Boygenius on the Joys of Nourishing a Supergroup, Minus the Superegos newsbhunt


The three singer-songwriters who make up Boygenius are musing about what they did and didn’t intend to accomplish when they went into the studio to make “The Record.” The six Grammy nominations they just collectively reeled in for their first full-length album together? Not actually part of the master plan. Neither was establishing themselves as role models for a much-needed sense of community across a swath of young America.

“We didn’t set out to be like, ‘And we symbolize friendship!’” bandmate Julien Baker points out, musing about the benevolent qualities that have been attributed to the group. “We just were like, ‘Let’s make a good record.’”

Fair enough. But have we mentioned that Variety‘s Group of the Year does, in fact, symbolize friendship — to the point that the band has virtually become an iconic representation of trifold intimacy? Sharing the bond the trio developed in the studio and on the road has been a key part of the appeal for the band’s avid fan base. It’s a conclusion that band member Lucy Dacus was not avoiding when she recently told Teen Vogue that “being affectionate onstage has been really fun and sweet, and it exhibits behavior that I think is healthy and good.” They even wrote about their growing closeness in meta album tracks like “Leonard Cohen.” “True Blue,” their signature loyalty ballad, may or may not be about the group itself, it’s hard to escape the feeling that a line like “It feels good to be known so well” somehow applies not just to the trio’s interpersonal relationships but to the generally progressive, empathetic, LGBTQ-friendly, folk-rocking audience at a Boygenius show.

No wonder Boygenius seemed to consistently have the longest merch lines of 2023 (at least this side of Taylor Swift’s), with fans seeking ways to fly their colors. In what can still register as a man’s world, suddenly, it kind of felt like everybody wanted to be a boy.

A concert by the trio has its rituals. The band members describe a private rite that occurs early in a set, right after they’ve opened the show with a handful of their hardest-charging songs, like “Satanist” (another friendship song, once you get past the irreverent title) and “$20,” and are transitioning into something more reflective. “We have a little moment where we look at each other during ‘True Blue’ every show,” Dacus reveals, looking across the table at bandmate Phoebe Bridgers, “and sometimes I’ll wink at you and be like, ‘Here’s the time where we check in.’ And sometimes I feel like we can see when each of us feel crazy.”

Bridgers agrees, saying, “Or we have a weird day, and we have to look at each other and just be like, ‘Oh, my God, this day is still trudging on,’” suggesting that there are hidden cues and codes being passed around while Dacus’ soft voice is tucking an audience of thousands into a warm, communal bath.

But there’s a more public-facing ritual at the end of the show, when the members basically pile on each other in some form or another. It can look like sheer, rough horseplay, but given that everyone in the group identifies as queer, these full-body collisions also been described in reviews or fan comments as “Sapphic” moments. How would they characterize them? “It’s Sapphic horseplay!” says Bridgers, grinning, and maybe not entirely kidding. “That is exactly what it is.”

“With the horseplay,” says Dacus, taking that term and running with it, “sometimes we kiss. Sometimes we spin around. Sometimes we throw things at the audience. Sometimes we crowd-surf. Sometimes we pick up Julien or bow to her. It’s never really planned. Sometimes our tits are out.”

Bridgers remembers what felt like a signal change moment at a London show in the summer: “Someone got on her friend’s shoulders and flashed me in Gunnersbury Park. It was right after we took our shirts off the first time” at their prior show. “I was like, ‘This is so sick’” — the good kind of sick — “‘that someone feels safe enough to do this.’”

Dacus agrees. “Yeah, it doesn’t feel violent or violating in that particular circumstance. Like, if someone walked by and flashed us right now, I’d be like, Uhhhh. But, yeah, there’s something about what the show culminates in, where it does feel very safe and celebratory.”

Jingyu Lin for Variety

* * *

Where we are right now is the outdoor patio of a Studio City coffeehouse, where the only things being flashed are Baker’s easing-into-autumn sweater, or slightly more provocative items like the “I Love Cuntry Music” trucker hat that Dacus has just doffed, or the Viagra Boys cap that Bridgers keeps on, maybe to deflect any possible attention that passers-by might otherwise give to her tell-tale platinum hair. The few passersby wouldn’t guess that this is a group about to play a long-sold-out headline show at the Hollywood Bowl for its 2023 tour finale, or to do “Saturday Night Live” a week and a half after that. They’re laid-back and still capable of surprising and delighting each other in conversation, and not at all giving off any America’s Greatest Current Rock Band vibes, although they’ve earned the right to some attitude, with an album that much of the indie-rock crowd and not a few critics would agree is the year’s best.

