OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR WIFE #1: Girl Idiot, or What We Talk About When We Talk About Boygenius, or Welcome To The Fiasca
The first installment of whatever this is
Welcome to the inaugural installment of Our Band Could Be Your Wife: A Newsletter (Mostly) About Music. I wanted to create an outlet where I could write in a loose structure about whatever music-related (or music-adjacent) topics are on my– and hopefully your –mind. I’ll try to keep things current, but I’m sure there'll be weeks where I just wanna spew a thousand and a half words about some band that put out one album two decades ago and then disappeared into the ether. It’s primarily a place for me to ramble– (relatively) unedited and uninhibited –about whatever I’m obsessing over at any given moment. This project is in a pretty amorphous place right now, but I have faith that I’ll get into some kind of consistent groove as I continue to post. I’m gonna stop myself before this preamble goes on for too long, so without further ado, Our Band Could Be Your Wife, Volume 1.
Boygenius put out a solidly decent record a few days ago. I’m not going to talk about it. I mean, I kind of am, but not really.
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The album’s only a couple days old, and I’m sure people’s feelings about it (including my own) will change with time, but so far my theory is that most people made up their minds about The Record before it even came out. The fans who declared a month ago that Boygenius were about to drop the album of the century probably feel the same way about it now as they did then, but so do the people who were yelling about how cringe and overrated it was gonna be.
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you already know that Boygenius is a supergroup consisting of singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus that first came together in 2018, releasing a 6-song self-titled EP. Since then, all three have become indie household names– Bridgers in particular, who has seemingly crossed over into becoming a bonafide celebrity since releasing her sophomore album, Punisher. Boygenius EP had little mainstream media coverage prior to its release on Matador Records and at the time, the supergroup’s three members were on relatively equal footing in terms of critical and commercial acclaim. Bridgers’ name was one you’d be more likely to find in small print on a music festival poster than in the credits of a Taylor Swift song or celebrity gossip pages. It was pre-Covid, TikTok was still a few years from achieving the ubiquity that it has today, and the fandoms for Bridgers (and to a lesser but still significant extent, Dacus and Baker) hadn’t found their homes on it quite yet.
Suffice to say, a lot has changed in the past four and a half years. What could once be marketed as a one-off collab EP from three up-and-coming indie acts now feels lightyears away from the biggest album press cycle of the year so far, complete with a Kristen Stewart-directed companion film and a re-creation of Nirvana’s Rolling Stone cover. The mission behind Boygenius’s music is clearer than ever: here are three young, queer, woman musicians disrupting the historically male-dominated tradition of the rock ‘n roll supergroup. Also crucial to the Boygenius ethos is the emphasis put on female friendship and teamwork; rather than allowing themselves to be pigeonholed or tokenized by the Smurfette rules that have long pitted female musicians against one another, they let their three-part harmonies become the sonic embodiment of their unabashed love for each other, both as artists and as people.
And don’t get me wrong, these are all valuable tenets that can make for fruitful collaborations. But the problem arises when the idea of the band gets shouted so loudly (from both its supporters and detractors) that it overshadows the music itself. It would be almost accurate to say that I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the new Boygenius album, but it would probably be more accurate to say that I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the way people have been talking about the new Boygenius album. Mostly what I’ve been seeing are various points of convergence between discussion of Boygenius’s music and discussion of Boygenius as a concept, to the point where the latter overtakes the former.
I don’t want to be one of those people who claims that an artist’s annoying fanbase has completely ruined my experience of their music, but I won’t pretend that it hasn’t had any effect on my enjoyment at all. I cringe a little at the army of self-identified “sad girls” on Twitter and TikTok who claim to adore these artists but behave obnoxiously at concerts and boil their music down to simplistic, Instagram-infographic sloganeering, but I also know that being annoying about your favorite band is kind of a teenage rite of passage, and that young girls get way more shit for it than their male peers.
Obviously this crosses the line when a fan’s connection to the music makes them act entitled to aspects of their favorite artist’s personal life– Lucy Dacus spoke about concertgoers not respecting her physical and emotional boundaries back in 2019, and more recently, Phoebe Bridgers addressed an incident in which “fans” harassed her while she was en route to her father’s funeral. These are obviously extreme examples of the perils of parasocial over-attachment, but much like many other hot-button issues, the large middle ground between “behavior that’s just kind of annoying” and “behavior that actually endangers people” gets lost in the perpetual discourse shuffle. At the end of the day, the vast majority of stereotypical Boygenius fans that have somewhat dampened my own enjoyment of their music fall into the former category.
