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The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Healing and friendship: boygenius releases debut album ‘the record’

Comparing lyrics from the boygenius EP to the recent album yields stories of growth and friendship.
The album cover for “the record” by boygenius. (Photo courtesy of Interscope Records)

I told myself I wasn’t going to write about “the record” because I just wanted to enjoy the debut album from boygenius without analyzing it. However, as I listened to the album on repeat through Thursday night and Friday, I found that I couldn’t not write this piece. The record tells a salient story about healing and friendship, and it is something that I knew I needed to hear and share with others. College can be an isolating place, and it can be easy to get locked inside your head, spiraling feelings of being difficult or different; this album is a reminder to look to the people around us and hold on tight.

Indie-rock supergroup boygenius is made up of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker. The group recorded their self-titled EP in 2018 over four days in Los Angeles after meeting during Baker’s tour and becoming close friends. During this time, the group hadn’t known each other for a long time, yet it became obvious to them that their different music styles merged over similar emotions. They created the name boygenius — alluding to the men who have been told that they’re geniuses, while women are taught to be silent and still.

Their EP features six songs and centers around feelings of grief and loneliness. Rather than one artist leading the way, each member gets time to shine and front vocally. Dacus brings her smooth contralto voice to lead in “Bite the Hand” and “Salt In the Wound,” which touch fearing vulnerability and being bruised by a lover. Baker brings her delicate yet soaring voice to lead the way in “Stay Down” and “Souvenir,” which center around constant feelings of being pushed down and feeling hopeless and unloveable. Finally, Bridgers pilots “Ketchum, ID” and “Me & My Dog.” “Ketchum, ID” recounts feeling out-of-your-body, while “Me & My Dog” revolves around feeling overwhelmed and unable to get over someone. Bringing together their impressive lyrical skills and unique individual styles, the EP creates a kind of irresistible magic. The songs are undoubtedly sad but offer comfort to listeners by recounting specific feelings and moments that are painfully relatable. 

This magic, brought by the enchanting sound of the three member’s voices together, is what makes boygenius so good. In the years after the EP was released, each member has continued to release their own music and tour, including Dacus’ album “Home Video,” Baker’s “Little Oblivions” and Bridger’s “Punisher.” As standalone artists, all three members have been widely successful and crafted their own distinct sounds. However, fans of boygenius could not help but dream that the band would release more music —  that dream has finally become reality. 

After being spotted together at a photoshoot in November 2022, rumors began spreading about boygenius reuniting. On Jan. 18, 2023, the bandmates revealed that “the record” would come out March 31 and released three songs from the album. 

Perhaps most striking about the group is their friendship. Not only is the band a talented supergroup taking charge of the rock scene, but the three members are also close friends, relying on their relationships and time together to guide their songwriting. From my listening of “the record,” it is indisputably about the healing of being known and loved, established through their close friendship together. While their EP centers around shared feelings of loneliness and feeling unknowable, “the record” is a triumph of being understood. 

The album opens in a beautiful harmony, led by Dacus in “Without You Without Them.” Their three voices seamlessly blend together to tell a story of being ceaselessly connected to those who came before and those around them, ending with the lyrics “Who would I be without you, without them?” After setting the scene for the album to be about the importance of friendship and relationships, Dacus leads the way in “We’re in Love,” which includes the lyrics “I don’t need the symbol of a scar, so put down the knife / We’re not swapping blood.” The song touches on being intimately close to someone, and the idea of putting down the knife contrasts Dacus’words in “Salt in the Wound,” which talk about someone continually harming and asking more of you. Dacus also leads “True Blue,” which feels like a response to “Bite the Hand” in the EP. “Bite the Hand” centers around feeling far away, as Dacus sings “I can’t love you how you want me to” over and over. “True Blue” harmonically responds with “I remember who I am when I’m with you / Your love is tough, your love is tried and true blue.”

Dacus isn’t the only one going through a healing journey on “the record.” Baker, who has openly spoken about her experiences with OCD and depression, has this kind of cathartic growth in the album. In “Souvenir” on the EP, she sings the words “twenty dollars in souvenirs” and “When you cut a hole into my skull / Do you hate what you see? / Like I do.” Reminiscent of the lyrics in “Souvenir” the song “$20” features Baker scream-singing about the reckless feelings of shared experiences of youth. Her journey continues with the song “Anti-Curse.” The song talks about going to the beach for the first time, making peace with death and “swimmin’ back.” The concept of swimming immediately made me think of the song she led on the EP “Stay Down,” which describes feelings of drowning — “Push me down into the water / Like a sinner, hold me under / And I’ll never come up again.” When boygenius was writing “the record,” they took Baker to the beach for the first time, and this song has a purifying feeling of learning how to swim and being surrounded by friends who care for you. While “Stay Down” was a curse of being pushed into the water and forced to stay there, “Anti-Curse” is the remedy. 

The closer of the album, “Letter To An Old Poet,” is the most evident response to the debut EP. Longtime Vanderbilt Pharbs may recognize this song from when Bridgers performed via Zoom for the VIBES performance put on by VPB in 2021. When Bridgers sang an earlier version of the song to Vanderbilt students, she titled it “Me & My Dog 2.” Simply put, “Letter To An Old Poet” responds to “Me & My Dog.” With “Me & My Dog,” Bridgers yells “I wanna be emaciated / I wanna hear one song without thinking of you / I wish I was on a spaceship / Just me and my dog and an impossible view.” Seemingly in reply, in “Letter To An Old Poet,” Bridgers sings “I wanna be happy / I’m ready to walk into my room without lookin’ for you / I’ll go to the top of our building / And remember my dog when I see the full moon.” The lyrics tell a story of growing from being so consumed by a person to wanting to be happy, and whereas in the EP, she sings about constantly thinking of someone, in the album she says she’s ready to move on.

“The record” brings growth and healing for each member. But this kind of healing doesn’t come without a painful vulnerability. In “Cool About It,” Bridgers sings “Once, I took your medication to know what it’s like / And now, I have to act like I can’t read your mind,” alluding to the feelings of knowing someone so well that you can tell when they’re lying. Yet, this kind of openness isn’t for nothing; rather, the affliction of knowing someone almost too well is one of the most rewarding things in the human experience. This concept is exemplified in “Leonard Cohen,” which recounts a road trip the group took and the feeling of knowing someone well enough to see their cracks and the light shining through them. The song ends with a beautiful harmony: “I never thought you’d happen to me.”

“The record” feels like a coming-of-age — it feels like the realization that humans are meant to rely on each other, that all the pain of being known fully is worth it for the joy that can be found in friendship. While there are so many amazing standouts on this album and so many other important references, I can’t help but feel that the album is at its core about the sense of belonging that forming boygenius has brought to each member of the group. If the boygenius debut EP was a sort of comfort in the loneliness shared amongst the group, “the record” feels like love. If the EP is Baker, Bridgers and Dacus singing feelings of isolation into the void, “the record” is a resounding answer.

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About the Contributor
Claire Gatlin
Claire Gatlin, Former Life Editor
Claire Gatlin ('24) is a student in Peabody College studying human and organizational development and political science. In her free time, she enjoys going to concerts, reading and rollerblading. You can reach her at [email protected].
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