“Phoebe was the one that was like, ‘This is gonna be big,’” Dacus says. “I had aspirations; you had plans,” she says, looking at Bridgers. “You were like, ‘We’re gonna do it!’”

“We had talked about the Hollywood Bowl in the kitchen of Shangri-La, remember that?” Bridgers says, referring to the Malibu studio owned by Rick Rubin, where they cut “The Record.”

“But I didn’t have any context,” Baker says, noting that neither she nor Dacus had ever set foot in America’s most iconic venue, having grown up around Memphis and Richmond, Va., respectively, versus the Pasadena stomping grounds that’d given Bridgers lifelong access to some bigger dreams. “Our last show” — in Los Angeles, at the end of their debut 2018 tour — “we played the Wiltern, and I was tearful backstage,” Baker says, as she remembers exulting: “‘I’m so proud of us! All my dreams have come true!’ Like I’d topped out.”

The Bowl, and Madison Square Garden just before it, were milestones even for Bridgers, the most visible solo artist of the three prior to this year. She’d topped out herself locally, maybe, at the Greek. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the Cahuenga Pass: “The Record” immediately established Bridgers, Baker and Dacus as equals in every way, even in the eyes of fans who might previously have favored or just been more immersed in one solo career or another. There was magic to how evenly gifted and well matched they were as frontwomen, as songwriters, as harmonizers. They truly put the super back in “supergroup” … and took the ego out of superego, in a manner of speaking.

Strength in numbers: What a concept! Why didn’t anyone ever try it before? Well, there’ve been a few tries at bringing existing titans together over the years, and hoping they wouldn’t clash. There was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Asia, and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band and … um … Well, let’s let the geniuses here come up with some slightly more contemporary analogues.

Jingyu Lin for Variety

“You could look at Broken Social Scene and New Pornographers,” Baker says, but as soon as she starts dissecting the dynamics of those groups, it’s clear there aren’t really any recent antecedents that compare.

“I bet a lot of people try it, with a pretense that falls apart once they start to make it,” Dacus says, and then affirms why they’ve been able to come up with a successful joint project where others before them have bailed. “This collaboration is as important to each of us, if not more important, than our solo work,” she says. “And I bet a lot of supergroups are, even internally, thinking of it as a side project or a momentary thing.”

Bridgers agrees. “Yeah, because you’re going to make a third of what you’d earn making your own thing. So you’re like, ‘It’s my side thing — I’ll devote six months to it.’ But we put as much attention into it as if we were making our own records. The album took us so long to make, and we worked on it relentlessly. It was pretty serious from day one.”

Baker says, “It’s sick that the band has an identity that’s more than the sum of its parts.” (This maxim may be the closest Boygenius will ever come to a cliché, but they, and you, have got to embrace one that is this mathematically inescapable.)

When it came to the material they brought to the table, far from coming up with tunes that felt like discards from their solo releases, “The Record” ended up being chock-full of extremely personal and introspective songs. But it also included some of the most inherently commercial songs any of them have done, apart or together. You may recall that Bridgers had to be kind of coerced into making “Kyoto” a banger; in each other’s company, there was no such reticence.

“Definitely with ‘Not Strong Enough,’” Bridgers says, “I was like, ‘It’d be fun to have a radio song.’” (And, as it turns out, a Grammy song; it’s up for record of the year.) “With the songs that we were gravitating toward, we knew ‘True Blue’” — a Dacus-led ballad — “was gonna be such an indie smash, and fucking ‘Satanist’” — conceived by Baker — “goes so hard. ‘Strong Enough’ was the one we finished last, and I was like, ‘Let’s each write and sing a verse, because this could be the single.’” It didn’t feel like a sellout. “A lot of stuff that would feel contrived, solo, doesn’t feel contrived with these guys, because it’s just all in the spirit of fun and being together. And, yeah, it’s the first time I’ve ever been like, ‘Damn, people are gonna sing along to this part!’”

