering scathing indictments with a willowy grace and not shying away from throwing in a cathartic scream for good measure.

In honour of the second leg of the boygenius tour kicking off in Vancouver, we're counting down her top 10 best songs to date.

10. "ICU"
Punisher (2020)

"I hate your mom / I hate it when she opens her mouth / It's amazing to me how much you can say / When you don't know what you're talking about" 

Unlike the sick burns of some of Bridgers's other breakup songs, "ICU" turns the blame inward, with the singer acknowledging that she didn't properly appreciate former partner (and co-writer of this song) Marshall Vore: "If you're a work of art / I'm standing too close / I can see the brushstrokes." Bridgers dwells on her signature themes of depression, apathy and nihilism, making "ICU" more about herself than her ex — but it's the heart-flipping chorus that really emphasizes what she's lost. She may go through life being numb, "But I feel something when I see you."

9. "Garden Song"
Punisher (2020)

"The doctor put her hands over my liver / She told me my resentment's getting smaller"

Forgive me, because I can't write about "Garden Song" without writing about my Punisher Girl Summer of 2020. Every evening around dusk, I would walk around Kingston listening to the album in its entirety. It was my constant amid the deep uncertainty of everything else. "Garden Song" feels particularly meditative with the lope of its rubbery, chopped up guitar progression and trailing cirrus clouds of distortion. Bridgers's singing is deftly feather-light, nearly shaking with emotion in the second verse as she digs through the topsoil of what it takes to get everything you want — and the closet skeletons of skinhead neighbours decomposing beneath.

8. "Not Strong Enough"
the record (2023)

"Black hole opened in the kitchen / Every clock's a different time"

From its Laurel Canyon opening strums, "Not Strong Enough" tickles the brain in a way that brings a smile to my face without fail. Like much of the boygenius catalogue, it's an admission of guilt that feels more vindicating than it has any right to — even for war criminals! On the surface, it's Bridgers and the boys at their most breezily cool, paying homage to Sheryl Crow, but it's all just a mask for the deeply affected fear of not living up to the weight of responsibility that lies at the core. That, or being too full of piss to sleep.

7. "Sleepwalkin'"
Better Oblivion Community Centre (2019)

"I want them to stop, the circular thoughts / Spin in a whirlpool of forget-me-nots"

Part of the fun of Better Oblivion Community Centre, Bridgers's duo with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, is trying to figure out who wrote which part — especially since the musicians themselves aren't sure. "People have asked in interviews about who wrote what," Oberst told Exclaim! in 2019. "Truly, in some cases, I don't remember." Album standout "Sleepwalkin'" starts off sounding a whole lot like Oberst, with wobbly country rock grooves that queasily speed up and slow down — but the whole thing culminates in a crescendo that's pure Bridgers, its melody twisting and spiralling as gracefully as its image of "a whirlpool of forget-me-nots."

6. "I Know the End"
Punisher (2020)

"Windows down, scream along / To some America First rap-country song" 

The final song on Punisher is a three-part suite, a snapshot of a road trip that vividly captures the contradictions of life within a dwindling empire. The final passage is a giddy explosion of blood-curdling screams, triumphant Sufjan-style horns, and choral group singing — but it's actually the tensely building second section that hits hardest, with Bridgers essentially playing "I spy" as she chronicles the crumbling debris of Middle America: slaughterhouses, outlet malls, patriotic rap-country singalongs and a storm hanging ominously on the horizon.

5. "Scott Street"
Stranger in the Alps (2017)

"I asked you, 'How is playing drums?' / You said, 'It's too much shit to carry'"

Stranger of the Alps was released when I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree. In a a time period marked some difficult transitions, being half-asleep listening to "Scott Street" in my basement room on Cole Road (close enough?) proved comforting as I tried to process the idea of letting its straightforward acoustic strums propel me forward into an abyss of the train whistles. I hold it near like drinking warm PBR at shows in abandoned Guelph churches with a lot of people I knew I wouldn't see again; when I felt more and more like a stranger to an old life while colloquially being told not to be one.

4. "Chinese Satellite"
Punisher (2020)

"I think when you're gone it's forever / But you know I'd stand on the corner, embarrassed with a picket sign / If it meant I would see you when I die"

A devastating reflection of the meaninglessness of life, "Chinese Satellite" finds Bridgers gazing up at the heavens and feeling nothing. Cribbing an idea from Billy Bragg's "A New England," Bridgers's shooting star turns out to be a man-made hunk of metal and wires, offering further proof that there's no grand design to life. What makes Bridgers's cynicism so heart-wrenching is there's nothing smug about it (Ricky Gervais should take note), as she desperately wishes for either God or an alien to take her back to where she truly belongs.

3. "Me & My Dog"
boygenius (2018)

"I wanna be emaciated / I wanna hear one song without thinking of you"

Earlier this year, Bridgers told Exclaim! about the climactic moment in boygenius's quintessential anthem where she lets rip a belted plea to be skinny. "That lyric that everybody screams is so unhealthy and an admission of something superficial in myself that I was sharing with [Baker and Dacus] to feel better about it," she said. "That your most private thoughts are about how you look is so humiliating." The shame of the feeling like your appearance is somehow at the root of your suffering is staggeringly difficult to voice — and that's what makes so many people, especially young women, feel unsettlingly seen by Bridgers in her most macabre moments: she's able to articulate pain as a way of being, not just a thing that happens to you.

2. "Kyoto"
Punisher (2020)

"He said you called on his birthday / You were off by like 10 days / But you get a few points for trying"

When I met my partner on Tinder, my theme song was the then-recent single "Kyoto" — a bit of a dark choice for a dating app, given that the song is about a complicated relationship with a deadbeat dad who's getting sober after a lifetime of dropping the ball. But with its motorik beat, cheery horns and grimy undercurrent of guitar fuzz, the fatalistic song is more upbeat than anything else in Bridgers's discography, leaving an impression of warmth and empathy. And hey, she swiped right, so that's a win!

1. "Motion Sickness"
Stranger in the Alps

"Hey, why do you sing with an English accent? / I guess it's too late to change it now"

I'm not sure who determines that a song is an all-time great. It's definitely not me, but I still feel confident in saying that "Motion Sickness" is evergreen. Regardless of whether Bridgers's immense star power of the moment is just a passing moon phase, this song will outlive all of us. It supersedes any surrounding lore regarding multiply-accused manipulator Ryan Adams with its searing, dustily incandescent guitar groove rolling us through hills awash in atmospheric textures. It feels counterintuitive trying to put words to a perfect slice of indie rock that revolves around the axis of knowing there are none in the English language up to task.


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