Queer indie musicians Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker formed the band boygenius in 2018. Here’s a ranking of the tracks from their debut full-length album, the record, released on March 31!
I listened to Phoebe Bridgers on my artsy high school debate coach’s recommendation, and now her music is a fundamental part of my personality. I listened to boygenius’ eponymously-named EP for Bridgers and stayed for the undeniable chemistry between her, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker and their extraordinary individual musicianship that glitters on every song. I don’t dislike a single track on their debut album, the record, but here’s my ranking of all 12 tracks and why you should love each one!
12. Without You Without Them
i am, no doubt, dead. thank you boygenius. pic.twitter.com/0t8DMTAeZE
— sea (@concrettewall) March 31, 2023
This 82-second three-part acapella harmony is a perfect warmup for the album. Dacus is the stand-out vocalist in this arrangement and brings the trio together for an old-timey barbershop quartet feel. It comes in at the bottom of our list compared to the rest of the production, but it’s still a delight to start our journey with.
11. Leonard Cohen
boygenius for the guardian pic.twitter.com/ADarXGQpie
— best of phoebe bridgers (@bestofpheebs) March 24, 2023
Dacus brings her illustrative, conversational storytelling from her solo work front and center in “Leonard Cohen.” She takes us on a long drive with her bandmates while the group listens to “The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron & Wine (which they revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone). This sub-two-minute acoustic story explores being surprised and overjoyed that you’re close to someone despite your own imperfections, referencing Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
10. We’re In Love
new boygenius merch just dropped!!! pic.twitter.com/2HuNIhuEkK
— kelly ☆ (@tstytimezefronk) March 27, 2023
The lyrical storytelling continues in the ninth track, “We’re In Love.” Dacus narrates a conversation with a lover. She recounts memories and hopes about their relationship, backed by soft piano and guitar with the ebb and flow of a fuller orchestra. This softness seems to parallel the narrator’s loneliness that shrouds every line; the worriedness surrounding desperately wishing to be remembered but simultaneously thinking you’ll fade away.
9. Cool About It
more HQ photos of boygenius at ‘the film’ premiere last night! pic.twitter.com/y2jDn9yNbK
— boygenius updates 🦷 (@xboygeniusxhq) March 31, 2023
All three members sing verses on this track about lies, nerves, and forgetting. The strings in “Cool About It” have a more folksy feel, giving a certain small town nostalgia to the song. Although each singer could be talking about a different person, they all feel like they have to lie to the person they’re singing to (or accept lies the person gives) in order to stay in each other’s lives. Like much of Bridgers’, Dacus’, and Baker’s solo work, “Cool About It” has a deep melancholy that you feel in your bones.
boygenius are about to release the greatest album of all time and I’m supposed to act normal
— freya the fiasca🦷🍯 (@_wonkyteeth) March 27, 2023
Baker is the featured vocalist on this track, the first in our ranking with a more conventional rock feel, including a strong electric guitar groove and creative drum fills. The song begins with an illustration of Baker’s stubbornness shown through a day at the beach, explained in a Rolling Stone interview: “I have this macho bone in my body that I was like, ‘I’m pretty fit. I can hold my own in the ocean.’ I could not. I could’ve drowned.” The song as a whole is about mistakes and making a fool of yourself because of bad habits, each chorus erupting in frustration (probably at yourself).
7. True Blue
“True Blue” radiates positive intimacy. The music video ends with all three band members making out after painting an entire room blue without a care in the world. They eat saltines on the front porch, a reference to their collaborative finale to Bridgers’ 2020 album Punisher, “I Know The End,” wearing blue paint and wide smiles. The song is a slow and vibrant concession to love built over time, demonstrated in repeated lyrics like “I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself” and “I remember who I am when I’m with you.” “True Blue” makes you feel how true love would.