That delirious spirit stands in healthy contrast to the sad-core image some people might have slapped onto one or all of the band members. But it’s hardly all about the mirth. At the Bowl, as on every other night in the latter parts of the tour, Bridgers asked the audience to put away all phones for the album’s devastating final track, “Letter to an Old Poet,” as she walked the semicircular platform separating the front two seating areas. She says, “Every once in a while I see a phone and I fume, but mostly they’re great and they put their phones away. And because most of the show has been looking through people’s phones and not at their faces, suddenly they become a roomful of people, and it’s insanely powerful to me.”

Why that number in particular, for shutting down cameras? Is it just one of a dozen possible moments to make that request, or is there something in particular about this one’s wounded and angry spirit…

“I play plenty of heavy songs,” Bridges says, “but that one feels too dark to not be having a communal experience.”

“Isn’t that the only time that you’ve cried while doing a vocal take — during that song?” Dacus asks.

“Yeah. I had a couple years where I had a hard time crying,” Bridgers affirms. “I’m over it now, thank God. Now I cry all the time. But ‘Letter to an Old Poet’ is one of the only times I’ve cried onstage.”

“Lucky,” Dacus says. “I hate crying onstage. It happens. I hate that shit.”

Jingyu Lin for Variety

These asides about tears might give a Boygenius novice the wrong impression about the band. Even their softer songs tend to have a barb in them, and others, like the screamfests “$20” or “Satanist,” are undeniably hard-ass. A cutting irreverence is the hallmark that makes the sentimental moments honest and disarming.

Their irreverence comes through in their choice of stage or TV outfits too: At the Bowl, they dressed up as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (with Dave Grohl sitting in briefly on drums as a zombie priest). “If you think of a three-person costume,” Baker explains, “what’s three things? We were like, ‘We could be the Trinity.’” Maybe it’s just as simple as that — numbers as Halloween destiny. But the band members don’t demur when the suggestion comes up that maybe it also had something to do with the phrase that is repeated over and over again in the bridge of “Not Strong Enough”: “Always an angel, never a god.” They switched up that equation, if just for one night, getting deistic at the Bowl.

Less than two weeks later, for “SNL,” they dressed up as the Beatles in their Ed Sullivan-era early prime. The Trinity? The Fab Four? Screw CSNY and all the rest; these women know a real supergroup when they see one.

When “SNL” came around, it was clear they would only be emulating the Beatles and not, like, the Who. There was definitely not going to be any attempt on the show to repeat Bridgers’ guitar-smashing solo appearance of 2021. “Hey, I tried,” she says about not quite fully breaking her ax on that occasion; the guitar took a licking, but almost kept on ticking, a resilience she was amused, not annoyed, by.

* * *

This year, the group has been more about melting hearts than heating up flame wars — whether that’s been in their more nakedly revealing songs or taking up causes like dressing in drag in Nashville to support the trans community under political attack there, or inviting Indigenous groups to provide invocations before select tour dates.

When the band receives its Group of the Year award at Variety‘s Hitmakers event, Joan Baez will be presenting the honor to the trio. That may seem like an odd pairing if you’re only considering Boygenius’ more irreverent moments, but an utterly apropos matchup if you are keeping in mind the band’s deeply earnest side and, especially, the social conscience that flares up around their performances. As it happens, the group has also performed at Baez’s Bread and Roses benefits in the Bay area.

“Oh my God,” says Dacus. “Sometimes I have to remember how important she is, because in our experience of her, she’s just been super-kind, and complimenting us, and then it’s like, ‘You’re Joan Baez! You made music joyfully political for a whole generation of people!’ Sometimes we lament how people in media are asked to basically be politicians now…”

“Because politicians aren’t being politicians,” Bridgers interjects — “they’re being fucking TV stars.”

“But she set this example of, because you’re a human, you have to stand for things,” Dacus continues. “So, it’s not because we’re musicians that we care about these causes, it’s because we’re people, and we would be caring about them if we all had office jobs. A lot of people are afraid to do that, and she wasn’t, and it’s a great example for us. We are not very afraid to say what we believe. … Just as a person, I hope to be like her.”

Bridgers notes that Baez, in her initial heyday as America’s folkie sweetheart, “was losing opportunities because she was radical — and then that ended up being the fuel for her whole career. How radical she was was then rewarded.” She sums up Baez’s appeal in a nutshell: “Woody Guthrie was screeching this, and I’m gonna sing it.” (They crack up, with Bridgers noting that no offense to anyone living or dead was intended: “We’re big Woody fans.”)

