By The Yearbook: Superlative Review - boygenius, the record
April 6, 2023
There comes a point in an album's press cycle where nearly all perspectives or observations are exhausted. There's only so many divinely-crafted reviews, free-flowing profiles (plurality was intentional), personality-defining podcast interviews, and online discourse you can consume until your plate is empty. For most people, this oversaturation is a nonissue. The more you know, am I right? It only becomes problematic when you're in a position like my own, wanting to make content but feeling cornered by the all-bases-covered press around the album. To say I must be creative in these situations is perhaps a bit too complimentary of my approach; goofy is maybe a more fitting adjective, especially in this case. Never have I been more insecure of my own ideas than in deciding on a medium for this piece, focusing on boygenius. The majority of this insecurity can be placed on the subject at hand, a band who's name derives from the infatuation and accompanying inflation relating to the ideas of white males. In the face of this critique, I persist, unrelenting! (But a little relenting.)
The debut of boygenius, indie-rock supergroup consisting of members Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus, officially arrived in late 2018. Having just completed my senior year of high school, my obliviousness to not only their shared EP but the members' respective works is an indictment solely on my self-obsession with my own tastes at the time. In playing catch-up for the much-anticipated release of the record, my appreciation for each individual in the group grew in correlation with my understanding of the genesis of boygenius. I'm tempted to describe the group as a three-headed monster, but that seems unfair to their personality as an outfit. Better yet, they bear similarities to Fluffy, the 3-headed dog from Harry Potter, who's name carries an intentional irony.
In trying to sort through a different way to interact with the album, I landed on a self-explanatory concept: I will be analyzing the record through the context of a high school yearbook, specifically the superlatives that offer broad categorizations of people (or, in this case, things). Some prompts are cliché, others more suited to this exercise. You will not find a Most Likely To Become Famous or Best Singer designation here, for obvious reasons. But there's still plenty of other titles to hand out, and an intriguing ensemble of nominees.
Most Likely To Win an Oscar: "the film"
It's not the only visual to be released from the album, but it does hold the distinction as a film, making it the best qualifier for this category. Uniting the videos for "$20", "Emily I'm Sorry", and "True Blue" through a satisfying lens, it's not as if "the film" is devoid of merit. All that is required to take home the category is for it to stand out among its peers, which is accomplished here. Bringing on Kristen Stewart as a director adds some juice to their campaign - between added name recognition and general wishing of goodwill towards Stewart, I feel this becomes the clear choice.
Will Likely to Describe My Life in 4 Years Award: "I'm 27 and I don't know who I am."
Phoebe Bridgers doing Phoebe Bridgers things: cutting deep! As a 23-year-old who is endlessly at odds with my identity, I'm frightened by the potential of this lyric if I were to come across it in 4 years time. There's not a whole lot of optimism on the album which led to a number of contenders for this title, but the specificity here gives it the edge. If I do come across these words at 27, I only hope I listen to the record long enough to get some encouragement from Lucy Dacus on "True Blue": "When you don't know who you are, you fuck around and find out."
Life of The Party: "Satanist"
When you walk into a party, who's the one person you want to see the most? If you were to hit shuffle on the record, what's the one song you'd be most excited to emerge first through the randomness? This was my approach to answering this prompt, and there wasn't much of a second thought. "Satanist" walks into the function after it has gone a little dry, immediately livening up the scene and convincing people to stick around for awhile longer. The best song on the album, I dare say. Additionally, it has provided me with the perfect opening line for when I see someone I want to talk to at a party: "Will you be a satanist with me?" Thanks boygenius, can't wait to try it out!
Best Social Media Caption: "Always an angel, never a God"
A tough choice here, and not particularly for the strength of contenders but rather my inarguably subpar captioning instincts make me an unfit judge. But this one seems like it fits: comes at a great time on a great song, great symmetry on each side of the comma, good balance of superficiality and existentialism. Let's go with it! Personally, I would choose Dacus' closing comments on "Leonard Cohen": I am not an old man having an existential crisis at a Buddhist monastery writing horny poetry..." Objectively true! Don't even ask what photo it will be attached to.