6. Letter To An Old Poet
me & my dog x letter to an old poet
boygenius 2018 – 2023 pic.twitter.com/04osjHxw8c
— phoebe daily (@sourcebridgers) March 31, 2023
The final song on the record is an unlikely reprise to “Me & My Dog” off boygenius’ 2018 EP, made clear in the bridge. “Me & My Dog” is a desperate yearning for someone, even if it’s incredibly unhealthy, while “Letter To An Old Poet” realizes the toxicity and wants to run far away. Past lyrics like “I want to be emaciated” turn into “I want to be happy” in this finale, desiring nothing but this partner becomes ready to move on (even if you aren’t there yet). “Me & My Dog” is one of my favorite songs of all time, but this healthier revisit is a welcome addition to the boygenius catalog and a sign that growth is more beautiful than we thought.
if your barista seems off or distracted the next few weeks or months please do NOT take it personally. boygenius is putting out an album on friday.
— caleb hearon (@calebsaysthings) March 27, 2023
Despite my undying love for the soft, emotionally devastating music that Bridgers, Dacus, and Baker make so much of, some of my absolute favorite boygenius tracks have a heavier sound. “Satanist” is all about embracing chaos and finding meaning in yourself, not letting the void or hopelessness take hold. After a beautiful screaming climax, there’s a wonderful tonal shift 3.5 minutes in. The harmonies lead us into a slow, drifting beat like we’re sinking to the bottom of a lake and looking up to see the beaming sun and your friends swimming overhead. Life is everywhere all at once, but at this very moment, it’s good.
4. Revolution 0
boygenius fans be like: “you’re lyrics saved my life”
the lyrics in question: pic.twitter.com/g3JTXoJ62g
— SITA (@raspberhrriies) March 31, 2023
Bridgers brings her ghostly, gentle vocals to the forefront of this unquestionably sad song. Like much of her own debut album Stranger In The Alps, “Revolution 0” seems to explore Bridgers’ relationship to things she’s lost as her life went on, from relationships to her own will to live. The lyrics “I don’t wanna die, that’s a lie / But I’m afraid to get sick” call back to one of her first songs, “Killer,” where she describes wanting to be taken off life support when she feels her life is no longer worth living. We’ve got another heart shattering one for the books, that’s for sure.
3. Emily I’m Sorry
Another Bridgers feature, “Emily I’m Sorry,” is what it says it is: an apology. It feels like the two characters are sitting on a bed together while Bridgers blurts out a lengthy testament to who she is as a person, what she’s doing wrong, her hopes and dreams, and how desperately she wants to hold on. An echoing beat begins in the second verse, grounding Bridgers until it literally falls away when she mentions getting lost together, only to return when the apology continues. The story parallels the quintessential coming-of-age romance where the characters want to screw it all and run away together, like the end of But I’m A Cheerleader (an appropriately sapphic example).
“$20” was my first introduction to the record; it was the first track in the teaser for the album, and I still absolutely love it. The song feels like getting dirty, destroying things at the junkyard, and running until you can’t breathe (as shown in the music video). The vehicle metaphor continues throughout, with references to motorcycles, Thunderbirds, and Chevys, all leading to the layered, cacophonous bridge where Baker insists, “You’re doing what you can, just makin’ it run,” a double entendre about being completely out of energy and still having to keep going. Each vocalist’s pleading grows louder until they are indistinguishable from each other, and Bridgers’ iconic scream echoes over everyone. I love it when my girls yell!
1. Not Strong Enough
It’s only natural that my favorite track features the three members in their individual and collective glory. “Not Strong Enough” is perhaps the most lucrative example of the band referring to themselves as boys and men in their lyrics (besides their name, of course). Bridgers, Dacus, and Baker are all openly queer and play with gender roles in their individual and collective image. This gender nonconformity is key to their identity and propels commentary on how the band is underestimated due to their womanhood, as many female musicians are. This track is about not being seen as enough despite knowing you are; they are “always an angel, never a god.” This is also a plain Biblical reference, present in many other tracks and in the band’s solo work (especially Baker’s).
Rather than an interpretative narrative, this music video shows the band just having a good time together, from a carnival to a beach bonfire. The three share a deep and caring bond that shines through in this production and their past work together.
Needless to say, the record is a fantastic debut, and I can’t wait to see what these three come up with next. Catch me being a sobbing mess at the Rose Bowl in June!
You can get tickets to boygenius’ tour here and check out their merch here!