While Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album Punisher was released and gained notoriety in isolation, Bridgers herself has been anything but isolated. In 2020, the 26-year-old California native dropped her album at the height of the global pandemic to massive critical acclaim, picking up four Grammy nominations in the process, including Best New Artist.
But like most “new” artists, Bridgers has been around.
Since the release of her debut album Stranger in the Alps in 2017, Bridgers has fed her seemingly insatiable creative drive by collaborating. First, with fellow singer-songwriters Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. The trio, known as boygenius, released an ironically Crosby, Stills, and Nash-inspired EP in 2018, featuring masterful harmonies, cathartic wailing, and an overall questioning of what it means to be a “woman in music.” Because two albums in two years wasn’t enough, Bridgers’ then joined forces with Conor Oberst in 2019 on their joint self-titled album, Better Oblivion Community Center, delivering a musical experience teetering somewhere between a sorrowful dream and a dystopian nightmare.
When it came time for the Punisher era, Bridgers’ had already created the perfect team of writers, musicians, editors, visual artists, and supportive friends to help create her magnum opus. She called on long-time collaborators, including Oberst, Christian Lee Hutson, and Marshall Vore (to name a few), to help bring the music to life, while tapping visual artists and friends Olof Grind and Davis Bates to create imagery to match her sound: devastating, but always with a wink of absurdity. The finished product was a musical volume that questions life, death, religion, loss, and her own place in it all.
In lieu of live shows during quarantine, Bridgers delivered a string of late-night performances that were aligned so perfectly with her musical ethos, it seemed like Punisher was meant to debut during a pandemic. To perform her single “Kyoto” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, she opted to sit in the bathtub in her pajamas and accompany herself on a mini synthesizer, passionately belting, “I’m gonna kill you” into a toy microphone. For the song “Savior Complex,” she took to Los Angeles’s infamous Magic Castle, starting off with a coy smile and asking the resident ghost piano player, Irma, to hit it. To close out her impressive run on the late-night circuit, Bridgers orchestrated a classic rock-n-roll guitar smash on Saturday Night Live, complete with flying sparks that outraged a few “purists” devastated at the destruction of her equipment. She had little response to the trolls but noted that “Conor [Oberst] used to smash a Danelectro [guitar] on stage every night.” She then auctioned off the $100 smashed guitar for $100,000 and donated the proceeds to GLAAD.
In October 2020, shortly after the release of Punisher, Bridgers cut out the middleman with the inception of her own record label, Saddest Factory Records. “I watched a lot of people have labels and either mess it up or do a great job. I felt like I related more to the people who were doing it well. And I was frustrated as a music fan, having to send my label a 10-page email if I thought something was cool.” She’s already signed two musicians, Claud and MUNA, and has her eye set on more burgeoning unsigned talent. And, in typical Bridgers fashion, these announcements were accompanied by somberly facetious images of the singer-songwriter angrily throwing papers around a nondescript office, and the members of MUNA photocopying their butts.
The delightfully sarcastic website is “mostly my manager Darin [Harmon] trolling me,” Bridgers says. The site is designed to look like an intern’s desktop interface, with folders entitled “Not Porn” for music videos, links to their social profiles in the “Digital Ass(sets)” section, and fake messages from Bridgers herself asking the user “Where the hell is my oat latte?!”
But the casual, un-precious style of Saddest Factory Records echoes that of Bridgers’ personal brand and is part of why she is so beloved by fans, critics, and celebrities alike. Her music is universal in its specificity and forms a visceral connection with the listener, which is made even stronger by how approachable and unpretentious she is as a person. “I think liking my own fans makes me like myself more,” she says. “I’m like ‘Oh, if these are the people who relate to me, then I must be okay.'” The solitude in Bridgers’s music has given her fans a community with which to commiserate, but also uplift. The tattoo on Bridgers’ arm—an image of a sword stabbed through a sheet of paper given to her by a fan—is a not-so-subtle nod to the fact that she loves the community she’s created just as much, if not more, than we do.
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