We've been living for Boygenius' comeback throughout 2023. Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker have been killing all of their performances together as a trio this year. Whether they're playing their instruments as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, crushing it at Coachella, or showing their tiny little red undies as Troye Sivan sleep demons on SNL, you know they'll always give a good show.
Boygenius formed way back in 2018, when the indie supergroup released their debut self-titled EP. The name "Boygenius" comes from a joke the three had as a way to encourage each other in the studio, as well their shared negative experiences with overconfident male collaborators. After 2018, the three took some time to develop their solo careers. They each put out fantastic studio albums (Punisher for Bridgers, Home Video for Dacus, and Little Oblivions for Baker) and properly reformed in early 2023.
Now that the trio have the record – their first studio album – and two EPs, we feel it's about time to finally concoct a Top 10 list of their best tunes. We're only counting pure Boygenius-labeled songs, so "Graceland Too" from Punisher, the Little Oblivions single "Favor," and "Please Stay" and "Going Going Gone" from Home Video don't count.
Let's get into it!
We start off with a track from the second half of the record. "Satanist" is a Julien Baker piece which asks the audience if they'd like to become a rebel and have fun with her. Not only does the group ask their listeners if they'll be Satanists, but also anarchists and nihilists. The song makes a point about morality, and how sense can be found in even the most revolutionary of lifestyles.
In a January 2023 interview with Coupe de Main, it was revealed that Julien, who was raised very religious, wrote “Satanist” after watching the documentary Hail Satan?. She could, she thought, be a Satanist – and would her friends join her for this phase in her life journey?
9. "Letter to an Old Poet"
The final song on the record, "Letter to an Old Poet" is simply about the moment when someone who has so much power over you stops becoming a person in your eyes. The title is also a reference to Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, a book that Lucy Dacus has expressed has been an inspiration to her.
On a deeper level, this song came from a powerful moment the band experienced together. In a piece titled "The Infinite Gay Joy of Boygenius," Lexi McMenamin writes about this song, “The group tells me they did throuples’ counseling in preparation for the record’s release. When their therapist asked for a moment that embodied what they want to protect in their relationship, they all chose the house lights coming on at Brooklyn Steel at the end of “Me & My Dog” in 2018. Phoebe ripped her voice open and the ceiling apart with it. Julien says the house lights flipped, and the image of the crowd witnessing them is “burned into [her] brain.” Phoebe often talks about feeling dissociated on stage, but she couldn’t leave herself in that moment; she didn’t want to. She needed to be with The Boys."
McMenamin continues, "The crowd’s cheers from that moment are interpolated into "Letter to an Old Poet," the song with a “Me & My Dog” moment fans deserve to hear after playing the album through (in order, as it was intended)."
8. "Afraid of Heights"
This is a newer single from Boygenius' EP the rest, which was released a few months after the record. After listening to the astounding lyrics on this track (our favorite has to be "When the black water ate you up / Like a sugar cube in a teacup"), we knew it deserved a spot on our list.
Lucy Dacus takes the lead on "Afraid of Heights," as the song was written and mostly sung by herself. It questions the nature of bravery, and at what point courage becomes a form of risk-taking pessimism. On the song, Dacus commented, "This one, I wrote a long time ago. It was one of the first potential songs for the record, but then, at the end of the day, it didn’t really fit. But it’s about being friends with somebody who thinks that they’re radical but ultimately they’re just trying to be reckless and ruin their life. And just being a scaredy-cat and feeling kinda guilty about that, but ultimately staying safe and enjoying yourself."
7. "Cool About It"
A fan-favorite, "Cool About It" was first debuted live at the Tibet House Benefit Concert on March 1, 2023. It draws inspiration from the famous Simon & Garfunkel vocalist Paul Simon. The opening melody interpolates their song, "The Boxer."
The lyrics, split into three verses, focus on a deteriorating relationship that lacks communication. It could also be interpreted as meetings with an ex-partner. It's also notable that the tune was written by all three Boygenius members, and the line, "Wishin' you were kind enough to be cruel about it," draws a thematic parallel to Julien Baker's solo single "Song in E."
"Souvenir" comes from the group's self-titled 2018 EP. It's one of those simple songs where there's really not much to discuss – save for the melancholy vibes. But the sound is so rich and gorgeous, especially that final echoey chorus. Also, Phoebe gets one of the most poignant and morbidly hilarious lines ever, "Always managed to move in / Right next to cemeteries / And never far from a hospital / I don't know what that tells you about me."
On the song, Bridgers has said, "It’s just very indicative of us, ‘cause Julian was like: “I have a stupid f---ing song” and we were like: “What? That’s like the best song ever” and then we recorded it. I feel like we allow ourselves to do things that we do by ourselves with other people. It’s one of my favorites."
