Our Annual Report continues today with the announcement of Phoebe Bridgers as our Artist of the Year and beabadoobee as our Rookie of the Year. Stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of the year as 2020 winds down. If you’ve missed any part of our Annual Report, you can check out all the coverage here.
There wasn’t a single person whose life wasn’t hit by the hard curve of 2020. Countless studies have been conducted and essays written about how this year impacted the music industry in particular, from delayed releases to canceled tours to financial distress. Artists planned, and the pandemic laughed.
Yet, even in these darkest of times, there were those who found ways to not just keep the flame lit, but ignite a blaze. In an amazing testament to their talents as well as their adaptability, some thrived through what could have been a wasted year. Two such individuals happen to be our inaugural Artist of the Month and our most recent one.
Phoebe Bridgers, established as an “indie star” back in 2017 with her Stranger in the Alps debut, delivered a career-breaking sophomore album, Punisher. Though not written during quarantine, its twisting exploration of soul-crushing reality gave listeners a place to burrow into the sadness to find a consoling warmth. Ranking near the top of numerous year-end lists — including our own — Punisher earned four Grammy nominations, including Best Alternative Music Album and a Best New Artist nod for Bridgers. All the while, she launched her own label, turned skeleton jumpsuits into the quintessential 2020 look, and made Barack Obama’s favorite songs of the year list.
While Bridgers’ career was taking major next steps, beabadoobee’s was taking its first. Riding a wave of TikTok-assisted virality, her first-ever headlining tour was cut short by COVID-19. Even after contracting the virus herself, she persevered, completing the artwork for her debut full-length, Fake It Flowers, during lockdown. Cutting with unapologetic ’90s alt influences wielded by a Gen Z Londoner’s raw emotionalism, the record proved beabadoobee was no social media blip. Like Punisher, it too appeared on many annual roundups, cementing the artist behind it as one of the true success stories in a failure of a year.
At two different points in their career, Bridgers and beabadoobee found ways to grow when everything seemed stifled. The one thing they couldn’t do this year was meet, as their plans to join The 1975 on tour were shut down along with the rest of the concert industry. To celebrate their massive years, we decided to rectify that by getting them together for a virtual chat.
Above, you can watch the pair discuss how they’ve handled these unprecedented times, the 2020 perception of women in rock, the power of social media, and why they hate performing while stoned. A select transcription of their conversation can be found below.
On Being Unable to Tour Together Due to the Pandemic
beabadoobee: I honestly thought my tour was going to happen with The 1975 until a few days after someone told me. Like, “Why are you talking about the tour being canceled?” I just remember breaking down. That’s when I thought: I’d planned to do my album cover and album visuals in America, in New York with this artist called James Runker, and we couldn’t do that anymore. So we were like, “Oh my God, what?”
I spent quarantine with my boyfriend and his family, and we ended up doing everything under one roof. So, the whole aesthetic for Fake It Flowers was done in his house. It was really fun, I want to clear. I thought it was going to be crazy — it was, I mean, it kind of went crazy, but not that crazy. It was fun. How about you, Phoebe?
Phoebe Bridgers: Well, yeah, I just remembered — that’s so fucked up. I had put it out of my mind that we were supposed to tour together. Like, we were supposed to meet in May and be on tour. That would have been so sick.
I was honestly so terrified for that tour, though, because The 1975’s fans are so fanatical. Matty [Healy] was like, “It’s going to be cool. Like, don’t worry, they’re going to love you.” But I was like, “A lot of my set is going to be really dark.” My album wasn’t going to be out yet. I was kind of stressed, but also just so excited. I had all these plans; I was going to start an Internet riff about how I was Matty’s stalker. I was going to to pretend like he wouldn’t talk to me the whole tour. It was going to be so fun.
But I think I was pretty nihilistic pretty early, where I was like, “Oh, this is not going to happen…” But then I just kind of dissociated. My emotions weren’t as connected with my body, where I didn’t break down. Which I should have; that came later. I was just kind of like, you know, like a robot: “Oh, this is my life now. I have to stay inside forever. Okay. Let’s go.” And then only got depressed like two months ago [laughs].
beabadoobee: Yeah, I think I only realized how much I wasn’t ready to go on that tour. I just never gathered how big those shows were going to be. I literally haven’t been playing for that long and then all of a sudden, you know, all of that — being away from my friends and family, something I’m not used to. I think I only realized during lockdown that I had to kind of spend time with my family and all the times I missed them when I was on tour. Strange.
