Phoebe Bridgers’s rise to stardom has been a phenomenon to watch. Possessing a clear, strategic mind that knows how to market herself best, she went from indie starlet following her debut album Stranger in the Alps to enormous popularity overnight. At first, it was harmless. Her second album, Punisher, released in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, rallied many of us looking for songs to whisper-yell to. She was relatable, charming, and didn’t take herself too seriously. She wore her silly skeleton onesie on late-night performances and sang one of her singles, “ICU,” while driving around in her car wearing a helmet on The Late Late Show with James Corden.
But then, she made the mistake of growing outside of her established fan base. She smashed her guitar on SNL — something every white male rock star and his friend has done — and received backlash. David Crosby called the act “pathetic,” and in return, she called him a “little bitch.” She started dating up-and-coming star Paul Mescal, then seemingly left him for Bo Burnham, earning her greater ire. Most recently during one of her boygenius shows, a band composed of equally talented musicians Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, she caused a mini-social media storm by having the audacity to rip her shirt open, exposing her chest to the audience.
Again, another staple in the rock genre that is usually reserved for men.
My response to Bridgers’s fame is twofold. On one hand, there’s no denying her hustle and her songwriting ability. She makes the mundane achingly relatable. Years ago, when folklore was released and Taylor Swift didn’t aggravate as much, I called them two sides of the same coin. Figures they’d end up on tour together. I enjoy a lot of her music, even if I don’t find it all exceptional. More than anything, I get worked up when Dacus and, especially, Baker don’t receive the same level of recognition.
That said, fans are not bothered, as evidenced by attending a boygenius concert this past summer and listening as attendees screamed her name over songs or watched as they planted themselves in the excessively wet grass to hold their spot, wearing those skeleton onesies. It’s nice, in a sense, especially as the boygenius concerts hold safe, queer spaces for many attendees. But that fame brings with it the potential for upset, as we’ve already seen through the Mescal breakup, and now, more frivolously, when she decided to bare her breasts.
Bridgers has already spoken about the entitlement of fans. It’s one of those natural occurrences happening more frequently these days with social media and parasocial relationships, where fans think they’re owed some part of the musician’s life — hidden moments or truths that aren’t theirs to reveal. Just as loud are those who push back at her for doing the most innocuous things that seem to stem from her being a queer musician, who broke up with the internet’s current favorite It Boy, and who is outspoken and confident in her beliefs.
She got popular, and the backlash found her — a backlash that has nothing to do with her actual music. This situation is cyclical. Let her take her top off.