Maggie Rogers is a distinctly 2016 creation.
Maggie Rogers is a distinctly 2016 creation. Her music is a blend of elongated folk vocal cadences and architecturally pristine drum programming (similar to Sylvan Esso), and her career was launched by a viral video, a clip of Rogers playing her breakout single “Alaska” for Pharrell in an NYU masterclass. Rogers instantly found a home among the “slow living” crowd, and has the kind of nostalgic appeal that major labels are desperate to capture.
Yet while Rogers has streaming services, DAWs and Twitter to thank for her rise, what’s most impressive is how unvarnished and genuine she’s remained despite her meteoric ascension. Growing up in rural Maryland, she played banjo before learning how to engineer and produce at NYU, and owns a charisma and purity of purpose that finds the smallest holes in your cynicism and shatters it. Though success seems to have happened to her overnight, Rogers has paid her dues as a musician, arriving onto the scene at once sure-footed and wide-eyed.
“Faces behind computer screens changed my life this year,” she said to a giddy sold out crowd at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall. She’s hardly the first artist to blow up from obscurity thanks to SoundCloud and Spotify (consider Ryn Weaver, who returned to relative anonymity after throttling the internet with her single “OctaHate” in 2014).
Rogers’ success feels different. Her rise was inevitable; the influences she wears as an artist seem like they could easily have been her contemporaries had she just happened to be born a few decades earlier. Though the circumstances that brought her music to the attention of millions would never have occurred even a decade ago, she was always going to find her way onto this stage to play for a crowd that connected with her music this deeply. As she emerged and began her set with “Color Song,” the opening number from her project Now That the Light is Fading, the hues of the spotlights felt deeper, and the room felt like it was constructed solely for this one performance.
On stage, Rogers sheepishly admits that with only an EP out she doesn’t exactly have enough songs to make a full set, so she augments it with a few tracks from her 2014 album Blood Ballet (still available on Bandcamp), including a rousing version of “Little Joys.” She also performs an inventive cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” that has the entire crowd furiously Googling the lyrics as she sang them. The cover comes garnished with 808 snaps and booming, Arca-level bass, but there’s no doubt that Rogers captures the song’s message of love and enduring commitment.
Though she rips through an incendiary rendition of “On + Off” and gave “Dog Years” an additional jolt of percussive thump, the anticipatory weight of “Alaska” hung over the entire set. At one point, before she came on stage, the song’s opening snaps and bubbling synths were piped over the monitors, perhaps by a particularly sadistic sound engineer, drawing a sharp anticipatory gasp from the audience.
When she finally does perform it there’s no faux encore, no teasing the fans; it simply would have seemed out of place. Maggie Rogers is so earnest, so sincere and enthralling, that even a move that 99 percent of artists pull on stage would seem out of place and overly calculated. The song is as lilting and contemplative live as it is on record; it’s the kind of song where you can recall every place you’ve ever heard it, to the point where watching her actually perform it in front of you is surreal.
The internet may not remain entranced by Rogers forever. We all know that the music blogosphere has a brutally short attention span, but her live show is proof that she has a long career ahead of her.