On Releasing Albums During Lockdown
Bridgers: I’m curious, because Fake It Flowers is your first full-length, right?
Bridgers: That’s so wild to me. I mean, I guess we’re not in that different places. I’ve had a lot of different side projects — which isn’t really recommended because it distracts people. Like, people can know one of my bands and not me or vice versa, so it’s really only like my second full-length album, but to have a first album come out during lockdown is, I feel, such a unique experience. One of the most fun parts of playing shows to me is having the whole audience know the entire record.
I don’t know if you think this, but I think maybe these records will be way more fun to play live because people memorize it better. You know, when you see somebody early on a tour and you don’t know the record yet, and then a year later you’re like, “Fuck, they played all those songs, and I wish I could have been singing along the whole time.” I feel like maybe both of our first shows are going to be like…
beabadoobee: No, definitely. Because it’s lived in, you know what I mean? Like it’s aged like fine wine. [both laugh]. I can’t wait. I understand that you probably feel the same way. It’s just annoying; I didn’t realize how badly I wanted to play live until I got it taken away from me.
Bridgers: I was on a press trip in February where I was starting … Like what you said about how you didn’t know how unprepared you were. And I have been on tons of tours, and I had been off the road just long enough to miss it. But then when I started press in New York in February, I was getting that sweaty anxiety, like, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. I forgot how hard this is and how I’m not going to be home for-fucking-ever…” My shit was not together at all. I hadn’t washed my car in like five years; I don’t know how to like cook for myself. I was eating cereal for every meal. So, there was a part of it that was like, “Oh, I need to like go home and be an adult.”
beabadoobee: I think that’s what was the hardest part: realizing how much you don’t know how to do anything. I don’t know how to sort money. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to clean my room. Can’t even do my bed when I wake up. Just stupid. That was kinda stressful.
On the Grammys and Parental Recognition
Bridgers: I live in the same apartment that I’ve had since I was 18, and it’s super small — and I kind of like that … But I’m gonna move apartments; I think I had kept this apartment as a masochistic thing, like, “Why would I pay expensive rent if I’m going on tour forever?” And then I was like, “Wait, I need to also enjoy my life.” It’s so small. Actually, something funny happens here where I share such a small space that my neighbors have yelled for me to shut the fuck up through my window because they don’t like when I sing to myself. So, I’ll write songs that are way, way, way higher than I can actually sing because I’m whispering. Then I’ll go to record them, and I’ll be like, “I can’t fucking sing this!”
beabadoobee: Oh my God, why are they so mean?
Bridgers: I know! I just want to be like, “Fuck you.” And then one of my neighbors, who I didn’t even know he had my number — or I guess we had texted back and forth, like, “There’s a leak!” or whatever — but he was like, “Congrats on the Grammys! And I was like, “Oh, you know who I am!”
beabadoobee: No, that’s crazy! What did it feel like being nominated? Where were you at the time?
Bridgers: I was asleep, and my mom texted me freaking out. That was it. I feel like the coolest part about the Grammys to me was that my grandpa … If I’m like, “Oh, my God, I toured with Bon Iver” or “I sang a song with Matt from The National,” he’s like, “Who’s that?” And then he called me freaking out. Like, I finally proved to a whole section of my family that I do music. You know what I mean?
beabadoobee: That’s crazy! Oh, my days. Because it’s something that everyone knows, you know what I mean? It’s mad cute your mom found out first before you did. It’s such a classic.
