Phoebe Bridgers and The Return of the Supergroup
Once thought to be simply a relic of the past, the supergroup is making a big comeback in 2019 with strong women-led efforts.
Written by Claire Hardwick
I was bored out of my mind at work on a cloudy day when I first heard “Smoke Signals” by Phoebe Bridgers. I had been hearing a lot about her remarkably sad new album, how her songs were so detailed they almost hurt to listen to. So, I pressed play and let the low bass notes wash over me. Her album, Strangers in the Alps, became a staple of my yearly “it’s cold and I’m sad” playlist and followed me throughout 2018. All the while, her whispery voice describing burning trash on a beach and long walks in a frozen park transfixed me.
As the months turned warmer and I turned to more upbeat tunes, I wondered when we would hear new Phoebe Bridgers music. Artists tend to come out with new albums every year –– or every six years (I’m looking at you, Vampire Weekend) –– and I was a little distraught knowing it could be a year or maybe more before I heard those signature melancholy lyrics again.
Then, what seemed like impossibly amazing news arrived in early November –– boygenius, a collaborative album by none other than Phoebe Bridgers and two of my other favorite artists, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. A new supergroup was in town.
Growing up, I remember my parents constantly recalling memories of when their minds were blown by supergroups like The Traveling Wilburys, whose members included George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison. On a recent search into the trend of musical supergroups, I found two things to be obviously clear: none of the seemingly “successful” groups were formed past 2000 and –– most obviously –– they were all overwhelmingly male.
So, when boygenius, a pointed title in and of itself, came out, something felt different. Not only did these three artists already have critically acclaimed albums and sold-out tours under their belts, but they were also strong women singing unabashedly about love, loss, and everything in between. On “Bite the Hand,” the first track on their debut EP, Dacus sings in deep frustration, almost as if she’s scrawling the lyrics on her bedroom walls. Over and over, she sings, “I can’t love you like you want me to,” a vulnerable revelation that listeners everywhere can relate to.
Another key difference to this new 21st century supergroup was that it formed organically, rather than being the product of record companies’ meddling. The group members met and became confidantes in green rooms or backstage at festivals. They bonded first as friends and then decided to make music together almost as an afterthought. Maybe that’s what makes the seven songs they recorded together feel so powerful and raw –– because they came from three artists who simply enjoy spending time with each other.
Thankfully, my playlists have been filled to the brim with as many heartbreaking songs as I need because of the release of boygenius. Just when I thought Phoebe was done with music for a while, she formed a duo in January with Conor Oberst’s, a new project titled Better Oblivion Community Center. Their concerts include covers of “Can’t Hardly Wait” by The Replacements and a hard rock and roll version of one of Phoebe’s saddest songs to date, “Funeral.”
Is the supergroup finally on its way back? I’m not exactly sure, but I am positive that now I won’t have to wait nearly as long to hear my favorite artists new masterpieces.