Calling them a supergroup is somehow both perfectly apt and kind of an understatement.
boygenius is not a supergroup in the traditional sense. The trio of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker certainly have recognition and notoriety outside of this first of potentially many collaborations, but they portray none of the pomposity and indulgence that so often shape what our idea of a “supergroup” is. Instead, boygenius function like an actual band rather than a collection of individuals in the studio together; they strive for cohesion rather than to stand as the first among equals. What’s more, there’s probably far more substance on the six songs of boygenius EP than there is in the collected catalog of any cash-grabbing supergroup that has ever existed. Crucially, though, the EP is presented not as an artistic end in and of itself, but as a starting point for greater things to come.
A reductive look at boygenius would conclude that the collaboration works because all three of the songwriters involved write the same kind of music. While it’s true that Baker, Bridges and Dacus all write about things like self-worth, self-doubt and facing emotional pain head-on, no one really has a monopoly on those lyrical subjects, and to say that they approach this in the same way is, well, a bit dumb. Furthermore, the three are already considerably different musically, which makes the synthesis of each songwriter’s particular styles all the more enjoyable when it comes off. Ultimately, it’s the differences between each of boygenius’ performers that is at the core of what makes this record so thrilling.
Funnily enough, there isn’t as much full-on collaboration as one would expect on boygenius. The image conjured by the album cover and the press leading up to the release of the EP is one of Baker, Bridges and Dacus standing around a single microphone with guitars in hand, but that’s not quite what boygenius ends up being. The beginning of the EP consists of songs that largely focus on one of the individual collaborators, with the other two adding vocals to deepen the mood of the songs. Opener “Bite the Hand” finds Dacus taking lead in a slow, spare song only for Bridgers and Baker to arrive gloriously for the disquieting refrain, “I can’t love you/ How you want me to.” Further on, Bridgers imagines an extraterrestrial escape from the pain of existence on the spare “Me & My Dog” while Baker plays the part of an exhausted fighter on “Stay Down.” After that, though, the fire under the trio is lit and set loose. “Salt in the Wound” is a slow, building burn, a condemnation from a speaker who has been taken advantage of and has finally had enough. It’s the one moment of truly seething anger that comes out of boygenius, and it’s arguably the EP’s highlight, its explosive chorus a touch of singular magic. They then provide the perfect denouement with “Ketchum, ID,” a delicate ballad lamenting the never-ending grind and transient nature of being a touring musician. Each member of the group sings of college towns blending together, relationships crumbling as a result of the constant distance and a desire to just pack it all in and live somewhere beautiful and quiet. But, in the end, they admit (in gorgeous harmony) the futility of their situation: “I am never anywhere/ Anywhere I go/ When I’m home I’m never there/ Long enough to know”.
As remarkable as boygenius is, one can’t help but anticipate what else can come from these three brilliant songwriters the next time they enter the studio together. The trio leave this question open in a clever way: “Ketchum, ID” ends with an unresolved system, hinting, among other things, that this collaboration is far from done. While it may be a while—all three members of boygenius are excellent performers on their own, let’s not forget—they tap into something special when performing together as they do here. Calling them a supergroup is somehow both perfectly apt and kind of an understatement.