Bridgers: Have you had a moment like that with your family? Does your family listen to cool music, or were you the first one to be like, “Check out Pavement?”
beabadoobee: My mom knew Pavement, but she didn’t know them as well as I did. So, when I told her, “Oh, my God, I met the guy from Pavement!” She was like, “Yeah? Cool, and?” This literally happened the other day as well. I was like, “Oh, my God, you know, Simon Pegg?!” And she’s like, “Who?” And I’m like, “God, forget it.” And she’s like, “No, tell me!” I’m like, “No, it’s not going to matter anyways…”
On Mental Health and Hobbies During Quarantine
beabadoobee: It was strange, if I’m being honest. That period before we had to start preparing the aesthetic and everything and the photographs and whatever for the album, I had that period where I literally had nothing to do. And I had Corona! I literally had it, and it was tough as fuck. And then I moved in with my boyfriend and quarantined there, and there was nothing to do. I remember all we did was play GTA and get really high. That’s all we did. It was just nice being with him and being with his brother, who’s around the same age, and just having that company. Despite me thinking it was going to be horrible because I wasn’t playing any shows and blah, blah, blah, it was really nice spending it with people I love.
And I managed to learn how to bake! And my boyfriend, he directs my music videos; he taught me how to edit stuff. It sounds really dumb, but I don’t know how to do that. So, he taught me how to edit on Final Cut Pro, and I was like, “Oh, this is cool!” So, it was fun kind of learning new hobbies.
I’m not going to lie, I kind of knew if I was too focused on, you know, at what point my career was on and what was going on in my life, I think I’d freak out a bit. So, it was nice having that distraction.
Bridgers: I feel similarly. I think it’s hard to feel personally victimized by COVID because just being bored is lucky. I feel like, one, I felt like being creative was impossible. So, the fact that I made a record that I got to just talk about for my job instead of having to make for my job made it way easier to pretend to be a person every day than trying to write King Lear or something. I just think that if I hadn’t had any structure, like press — it’s all been a lot and it’s all been kind of overwhelming — but the fact that I have a job right now is keeping me distracted from the void.
And then I failed at baking. I fucking suck at baking. I made banana bread, and I swear like 10 minutes later it had mold on it. It was awful.
I did start going weekly with my therapist. I think I had had like, “Oh, I’ll just hit up my therapist whenever I need therapy” structure. And then I had more structured therapy, and I’ve been pretty strict about it to myself. I think that I would have been lucky if I had come out of quarantine with like the same level of fans.
Bridgers: I really think I had this thing like, “They’re going to go away! They’re going to forget that I exist. It’s been so long since I put something out. I’m going to stop being able to go on tour.” So, I just feel ridiculously lucky. We both kind of tapped into new people hearing our music, which is insane — like, insane.
beabadoobee: It has been blessed. I do appreciate this time. Like, it could have been so much worse. I’m really lucky. We both managed to kind of finish our albums before everything had happened. So we just had to do everything we were supposed to do, except minus tour and all that stress. Minus being physically drained as well as, you know, like getting freaked out how fast everything was going. I’m glad, strangely, if that makes any sense, that I managed to have this time to be bored and to do nothing. Like the amount of series I’ve watched, and the movies it’s sick. I’ve watched the whole Harry Potter.
Bridgers: Oh, me too!
beabadobee: Did you? So good. And Twilight.
Bridgers: I did too! What?!
beabadoobee: Oh my God! That’s mad.
Bridgers: I think we’ve both been ripped off that Twilight wasn’t coming out in our time, because you know we’d both be on that fucking soundtrack. A thousand percent.
beabadoobee: I fucking wish! Imagine.
Bridgers: I love that soundtrack.
On Memes and Social Media Becoming a Form of Music Discovery
phoebe bridgers is taylor swift for girls who have crumbs in their bedAdvertisement
— ˗ˏˋ ryn ˎˊ˗ (@onlineryn) December 12, 2020
Bridgers: I really liked “Taylor Swift is Phoebe Bridgers for people whose parents still love each other.” That was my favorite one. Or “Phoebe Bridgers is Taylor Swift for girls who have crumbs in their bed.” I have crumbs in my bed, so it makes sense. No, I like those memes.
I have never thought of [social media] as a replacement for fan interaction, but I think that hating it, hating TikTok and social media is like classist. It’s just how kids connect to music. It’s like, so what if someone found music on TikTok? It’s accessible and it’s a community of people showing each other something. Who cares if it’s an easy pill to swallow?
That’s what’s cool about it: You don’t have to be in the New York music scene listening to a noise rock band in a basement to know a band. Also, I feel like the Internet is kind of an equalizer; someone can go viral on fucking Bandcamp. You don’t even really necessarily have to be on streaming, especially in a time where you can’t play shows.