Baker has thoughts about how they earn the right to be what might be perceived as political, whether it’s something as seemingly un-divisive as having Indigenous people do Land Acknowledgements introductions before their sets, or speaking up on trans or reproductive choice issues.

“Giving them something of ourselves in the songs is like an endearment practice, where we’re like, ‘You will trust us because you have an emotional connection to something we’ve said that resonates with you.’ So when we are in drag at the Nashville show [just after the state enacted anti-drag laws], kids are trusting our judgment, because we’ve gone to the trouble of sharing something difficult or even painful for us to communicate. Then it’s worth it for them to enter that conversation, because we’ve set the stakes of like what’s important to communicate, even if involves conflict or pain.”

* * *

The songs themselves aren’t always, if ever, aimed at the fans, though. Sometimes the target audience for the material is, well, Boygenius.

“We write songs to each other as a communication method,” Baker says.

Bridgers doesn’t think it should be mistaken for oversharing. “We have plenty of stuff that’s sacred and not shown to anybody other than each other. I think there’s this weird misconception sometimes that we don’t have a private relationship, because so much of it this year has been monetized in our performance.” And yet, Dacus says, their music is as transparently interpersonal as it sounds. “Some friendships over years don’t get to enough of a level of intimacy to share the types of fears and desires and hopes that we are saying.”

“We hang out,” declares Baker, as if this might not be a matter-of-fact thing for a working rock group. (It doesn’t go without saying.)

How long will the hang last?

In October, the band put out a four-song EP called “The Rest,” a sequel or companion piece to “The Record.” The title does have an air of at least temporary finality to it, as if the cupboard is bare. Says Bridgers, “It’s funny that it’s called ‘The Rest,’ because we absolutely do have more songs that we didn’t put out.”

But where do they go from here? In 2023, did the side hustle so overtake the main hustle that they should keep Boygenius going into 2024, when they could certainly sell out sheds or maybe even arenas they didn’t come near this year? They’ve already broken with supergroup form so much; would it be a terrible thing if they were to further break it to the point of unexpectedly doing an immediate, sequential band album? Or do they revert to their solo corners? Fans might wish there could be a multiverse in which the band never pauses, on one track, and individual careers proceed apace on another.

Conventional wisdom would suggest they will not let solo albums go unmade just for the sake of rocking more venues. But you will not get a definitive answer here.

“I don’t know,” says Bridgers. “It’s incredible to me that we have kept the ethos behind the band the whole way, which is: it just has to be fun. We’ve done a lot of shit, but there’s also shit we said no to, stuff that felt like it was like pushing a boundary as far as travel or labor and stuff that sounds like we might push ourselves into not having fun. So that gets to continue forward, after this album cycle. I think we just are gonna do whatever is fun, and remain each other to each other. These guys are as involved in what I do as they are in Boygenius. We show each other ideas, and…”

“We need each other’s brains,” Dacus says.

So is it possible to specifically say that solo albums are what’s next, or do they want to leave a bit of mystery?

The attempt to pin it down leaves them unusually cagey. “It’s a mystery,” Bridgers says.

Dacus: “I’ll just say I’m not thinking about it.”

Bridgers: “Oh, yeah. It’s a mystery to us.”

Dacus, having the final noncommittal word: “If it’s a mystery to you, it’s a mystery to us too.”

Hard to tell whether there might be any real indecision here, or whether they just don’t want to lay out all their cards for the outside world, or whether they might be having a difficult time reconciling themselves to a near-future in which they might be Zoom advisors to one another instead of daily physical confidantes.

Is there a line from any of their songs that could maybe encapsulate how they’re feeling right now, between the six Grammy noms, the “SNL” appearance and the impending end-of-year accolades? At that question, they start to laugh.

“Give me your funny ones,” someone says.

Then Dacus says, “Ohhh, I have a cute one.”

“Which one?” the others ask, curious to get an earnest answer after all.

Quoting one of her own lyrics, Dacus lowers her voice, as if it’s suddenly occurred to her that it’s a secret that she’s sharing. “‘I never thought you’d happen to me,’” she says.


#Boygenius #Joys #Nourishing #Supergroup #Superegos

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