5. "True Blue"
In the middle of our list we've placed the record song "True Blue." Lucy Dacus takes the spotlight in this one. The track explores themes similar to her third studio album Home Video, relating to ideas of moving away from home, finding oneself, trust, and unconditional love. The phrase “true blue” itself means to be “unwavering in one’s commitment" and "extremely loyal.”
Not only is the song itself stirring, but so is the music video for "True Blue." It was directed by actress Kristen Stewart (who also directed the videos for "Emily I'm Sorry" and "$20"), and shows the band painting the walls of a house a deep blue color.
4. "Not Strong Enough"
This single alerted fans to Boygenius' return in early 2023. "Not Strong Enough" is an uptempo bop about not having enough self-worth to be present in a romantic relationship. Interestingly, the trio choose to tell this song from a man's perspective. And we're all here for it: every straight woman with a self-hating ex can attest to how relatable this one is.
"Not Strong Enough" is different from the majority of Boygenius' pessimistic songs because it shows how some forms of self-hatred can also come with an annoying God complex. Therefore, the self-hatred becomes selfish. We can literally feel ourselves getting frustrated with this character as the trio croon, "spinning out about things that haven't happened." But we also deeply understand the pain...and we also love it? Because we love how self-aware Phoebe, Julien, and Lucy are? Also the super candid music video for "Not Strong Enough" is nothing short of adorable. Nothing says "we're back" like Phoebe, Julien, and Lucy goofing off on a boardwalk.
3. "Me & My Dog"
This one's pretty heartbreaking when you know the true meaning behind it. Phoebe Bridgers revealed to Pitchfork that she wrote “Me & My Dog” about having a panic attack and wanting to escape the reality of her anxiety and be with her dog, Max. Sadly, Max passed away in 2019. Although he was never memorialized through any of the tracks, Bridgers dedicated her sophomore album, Punisher, to him.
"Me & My Dog" was released before Max's death, on Boygenius' self-titled. It's a track about enjoying a romantic relationship, but also wishing to go back to a state of innocence before the relationship. The climax of the song comes at the end of the chorus, when all three musicians sing, "I wish I was on a spaceship / Just me and my dog and an impossible view." On Max the dog, Bridgers has said, "Max is the most pure thing I’ve ever felt anything about. It’s like the death of innocence. I’m not really a crier in therapy. But a couple of weeks ago I did EMDR [eye movement desensitization and reprocessing] for the first time and my therapist was asking me about traumas...the stuff that I’m actually paying for therapy to get through. Then Max came up and I started sobbing uncontrollably."
2. "Emily I'm Sorry"
There is SO much to unpack in this track. On the one hand, it's a soft-sung Bridgers ballad that feels like it belongs on an extended cut of Punisher. On the other hand, this was the song that got Boygenius back together again. The trio told Rolling Stone that Bridgers first sent her bandmates “Emily I’m Sorry” right after Punisher was released, asking, “Can we be a band again?” Turns out, all three members had been nervous to bring the question up to each other, and were eager to get back to work.
The song is most likely about Emily Bannon: a voiceover actor and vocal artist who was rumored to be involved in a polyamorous relationship with Phoebe and producer Chris Nelson in 2018, and then in a monogamous relationship with Phoebe after they and Chris split up in 2019. According to Bridgers, Nelson was very abusive through grooming, stealing, and violence. The message of the song is mysterious in the sense that Bridgers is asking for forgiveness and deprecating herself, while also taking a subtle dig at Bannon and her intentions. Also, this song gets bonus points for the painfully relatable line "I'm twenty-seven and I don't know who I am."
This is one of those moving songs that deserves to be played during the end credits of a movie. "$20" is the second track on the record and was penned by Julien Baker. With soft punky vibes and scattered harmonies, Baker leads, with Bridgers and Dacus finishing her sentences. As the song ends, overlapping vocals create an ethereal soundscape before Bridgers screams her heart out – much like she does on the climax of "I Know the End."
"$20" explores several themes seamlessly. They include childhood, rebellion, freedom, travel, and endurance. The song is more of a mood than it is a message. In an essay, Boygenius revealed that, "Julien wrote "$20" after realising that what she wanted for the band was More Sick Riffs. It’s hard to say such things as an individual artist, when it’s your music, soon to be collapsed with your identity. You don’t want to seem like - or be - a superficial meathead. But it’s things like sick riffs that made you truly giddy when you were first learning how to play, making music with your friends 'for no reason.'”
Even more – “$20” may be partly inspired by "Souvenir" (another Baker-written tune), in which she sings, "Dreamcatcher on the rearview mirror, Hasn’t caught a thing yet / Twenty dollars and a souvenir / Anything’s worth trying." We've picked "$20" as our #1 Boygenius track because we feel it shows off a masterful mix of expert storytelling, powerful instrumentals, and some incredible vocal skill from all three of the members.
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