Comparison Essay on Stranger in the Alps and Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers, a 26 year old singer/songwriter, has released two albums in the past four years, leaving her audience with an unmistakable feeling of melancholy and bittersweetness, similar to that of Connor Oberst, her musical inspiration and idol. While in Stranger in the Alps, the listener gets a glimpse into a young Bridgers’ perception of love and death, Punisher allows one to see that she has matured not only in the production of her music and writing, but also in her beliefs. Her two albums symbolize her growth as a person, detailing her highest and lowest moments, while almost never explaining her thoughts and claims to her audience. Bridgers utilizes imagery in her songs in order to truly immerse her listeners into the times she is retelling, while remaining an unreliable narrator.
Throughout Stranger in the Alps, especially in songs such as “Georgia”, “Motion Sickness”, “Smoke Signals”, and “Scott Street”, the audience is allowed a glimpse into Bridgers’ complicated love life. She depicts specifically, insecurities in herself and the people she falls in love with, a thought that is also frequently portrayed in Punisher. However, in her earlier album, she is much more desperate for love. It is speculated who her music is about, but almost always she describes how she wants no one else but the one she is singing for, “Other arms reach out to me/Other eyes smile tenderly/Still in peaceful dreams I see/The road leads back to you” (Georgia). In Punisher, this fact does not change. Consistently, Bridgers depicts herself as completely infatuated with one person, and how “[she] would do anything [they] want [her] to” (Graceland Too). Although, as the listeners witness Bridgers’ grows from her younger self to now, they see her become more confident not only in herself but also how she feels.
In her earlier tracks, Bridgers’ exclusively sings using he pronouns, besides in the song “You Missed my Heart” (which is a cover). However, in Punisher, she begins using she pronouns along with he pronouns, eluding to herself being more comfortable and open in her bisexuality. Bridgers also sings about the emotional abuse that she has suffered with people in her past in both albums, as seen in specifically “Motion Sickness” and “Kyoto”. Both are lively songs featuring a strong rhythm guitar and bass, juxtaposing the lyrics which describe how both relationships have contributed to her mental health issues and her self confidence, at one point exclamation “I don’t forgive you/But please don’t hold me to it” (Kyoto). Bridgers’ music almost always centers around her relationships and the tolls not only they take on her, but also the toll she takes on other people.
In her later album Punisher, Bridgers sings a song titled “Savior Complex”, in which she describes her need to fix the person that she is in a relationship with. A similar message can also be found, although less obvious, in songs like “Moon Song” and “Georgia”. As she has matured through her work, she has realized that the problem in her relationships is not one sided. People have hurt her dearly in the past and in her earlier album she may have been blinded by the pain, but now she acknowledges clearly her own issues, “Baby, you're a vampire/You want blood and I promised/I'm a bad liar/With a savior complex” (Savior Complex). Despite her inflicting pain onto people, lying and forcing them to change, she has come to understand her worth, and what she needs in a partner.
“You know I hate to be alone” (Chinese Satellite). Throughout her songs in both albums, Bridgers’ constantly reminds her partners what they should already know, she puts others before herself and is disappointed when they don’t do the same. She often describes herself as a “killer”, hurting people unintentionally, she equates her worth to how she loves people, and when she fails to live up to someone’s standards, she is devastated. However, she is much more open about this pain in Punisher and in her song “Chinese Satellite”, you can see her battle between knowing who she is and what she believes, and the love that she has for this person, “When you said I will never be your vegetable/Because I think when you're gone it's forever/But you know I'd stand on the corner/Embarrassed with a picket sign/If it meant I would see you/When I die”. When it comes down to it, Bridgers’ tells the listener that she would claim a false belief, if only to be with her loved one, although, it is also evident in the song that her partner would not do the same.
Throughout her music, Bridgers’ claims to feel out of place with normal people, however in Stranger in the Alps she has a strong desire to fit in, even if it means putting on a facade and changing herself or downplaying her ideas to fit in, “No it's not important, they're just pretty words, my dear” (Chelsea). However, in Punisher, Bridgers’ is much more eager to “find a new place to be from” (I Know the End), she is willing to put in the work in order to feel safe and loved, she no longer wishes to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. This eludes back to her need to be loved and appreciated, she is no longer okay with people looking down at her and pushing her aside, however, glimpses of her allowing things that would happen to her in her prior album can be found in her love songs on Punisher, especially in “Chinese Satellite”, “Moon Song”, and “ICU”.
Throughout both of her albums, Bridgers contradicts herself, stating her beliefs and then suddenly shifting them after an epiphany. Her lyrics leave her vulnerable to her audience’s interpretation, imagining her as the hero or the villain of her story. Nevertheless, Bridgers’ shows tremendous growth through her two solo albums, but also shows the painfully real idea of falling back into old habits, whether intentional or not. She is able to illustrate the many emotions of being human, while also feeling alien. Whether it be Stranger in the Alps or Punisher, her music holds a significant impact on those who listen, and what they get out of it. In multiple interviews, Bridgers has talked about the underlying meanings in her work, and asks, if you don’t leave with something, why did you listen at all?