The Definitely-Didn't-Peak-In-High-School Award:"Cool About It"
I am interpreting this category as acknowledging a song that has the potential to grow on fans and become a favorite down the line. I haven't been hearing enough about "Cool About It", a song that doesn't have the punch of "Satanist" or the emotional wrestling of "Not Strong Enough", but still holds its own in that weight class. It continues the album's upward trajectory after a strong opening, and the lull of the record is just around the corner. "Cool About It" puts each artist in a comfortable space and allows them to thrive, a quality I'm sure we'll be much more appreciative of as the novelty of the new music wears off. It's the classmate that got pretty right after graduation, or the kid who's name you didn't bother to learn but is incredibly wealthy when you reconnect at the 10 year reunion.
Teacher's Pet: "Leonard Cohen"
Call it unfair, call it irrelevant, call it whatever; I call it serendipity, and it's not working in boygenius' favor. In the absence of Lana Del Rey's "Kintsugi", I may look more favorably on "Leonard Cohen". Just a week before the record's release, Lana used the same metaphor used in "Leonard Cohen" on one of her own tracks. "Leonard Cohen once said, 'There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in,'" boygenius quotes before breaking into harmonization with an all-too-literal descriptor. Lana's writing counters this tongue-in-cheek delivery: "I don't trust myself with my heart / But I've had to let it break a little more / Cause that's what they say its for / That's how the light gets in," Lana bleeds on the track with a devastating softness, going on to wax poetic empathetically. While it was almost certainly unintentional, it is derivative all the same, with the two releases' proximity only working against boygenius. A clean sweep in defense of Lana: she was the first to share her interpolation, used a more creative application, and made the better song.
Best 3 Song Stretch: "True Blue" - "Cool About It" - "Not Strong Enough"
A true category of personal taste, but with some parameters: there's a hard cut-off at "Leonard Cohen". Any consecutive string of 3 out of the first 7 songs is acceptable. I don't find much of anything enjoyable about "Leonard Cohen", and the 4 tracks that follow don't have a strong enough sequence for me to extend my framework. Sorry not sorry.
Most Likely to Become TikTok Famous:"Cool About It"
This is the only category that I used statistics to justify. While it may not meet the viral threshold, "Cool About It" is the most used sound from the record a week after its release. Most content surrounds the song's closing verse and the reference to method acting, an imagery-filled monologue from Bridgers deserving of TikTok infamy. "Letter to an Old Poet" is gaining momentum in this category, but I'll call this race early and happily give "Cool About It" some more shine.
Most Changed Since Freshman Year: Julien Baker
Assigning boygenius' debut EP as a symbol of their freshman year, Julien Baker shows the most growth in elevating her presence on this record. On the group's latest release, Baker subtly finds herself contributing to the album's most prolific moments. boygenius is presented as a group of equals, a band without a lead; while this may still be true, Baker asserts herself in a way that assures she will never be relegated to a background role. As a freshman, she was chameleonic, naturally layering herself as to not attract much attention. On the record, Baker emerges as the friend who was always around but content in the periphery. Nothing has changed relating to her personality, just her surroundings.
Prom King: "Not Strong Enough"
The most charismatic of this collection of songs, "Not Strong Enough" wins the popularity contest. It isn't a political victory either - all 3 members have a strong showing, though Bridgers does most of the heavy lifting in carrying the track to sublimity. While I'm sure it was not made with this intention, it is likely the most radio-friendly song on the album. You have to love a fluid chorus, and the way it develops makes it one of the strongest hooks you'll find on the record. I'm hesitant to call Prom King the top honor, but it's sure to make the recipient feel good about itself.
Most Likely Peaked In High School: "We're In Love"
"We're In Love" is not going to age well, I fear. While not the worst recording here, it does have arguably the weakest writing. I hate to put Lucy Dacus down, but the track comes across uncharacteristically shallow. She has better work on the LP and even stronger evidence in her own catalog. I'm not mad about it, just disappointed I suppose.
Most Likely to be BFFs: boygenius
As I did my obligatory reading and listening and watching of boygenius, I started to question whether or not I've ever had a real friendship in my life. The standard boygenius sets for this otherwise casual connection between people makes me further question if I would ever want to feel this way about someone else platonically. Both on the album and in their personal interactions with one another, they give friendship a cult-like intensity. The acapella opener, "With You Without Them", is as sentimental as it is ritualistic: it sounds like an off-color hymn or a collective-worshiping prayer. The "power of friendship" and its products are often mocked for its unserious connotation. If anything, boygenius takes their bond with one another too serious, weaponizing a force of widespread playfulness into a sonic boom of true companionship.