Life

In Praise of Phoebe Bridgers, a Thoroughly Good Celebrity

Phoebe Bridgers in her signature skeleton suit performing.
Phoebe Bridgers performs in her signature skeleton suit during “Red Rocks Unpaused” on Sept. 1 in Morrison, Colorado. Rich Fury/Getty Images

On Tuesday, 26-year-old singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers was nominated for four Grammy awards—including Best New Artist (in classic Grammy fashion, Bridgers is not exactly a new artist). Here’s how she reacted to her nominations:

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This is a good tweet! What’s even better about it is that it’s a good tweet for a celebrity. Few celebrities have handled the pandemic-induced quarantine well. All the time at home has meant much more time on social media, where their worst impulses are on display for millions, also stuck at home, spending much more time scrolling through social media. Bridgers is different. In the midst of June’s anti-racist uprising, she dropped her acclaimed sophomore album, Punisher, one day before its scheduled release (which happened to be Juneteenth), subtly ceding the spotlight while noting on Twitter: “I’m not pushing the record until things go back to ‘normal’ because I don’t think they should,” before adding, “Abolish the police.” Like other songwriters, Bridgers took to the streets to protest. From her politics to the fulfillment of her promise to cover “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls if Donald Trump lost the election, everything Bridgers has done this year has been a welcome release from … well, this year.

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First things first: Bridgers is very good at her actual job. Punisher follows up on her critically acclaimed first album, Stranger in the Alps, and her songwriting has earned her comparisons to the likes of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Her music is gutting, and raw; her lyrics ponder emotional abuse, death, strained familial ties, even the apocalypse. On the Punisher track “Halloween,” she sings, “I hate living by the hospital/ The sirens go all night/ I used to joke that if they woke you up/ Somebody better be dying.” She’s dark, but dry, always relishing a kind of pessimism perfectly suited by the skeleton costume she dons as both loungewear and performance attire.

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Her soulful, vulnerable music is glaringly dissonant with her hilarious internet persona. Bridgers nabbed the Instagram handle of @_fake_nudes_ early on and has stuck with it even as her fame has grown. While other artists’ social media accounts feel hypercurated and just a little bit too refined, Bridgers maintains a Twitter display name of “traitor joe.” To scrape together some semblance of a tour from quarantine (OK, she’s doing a little album promotion), Bridgers put together a “PHOEBE BRIDGERS WORLD TOUR” with streamed performances from her kitchen, bathroom, and bed. The trailer alone had me giggling for days. Her Twitter’s also terrific for general Bridgersian musings.

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Like, uh, many celebrities, Bridgers is undeniably gorgeous, but it’s her curation of her look that’s worth mentioning. She’s figured out what works for her—signature platinum blonde tresses, alternating between glossy eyes and dark red lips. She has an incredible sense of style, relishing in occult-ish imagery and campy Halloween aesthetics, plus she wears the hell out of a suit. Even her glossy magazine spreads have a sense of humor, like this NSFW cam girl–inspired shoot in Playboy. When she did a shoot for Rolling Stone, she wore a vintage suit and brought the photographer to a CVS, where she flashed her tits.

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Even with all the online activity, Bridgers is casually prolific. In addition to her two solo albums, she’s released an album with Conor Oberst and an EP with Rob Moose, as well as forming a “supergroup” with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker under the delightfully snide moniker, boygenius. She’s churned out inventive singles with Fiona Apple and the National’s Matt Berninger.* She jokes about having “straight up plagiarized [Oberst],” who is 14 years her senior, but their work together as the rock duo Better Oblivion Community Center only deepened the cleverness of each of their songwriting. (Oberst said in a recent interview that he now sees his life as “before” and “after” he met her.)The Moose collaboration presents a handful of Bridgers’ strongest songs from Punisher set to a haunting string score.

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After her promise—tweeted, of course—that “if trump loses I will cover iris by the goo goo dolls,” she teamed up with Maggie Rogers to make good on the offer. Rogers and Bridgers offered up their tongue-in-cheek cover of the melodramatic favorite for purchase on Bandcamp for 24 hours only. The track hit No. 1 in digital sales, and they donated the more than $173,000 to Stacey Abrams’ voting rights organization, Fair Fight. She’s now using her cover of “If We Make It Through December” to raise funds for the Downtown Women’s Center, which assists women experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles.

While Bridgers’ music dares you to stare directly at some of her bleakest tendencies (“Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time/ And that’s just how I feel/ Always have and I always will”), her charming online presence lets you shake off that sadness. She’ll make you cry, then send you a meme. The parasocial relationship her fans have developed with her is only bolstered by her candid interviews and smart-mouthed Twitter feed. Where other celebrities might shy away from sharing their weird dreams about YA-author John Green, Bridgers plasters it on her platform with more than 250,000 followers. Following her music and more generally, her, is more than just entertaining, it feels like welcoming a hilarious genius to your inner social circle. In many ways, my admiration for Bridgers feels a lot like my love for my friends.

Correction, Nov. 25, 2020: This post originally misspelled Matt Berninger’s last name.

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