Featured Image: David Lee from Redmond, WA, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons. Fair Use.
If, like me, you ever feel the urge to stare blankly at your ceiling while a single, cinematic tear rolls down your cheek, I’d recommend putting on Phoebe Bridgers. She tends to provide a perfect soundtrack for people who are such a specific kind of sad it’s hard to put into words. But that’s not a problem, since Bridgers does it for you. Though her catalog is filled with tragic one-liners and musical poetry, I’ve tried to pick out five of her best lyrics here.
“I don’t forgive you, but please don’t hold me to it”“Kyoto,” Punisher
I had the privilege of seeing Phoebe Bridgers live on tour, and she had quite the introductory speech for Kyoto, saying “this song is for anyone who ever had to lie to child protective services.” Bridgers sings about her father reaching out while she was in Tokyo, and the complicated feelings that the unsteady relationship evoked. This lyric, heartbreakingly simple, describes the duality of being angry while knowing you lack the capacity to stay angry.
“I want to be the broken love song that feeds your misery.”“Waiting Room,” Lost Ark Studio Compilation, Vol. 8
A song filled with metaphors about how desperately Bridgers wants to be wanted by this other person, “Waiting Room” delivers line after line of vivid longing. This line is particularly poignant, since “Waiting Room” itself is a broken love song that feeds the listeners’ misery.
“No longer a danger to herself or others, she made up her mind and laced up her shoes”“Graceland Too,” Punisher
“Graceland Too” is a love letter to Bridgers’ friend, who we can presume from this line was in a psychiatric hospital. “Are you considering harming yourself or others?” is the standard question asked of people going through mental hardship. Finally able to say “no,” this friend laces her shoes (a nod to the lace-free requirement of shoes worn in psychiatric hospitals) and leaves. Though by no means magically fixed, the friend and Bridgers are happy to be reunited. (If you are familiar with the “said she knows she lived through it to get to this moment” trend on TikTok, that beautiful lyric is also found in this song).
“If I fix you, will you hate me?”“Georgia,” Stranger in the Alps
This is another heartbreakingly simple lyric, which seems to be a staple of Phoebe Bridgers’ style. If Bridgers puts in potentially unwanted effort to help this partner improve, will they resent her for it? If you haven’t heard this song, I implore you to listen (especially to the Red Flannel Acoustic Version), because the vocal delivery of this line adds so much to its emotional impact.
“I think when you’re gone, it’s forever/but you know I’d stand on the corner/embarrassed with a picket sign/if it meant I would see you when I die”“Chinese Satellite,” Punisher
Love or unhealthy devotion? Bridgers beautifully blurs the line. Bridgers grapples with religion and the afterlife here. We see that she doesn’t believe in life after death but is willing to embarrass herself and join the religious protesters, who we know are religious because of an earlier line about “screaming at the Evangelicals,” if it meant she was wrong. Bridgers will change her core values just for a chance to be with her love after death. So—love? Or unhealthy devotion?
One last honorable mention is, well, the entirety of “Moon Song” from Punisher.
Wow, can’t believe you left out the entirety of “Funeral.” Having been in that situation, it’s always a tear-jerker. The thing about her lyrics is they are so identifiable yet mystical. The magic in the mundane with a slathering of melancholy. “Sidelines” and “Steamroller” have also been making the rounds on my playlist recently.