As much as Boygenius fans (and Phoebe Bridgers fans in particular) have garnered a somewhat understandably cringe reputation, it’s just as cringe and lame (if not more so) to create a thoroughly reactive persona around shitting on young women and the media that they connect with. I’m not going to link the clickbait-y pan of The Record that’s gone semi-viral; it’s already gotten the engagement it was engineered to rake up (I will, however, link this review from Steven Hyden, in which he discusses The Record’s shortcomings in a way that I found really thoughtful and well-organized).
I’m not going to claim that it’s somehow misogynistic to dislike Boygenius– I find the notion itself to be reductive. I don’t subscribe to the idea that only critics of a certain marginalized group should be allowed to comment on works of art made by someone else from that same marginalized group (I will, however, acknowledge that the default dominant critical voice has historically been one that is white, male, straight, and cis, and that this often leads to works from marginalized artists being misunderstood or maligned). We should all be engaging holistically with art made by people whose experiences are different from ours, though I’m not naive enough to think that engagement with art is directly correlated with affirmation of certain values. Generally speaking, your moral code probably has very little to do with what music you listen to, what books you read, what movies you watch. I don’t want to frame engagement with art as mere consumption, but this attitude pushes a consumer-based ideology; and you cannot consume your way into “good” politics.
Negative criticism of Boygenius is not inherently sexist. However, a lot of media coverage that I’ve seen of them– both negative and positive –has felt patronizing in a way that’s sometimes hard to put my finger on. In a recent exchange with Endless Scroll’s Miranda Reinert, both of us mentioned how off-putting and heavy-handed the whole “female friendship” angle of Boygenius’s PR cycle has felt (a topic that Miranda touched on really eloquently in her newsletter). Much of the positive media coverage of The Record (and of Boygenius in general) feels like it has little to do with exploring their creative and technical processes and almost everything to do with saying, “Hey, isn’t it SOOOO crazy that three women can make music together and also be FRIENDS???” Yes, female friendship is powerful and can be a profound source of creative inspiration, but when hours in the studio are metaphorically reduced to a never-ending slumber party between three besties, it feels like a tryhard attempt at progressivism that loops all the way back around to being trivializing. When’s the last time you read a profile of an all-male band that spent 2/3s of its word count talking about how the boys in the band are such good buddies?
Anyway, since I’ve already done the thing I’ve been complaining about and fixated too much on the idea of the band rather than the music itself, I guess I’ll say this about Boygenius: I prefer most of Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus’s solo albums to The Record, recency bias goes both ways and I might feel differently the longer I sit with their latest release. I loved the EP when it came out, in part because I already loved the music of each of these artists individually. I don’t return to the EP much, mainly because I associate it with who I was when it came out, and I feel like I’ve grown into a wildly different person since then. I listened to it incessantly when I was 19 and 20 years old, falling for someone whose friendship I should’ve prioritized rather than trying to turn things romantic. When I listen to these songs, they’re inextricable from a version of me who was far more selfish and immature and volatile than I feel now. It’s difficult to say how much the disconnect between my past and present selves has hindered my ability to fully embrace their more recent musical output. Maybe I’m overthinking it.
I love “$20” and “Satanist,” I think Julien Baker is really the MVP of The Record, which was a nice surprise since she’s the one whose solo material I find myself returning to the least often. I have a soft spot for “True Blue” because it reminds me of my best friend and the first warm day of spring. I was a bit underwhelmed by “Leonard Cohen” but felt like people got unreasonably mad at Lucy Dacus for lyrics that were obviously written jokingly and sung with great reverence for Cohen’s songwriting, but apparently it’s hard for some people to understand that light roasting is often the highest form of endearment.
I’m already getting a little self-conscious because I didn’t want this to become a Women In Music newsletter, and I’m worried that the content of my first post– combined with the playfully but deliberately gendered title –suggests otherwise. I find myself frequently (though sometimes reluctantly) returning to themes of gender and feminism in my music criticism, and I want to keep exploring these topics, but I also don’t want to feel like I’m painting myself into a corner with them.
Another Women’s History Month has come and gone, and nothing from it had a more lasting impact on me than the now-deleted viral Tiktok that nepobaby-extraordinaire Romy Mars posted of herself preparing to make vodka sauce pasta while grounded for trying to charter a helicopter on her dad’s credit card (y’know, classic teen shenanigans). In the video, Mars’ babysitter’s boyfriend (who I recently learned has a PhD in ancient Greek philosophy) coins the term “fiasca”-- the feminine form of “fiasco” –to which Mars cheerfully replies, “it’s Women’s History Month!” Welcome to the Fiasca, everyone. Thanks for joining me.
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