I mean, I look at my phone all day, so it’s nice to have some connector. I already have a tweet planned if they don’t give me a Grammy; I’m going to tweet, “Stop the count.” That’s my plan. Yeah. I, I feel like I should spend more time thinking about music, but whatever.
beabadoobee: That’s jokes. It’s a strange one because I remember at the beginning when “death bed” blew up, and I had no expectation it was going to blow up. I was weirdly protective over that song. It was one of the first songs I’d ever written, and so much people were listening to it, and it doesn’t sound like the original. And I’m just, you know, an angsty 19-year-old girl that was like, “Ugh! Why does no one know the real ‘Coffee’?!” Just being annoying. And then I just realized how much it’s genuinely helped everything. It literally blessed me this whole year. And I think it’s cool as fuck that people can find music that easily on TikTok. And I remember being that chick being like, “Yeah, I’m never going to be on TikTok,” but now I’m always on TikTok. I think it’s important just to know the fact that people are listening to music, people are interested in that sort of shit. It’s pretty badass.
Bridgers: I think also there’s been this tendency — obviously, I’m super tight with Conor Oberst, and he would get people who would come up to him after shows and be like, “Hey, man, my girlfriend loves your music.” Or just be like, “I think it’s kind of stupid, but my girlfriend loves it.” And I feel like the same with The 1975, where people need to discredit music that teenage girls love or invented why it’s cool. And TikTok does kind of tear that apart for me. Like, I risk being old guy on TikTok. I got TikTok last week because I’ve been so terrified to just be like, “Hello, fellow kids!” [laughs]
But teenage girls invented the fucking Beatles. I feel like they’ve always invented rock music and invented where it goes and what happens with it. So, I think that a lot of social media is just an extension of that. There’s obviously a dark side. I just always feel like I’m being devil’s advocate for social media where I’m like, “Yeah, I probably heard Bright Eyes from a Starbucks CD compilation, so I need to not be shitting on how people discover music.”
beabadoobee: Yeah, there’s such a weird stigma around that. It’s like, “Yeah, no, I’m not going to say I like that band ’cause, you know, it’s too popular and only teenage girls listen to it.” I’m just like, “Yeah, shut the fuck up. Just say you listen to beabadoobee, even though my name sounds really stupid. Just say it! With confidence!”
On Women in Rock Music in 2020
Bridgers: There’s definitely been years where [the Best Rock Performance Grammy category] has been all men, so it does feel like a weird way to publicize that. It is cool and whatever, but I just feel like music and every performance industry is so behind. People are realizing that they can capitalize on this like, “Oh my God! It’s all women!” But one, it’s predominantly white women. Two, a lot of them are in the performance seat instead of the administrative or production or management seat.
But I do hope that this kind of like, “Oh my God, we’re inventing female music now” thing just means that in 10 years it won’t be a fucking thing anymore. But also, how many bands of five white dudes can exist? Infinite amount! So, the fact that women have ever been pitted against each other is psychotic, because, God, how many bands just sound exactly like Pavement, you know? Just like, “I’m gonna be Pavement again! I’m gonna be Pavement again! I’m gonna be Pavement again!” And it’s just more and more white dudes. So people can rip each other off, people can sound exactly like each other, and the music industry has proved that they can coexist. Like, it’s just true.
beabadoobee: I think, to be honest, the louder we are now, the better it is in the future. As you were saying, hopefully, by doing this and encouraging more girls, it won’t be such a thing to be classified as. I’m just glad girls are picking up guitars; that’s pretty cool. Everyone wants to play.
Bridgers: I want to normalize being shitty at guitar.
Bridgers: So many rock bands, people just suck at guitar. You kind of have to suck at guitar a little bit to keep writing the same three chords over and over and not get bored with yourself.
beabadoobee: Yeah, everyone’s like, “Whoa, you’re sick at guitar!” And I’m like, “No, I don’t know what I’m doing.” I don’t even know what chord this is; I don’t know what it’s called. I literally have to tune my guitar, so I can just play with one finger.
Bridgers: Me too! I do that, too! Yeah.
beabadoobee: I can’t be asked to do more than one finger, so I’m just gonna tune it to a really nice sound and go with that.