Over five short months in 2018, boygenius accidentally conceived their debut EP. Lucy Dacus had first opened for one of Julian Baker’s gigs in Washington D.C. and their shared Southern upbringing and penchant for storytelling drew them together. It wasn’t long before Phoebe Bridgers, a fellow practitioner in the art of heart-open songwriting, came up in their conversations. Then, when the trio were set to share a tour itinerary, they thought it’d be fun to record music together as a promotional tool. As fate would have it, however, they became fast friends and the seven-inch they initially planned to record as tour promo became a critically acclaimed debut, setting the table for one of music’s most-clamoured collaborations.
In a five-star review, NME called their self-titled EP, “an astonishing record that leaves you yearning for more”. Five years later and the yearning is finally over as the band are set to release ‘the record’, their first full-length album (March 31). Separately, Bridgers, Dacus and Baker have carved their own paths to indie-rock success, garnering the cosigns of their peers, selling out shows and picking up Grammy nominations along the way. As boygenius they’ve combined their individual talents and purviews to not only evolve their personal artistic pursuits but to reach a wider audience than they would’ve individually.
“While our music is very different stylistically, I think we all have similar emotions to end quandaries that we’re trying to get at,” Baker told Vogue of their artistic connection. Those similar emotions are not only shared between indie rock’s brightest supergroup, but it’s what their fans resonate with as well.
“It’s so special to see their joy and witness their friendship whilst singing about dark places or specific facets of being human or the complexities tied to womanhood,” Australian musician Elle Graham who performs as Woodes says of boygenius. She found the band through her love of Baker, who she first saw on stage as they shared a line-up at Australia’s Splendour In The Grass music festival in 2017.
She later connected with the group’s “dark poetry and harmonies” pointing to their delicate lullaby about nightmares, ‘Souvenir’. “They inspired me to make my own side-project with one of my best friends just to have the same freedoms and joy, to make things with your friends beyond your own artist project,” she says. “Not all music has to exist within one umbrella, it’s cool seeing how they sing together and hold each other up.”
For journalist Harry Levin, it’s the band’s “honesty” that pulls him in, particularly their ability to write music that’s “slow and lyrically driven with a sense of intelligence and candour.” He points to their recent single, “$20”, as a shining example of the band’s superpower. In the spiralling guitar track, the band offers their voices to a story of internal chaos and how it manifests in interpersonal relationships. “Gas, out of time, out of money / You’re doing what you can, just makin’ it run” they sing in a round. “It’s about those early days of making dumb decisions to avoid responsibility,” Levin says. “All it takes to keep the dumb decisions going is $20.”
Madeline McNeill, a radio journalist from Sydney, Australia connected with boygenius in the midst of COVID restrictions in 2020, while also coming out as bisexual and feeling like “an anxious wreck of a human being”. “It was peak sad times to be getting into a band,” she says with a laugh. “But, it was a very reflective time. I found Phoebe first then got into boygenius.” Now, she counts herself as much of a fan of Baker and Dacus as Bridgers. The band’s ability to speak candidly about mental health was also a draw for McNeill.
“They’re all a similar age to me and that experience of struggling with who you are, them all of having their own demons and anxieties and you can hear it come across,” she says. “It’s so refreshing to hear it spoken about in a way that’s not buried in metaphors.” She starts to recite the lyrics of the band’s painfully aware, measured track ‘Stay Down’. “‘Teach me I’m the villain aren’t I the one constantly repenting for a difficult mind?’. I hear that and I think, ‘that’s me’. Hearing these strong intelligent women say, ‘this happens to everyone’ really resonates with me. It’s made me more comfortable with who I am and how I feel. Their music feels like advocacy almost.”
McNeill also shares her theory on why so many people of a certain generation are fans of boygenius. “We’re all getting to this point where we’re sick of having to avoid talking about things,” she says. “We want to be acknowledged and have our individual and global struggles recognised and they’re doing that. They’re like this magical coven of truth, they’re really honest and there’s no band like them.”
Morgan Bimm, an assistant professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada also found boygenius as a fan of Bridgers. “She was introduced to me through my worst ex-boyfriend,” she tells NME. “I felt really drawn to her story, especially when the Ryan Adams stuff hit the fan.” In February 2019, Adams was accused by several women of sexual misconduct, manipulation and abuse. Bridgers later told NME, “Once everybody knew, it was great,” adding, “The shitty thing was before”. Bimm says she was“really drawn to [Bridgers’] story of leaning on her community and these other female musicians”, especially while she was also exiting a “terrible relationship”.
Bimm’s appreciation for the band’s openness around their lived experiences is one of the reasons she’s so excited about their latest tracks. “When it comes to sexuality, I really appreciate how there are overt references to queerness in their recent music,” Bimm says, noting their recently released fraught love song, ‘Emily I’m Sorry’. All three members of boygenius identify as queer. “I feel like we’re having more of a conversation now in indie rock about how there are a lot more queer artists, and it’s nice to see a group like boygenius being explicit about that and not having to count on their audience to figure out the context.”
Bimm, who as an academic has focused her research on 2000s indie rock, also finds it refreshing that boygenius are taking a central role in a story where the main characters aren’t typically like them. “We tell those stories and there were always women present, always non-cis dudes doing incredible things, but those are the stories that are told. I love that boygenius’ whole thing is playing with the idea of masculine genius and flipping that on its head. They’re obviously creating serious art, but they’re also poking fun at these gendered expectations of how genius manifests.”
Though the band has been given the supergroup moniker, Levin says boygenius transcend the title, saying that the term is almost “paradoxical when applied to boygenius.” “When you think of supergroups in relation to bands like Cream, with Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton, they’re all masters of their instruments and they can do things that basically no one else on earth can do,” he says. “Then you look at boygenius and yes, there are almost no other people who can write songs like Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus.”
The big difference in his opinion, is their ability to level with their fans, making them feel seen and heard. “Their songs are so grounded in their humanity that they aren’t separate from their listenership in the way Cream was. They’re united with the fans, because of their experiences. In that regard, I think they’ve created a class of group that’s entirely their own.”