Midnight, March 31, 2023: A Great Night to be a Really Good Version of Sad, by Riley Courtney
For people who aren’t fans of boygenius, or followers of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus or Julien Baker — the members of the band — then March 31 passed by as an average Friday night. For us fans, the night was spent having our hearts ripped out by their new album, the record, for 42 minutes and 18 seconds before moving on to the 14-minute film that was released alongside the album.
The album alone is chock-full of beautiful songs, but the visuals within the short film are a stunning accompaniment and artfully depict the emotion and storyline the album lays out. I am especially endeared by the portrayal of female rage and friendship.
The last time the band put out music together was in 2018, making the time between their self-titled EP and the record a near 5 year hiatus. The individual artists have collaborated with one another, such as Dacus and Baker singing vocals on Bridgers’ “Graceland Too,” or the other two singing for Baker’s “Favor.” Their work together is tried and true-(blue).
A soft start for an album can be a turn away if done poorly, and while it does contribute to one of my biggest critiques of the album as a whole, “Without You Without Them” as a slow acapella opening brought tears to my eyes. The song sounds and feels like a lullaby. It’s warm and caressing, with the three artist’s voices layering atop one another to create abundantly comforting harmonies. Listening to the lyrics of the song, it feels endearing and is drenched in gratitude for ambiguous relationships. It’s slow, but it’s soft and delicate: the perfect song to cry to.
The transition between “Without You Without Them” and “$20” is abrupt. The 14-minute film that opened with an adapted version of “Without You Without Them” transitioned into “$20” in a much less jarring way. My main (and possibly only) critiques of the album focus on the structure of the first half.
Between the slow opening followed by the angry and passionate “$20” and the four singles that came out earlier in the year, I found myself growing impatient waiting for the album’s second half during my first listen. Don’t get me wrong, I adored the singles when they first came out (and still adore them all the same now that the full album is out), but after five years, I was eager for the new content.
The second half of the album slows down a bit, leaning into the sad-girl energy the trio are known for. There are peaks and higher energy moments on this part of the album just as there was at the beginning; however, it’s a lot less jarring and flows more smoothly as a whole. It ends with “Love Letter to a Poet,” leaning back into the relationship motif emphasized in the rest of the album.
Despite my critique of some of the higher energy moments in the album, one of the appeals of boygenius (as well as the three solo artists) is their ability to create songs that are not only gut-wrenching and devastating, but also songs you can dance to. Granted, there are limitations to the dance-ability of the record. We likely won’t hear it playing at Brick any time soon, but the peaks of songs such as “Not Strong Enough” and “$20” have real potential to make a great backing track for some dorm or apartment hang outs.
Specific lines from some of the songs have been floating around social media since the album’s release. I am a fan of the band, so naturally my algorithm has been giving me a nonstop stream of boygenius content. One of those lines comes from “Cool About It,” which comes right before the halfway point in the album: “Once I took your medication to know what it’s like, now I have to act like I can’t read your mind.”
Fans have been posting the individual lyrics on stories and posts, as well as using the audio as the background for some of the most painful poetry compiled using the TikTok slideshow formatting. This song was one of my favorites on the album on my initial listen-through, and it continues to be days after the release. As I’ve mentioned, the album returns to this motif of ambiguous relationships.
This song dives into a raw exploration of truth, heartbreak, mental illness and fear while also emphasizing the comfort and warmth that a relationship can hold. The lyrics speak to being in a relationship with someone — be that platonic, romantic, family or some other dynamic — who is struggling. Their struggle is something known, though there is only so much that can be done. There’s only so much talking can fix, and it can feel scary and upsetting to see anyone we care about go through a hard time.
What I found especially beautiful within this song was not just the way it captured the intensity of those emotions, but that it did it while articulating the love and endearment of the relationship. The song explores lying about what is really going on as shown in the line that’s floating around the Internet right now. It also shows an understanding of the truth, even though it goes unspoken. There’s a beauty in the type of closeness it requires to understand a person on that level, and boygenius captured it perfectly within “Cool About It.”
The entire album does a phenomenal job of capturing the complexity of relationships. boygenius describes specific situations and gives specific images, but the broadness and ambiguity of the relationship allows it to be applicable to nearly any relationship.
If the record isn’t already in your listening rotation, if you ever find yourself feeling down this spring, going through a breakup, experiencing a bout of terrifying self-growth, or having a falling out with your situationship, know that there is a beautiful album out there waiting for your listen.