Phoebe Green: witty, intensely introspective pop diving deep into heartbreak

Each week in Next Noise, we go deep on the rising talent ready to become your new favourite artist. A tumultuous couple of years are gracefully worked out on the Manchester singer-songwriter's long-awaited debut album. Words: Ella Kemp

Phoebe Green is a bit dizzy. Such is the life of a painfully self-aware artist and human being who builds their life around a soft, vulnerable core which then must be presented to the world like battle armour. She’s about to release her debut album, ‘Lucky Me’ (due August 19), and dreads to think she might be misunderstood. “The reason I’m so explicit with what I have to say is because I don’t want people to get it twisted,” Green tells NME over Zoom from her bedroom in Manchester. “It’s scary to think I can’t control everybody’s perception of me.”

It’s a common fear, particularly for an extremely online twenty-something raised on viral internet sensations eaten alive the second they open their mouths. Few speak to the contradictory fears of surviving in such an overwhelming reality as sensitively as Green does – while, crucially, acknowledging it’s a pretty good problem to have, all things considered.

The mission statement for her debut album, a vibrant electro-pop record grappling with sticky issues like extreme privilege and suicidal ideation as much as casual sex and heartbreak, is tattooed on the back of her right hand: “Lucky Me”. Those two words have haunted and galvanised Green for years, since searching for something to keep her “present and grateful” through a tumultuous period in her life she didn’t think she would survive.

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“I’ve had a lot of things that could have killed me, and I know I’m very lucky to be alive. But it’s also gratitude mixed with cynicism,” she says. Is there a bit of bitterness, an unmistakable dissatisfaction with the world we’re supposed to be thriving in? “I have a lot of resentment for other people, or for myself, for things that have happened. But I wanted it tattooed to remind myself I’m still here.”

Green’s well aware, and worried, that all this could be taken the wrong way. “The more I explored this theme the more I was like, ‘This is so dumb, I’m so privileged,’” she says, echoing her most salient chorus on the title track: “Don’t talk like that / You’re such a brat / Forget I said a word / I’m such a lucky girl”. She continues: “I have everything I need, so I have quite a heavy guilt complex. I still feel so embarrassed that I’m affected by stuff that happened to me years ago – I wish I could grow out of it.”

One thing Green has grown out of is her guitar-led indie pop sound, reintroducing herself with a heavier, glitchier sense of self in line with a more fractured worldview. Hefty synths give more room to Green’s voice, haunting and distant one moment, seductive and warm in the next. It was a case of stopping to try to be anyone but herself. “I listened to a lot of Wolf Alice, Swim Deep and Peace as a teenager and just assumed that if I liked listening to it I’d like playing it,” she says. “But I don’t like playing guitar. I like dancing. I was scared of pop music for so long, but didn’t realise all my songs were actually already pop songs.”

The best example of Green’s strength as a pop star is ‘Crying in the Club’, a glorious, yet sad bop (“As much as I love a straight-up sad song, I wanted more of a drive”) about throwing your hands up when you realise you have no clue who the hell you are. “I was feeling really restless, and there were so many things I was feeling that I couldn’t express to anyone,” she says. “I was getting frustrated that everyone was trying to figure me out but I couldn’t figure myself out.”

The song is Green’s finest, sitting in the middle of the seesawing emotions of ‘Lucky Me’. On one hand she lends her emotional intelligence to playful songs about casual sex (the skittering ‘Make It Easy’ has a complex swagger mimicking the dead-end miscommunication between two people while the beautiful, buoyant ’Just A Game’ celebrates the last gasp of pleasure in a no-strings relationship before one person catches feelings.) But on the other hand, Green never shies away from her trauma, with melancholy creeping in on ‘Sweat’ to confess the fear you might just be too difficult to love. “Never know what to make of something good / easier to ruin myself,” she sings over assured synths before a growling guitar resurfaces old demons again.

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Phoebe green
Credit: Lewis Vorn

Green turned to electronica to find a more spacious medium to finally confront the person she’d always been running away from. “I’m trying to replicate feelings – I don’t know enough about instruments but I want to use more emotion, I want a visual sound,” she says. The most visual song on the album is ‘DieDieDie’, a tender ballad with shades of FKA Twigs and MARINA, as Green looks her PTSD head-on for the first time in her life.

“You hold trauma in your body – I wasn’t straight-up suicidal, but I wished my mind could carry on but I could just leave my body so I didn’t have to feel it,” Green says of the lyrics. There is confession and yearning, and a delicate dance with death. “I wish that I could shrink until I could fit into a locket I could hang / Around your neck / I’d choke you to death,” she whispers before the chorus.

But there is hope in the heaviness for Green. ‘I Wish You Never Saw Me Cry’ gently mourns an old relationship through pitched-up harmonies – but as they say, heartbreak is a privilege for those fully capable of love. The propulsive ‘Leach’ also sees Green address her co-dependent behaviour: “Fill the silence / Fill my head / Bleed you ’til there’s nothing left,” she sings as the beat furiously helps us dance the pain away.

Green is grateful for those who helped her get to where she is today. She’s worked with Everything Everything guitarist Alex Robertshaw and his production partner Tom Fuller throughout her career, her confident sound now aligning with Robertshaw’s own genre-defying band. “At first I found it tricky being in a creative space with two older men I didn’t know,” Green says. “In this industry you don’t know who the fuck you’re going to get, so I think I’ve been very lucky to work with men that don’t make me feel stupid.”

And there’s one woman who’s been something of a lifeline for Green: Rebecca Lucy Taylor, aka Self Esteem, who Green supported on tour earlier this year. “She calls herself my drag mum,” Green says. She recalls their last night on tour, something of a fated encounter. “I went to the toilet because I was getting overwhelmed with all the social activity, then Rebecca comes in doing the same thing. We ended up spending an hour in the toilets talking and crying. We were both so overwhelmed and exhausted. I feel like we’d both missed therapy that week.”

That tour changed everything for Green in a lot of ways – but the lightbulb moment occurred just as she was gearing up to sing the song she’s always been terrified of. “I always sing ‘DieDieDie’ with my eyes closed because I’m too scared to look at anyone in case they just think, ‘What the fuck is she on?’” Green says. “But that night I opened my eyes and this girl in the front row was in floods of tears. She just looked at me and said thank you – and I then went outside and had a panic attack. But if I can do that for someone? It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Phoebe Green’s debut album, ‘Lucky Me’, will be released via Chess Club Records on August 19

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