Reflecting on boygenius’ ‘the record’ (approximately) a year on.

If there were an album to have defined my 2023 listening, it was ‘the record’ by boygenius; every song from this 12-track album made it into my top 100 Spotify wrapped playlist being testament to there being no duds. This makes its title as ‘the record’, implying its status as the best and only, very fitting. The name also references their somewhat satirical, ironic and self-aware approach to lyricism as of course its title is somewhat self-aggrandising too in implying that it is ‘THE record’. The title may even be a jibe at the stupidity and absurdity of naming music and how ultimately it is not something natural to do as music only really needs a name for commercial reasons so that it can be identified and consumed more easily; it doesn’t just come to acquire a name, but must be given one (though, admittedly, I may be reading too much into this). boygenius continued this approach to naming with their EP release about half a year later titled ‘the rest’, consisting of songs that did not make it onto ‘the record’, hence rendering them ‘the rest’. The album’s nebulous name also speaks to the diverse range of themes and musical genres covered; they sing of friendship, abuse, addiction, love, rebellion and feminism in the style of rock, alt pop and indie folk, in turn meaning the album evades definition or categorisation by a more specific title, because it cannot really be tethered to any particular idea or sound.

On a structural level the album continues to be immaculately thought-out. I think it’s of note that there is even anything to comment upon here as usually the only skill in plotting the chronology of an album, at least as far as I have observed, is in how well each song flows into the next. However, the structure of’ ‘the record’ is able to reflect the band’s general ethic of democracy to which they approach music-making; the album begins with ‘Without you, Without them’, a song featuring all members’ voices equally, with them harmonising beautifully, performing a cappella and singing of how grateful they are to have one another in their lives. The complete lack of instrumentation on this track foregrounds the “raw” and “stripped back” nature of the album generally as nothing interferes between the listener and their voices. It is also significant that each performer is given equal air time as this foregrounds the sense of equanimity and cooperation between the members that is so central to their ethos as a band, more so than other bands which tend to have a more clear “frontman”. Following on from this track are the songs ‘$20’, ‘Emily, I’m Sorry’, and ‘True Blue’, which all seem to correspond to each bandmate being Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus respectively, and all seeming to come from their very subjective points of viewpoints as songwriters with Julien singing of being destitute on a bender, Phoebe asking for forgiveness from a person she has wronged with whom she was romantically involved, and Dacus professing her intense love for her friends. Each band member having what seems to be their own song again alludes to the democratic way in which the group operates, while also highlighting that each member is a powerhouse in and of themselves, solidifying the band’s status as a “supergroup”.

As already established by my brief descriptions of the songs ‘Without you, Without them’ and ‘True Blue’, it is clear that friendship is a seminal theme of this work, and I find this to be extremely refreshing. This is because, while romantic love and sexual attraction are both worthy of attention in that they are exceedingly complex and complicated, they are somewhat overdone, and so it is far more interesting to have an album that heralds platonic relations, singing of them with a similarly deep affection, being something that I have never encountered before. I also think, particularly in ‘True Blue’, that the way in which platonic connection is described with the repeated line “it feels good to be known so well, I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself” is nuanced in its encapsulation of the infinitely deep connection that can be held between friends; it seems that in all media we consume that the status of “soulmate” is reserved for romantic partners solely, when this is something that can as easily be fulfilled by platonic lovers too. This may also speak to the complexity and beauty of queer female friendship, because in already existing outside the frame of what is normative, queer women are free to redefine the boundaries of platonic, romantic and sexual love, proving them not quite as rigid as we have been led to believe; when an affection for someone is so strong it seems to transcend these artificial delineations. The band plays this idea out in their sets throughout 2023 as they often made out and fondled each other stage in a way that expressed how for many platonic, romantic and sexual love are not all distinct categories, but can flow into one another. I think this is precisely what makes all the strife of being queer worth it, because while it is painful being exiled from conventional existence merely by right of existing, this also gives queer people the freedom to redefine their relationships in ways that suit them as they are not as bound by the compulsive need to conform, as they already do not do so on a fundamental level.

All in all, in just about every sense this album is, in my very subjective view “perfect”, if that is a status possible for art, or indeed anything, to achieve; from its very title, to its form, to its lyrics, it is immaculately crafted.

Image: 규송 Nui MALAMA on Pexels

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