Triple Threat: boygenuis Talks Friendship, Fanatics, And The Origins of The Band

by Eliza C. Thompson

A supergroup boasting the tightest harmonies in town, boygenius just released one of the most talked-about albums of the year. Here, the trio of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus opens up about their friendship, obsessive fans, and which month should be designated as “Shame Month”

Photo Credit: Romona Rosales; Top to Bottom: Lucy Dacus, Julie Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers. Gucci Pants; Dr. Martens Shoes; Trench and Top Hat: Stylist’s own.

THE ANNALS OF music history are filled with bands whose feuds are as famous as their biggest hits: Smashing Pumpkins, the Beatles, Guns N’ Roses, and a thousand more. boygenius (the name is stylized in all lowercase) has only been around since 2018, but it’s safe to say those in its ranks will never find themselves on a list of musicians who are also mortal enemies. The supergroup—which consists of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus—blows right past “getting along fine” into the realm of something that resembles true love.

When the trio Zooms in from Los Angeles for our inter- view, the three women are not just sharing a chat window— they’re sharing an antique-looking four-poster bed, feet tucked under them like they’re gearing up for a slumber party rather than their millionth press obligation of the week.

“I have actually never examined why we like each other,” says Bridgers, 28, when asked about their friendship. “And I don’t really want to. It was like hitting it off with somebody at a bar who’s not hard to talk to. You’re like, ‘Oh, alright, I wanna hang out with this person forever.’”

Their tale began in 2016, when Baker, 27, and Dacus, 28, became acquainted after sharing a bill in Washington, D.C. Both women had just released successful solo albums— Sprained Ankle for Baker and No Burden for Dacus—which were both hailed for their sharp, introspective lyrics that gave fans an immediate sense of intimacy with the artists.

Bridgers, meanwhile, was generating buzz after opening for Conor Oberst, and in late 2017, she released her own critically acclaimed debut, Stranger in the Alps. By that point, she’d met Baker, but the pair didn’t join forces with Dacus until 2018, when they found out they’d be sharing a triple bill together. They thought it would be fun to record a single as a group to promote the tour, but they found they couldn’t stop there—and boygenius was born.

One song became several, and in October 2018, they released their six-track EP under their new band name, which they chose as a play on the idea that mediocre male musicians get tons of praise for less than exemplary work. Their subsequent tour—which featured mini solo sets from all three, followed by all the songs from their EP that they performed together while wearing fancy jackets designed in the famous Western “Nudie Suit” style—is now the stuff of legend. If you were lucky enough to be at one of those few shows, then you likely remember the experience as something transcendent—and the band does, too.

“When we left the tour in 2018, I was like, ‘No way we don’t make music together again. We’re gonna do this again for sure,’” Baker recalls before Bridgers jumps in to say she was the lone skeptic in the crew. “They knew that, but I didn’t know that,” Bridgers explains. “I was like, ‘Well, that was a beautiful part of my life and it’s over.’”

For several years, though, it looked to fans like Bridgers was right. All of the women continued their solo careers after boygenius, but Bridgers in particular rose to a new level of fame. She released her second album, Punisher, in 2020, eventually becoming a person even your dad has heard of thanks in part to her viral guitar-smashing moment on Saturday Night Live. Also in 2020, she founded her own record label, Saddest Factory, which has become home to indie-pop ingenues Muna and the avant-rock act Sloppy Jane. The day we spoke, she made a surprise appearance—in the same NASA hoodie she wore during our interview—at a SZA concert attended by Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Lopez, and days later, she attended the iHeartRadio Music Awards, where she presented Taylor Swift with the Innovator Award.

Baker and Dacus, meanwhile, dropped Little Oblivions and Home Video, respectively, in 2021, scoring high-profile gigs at places like the Newport Folk Festival, and for Baker, as one third of the Wild Hearts tour with Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen. The members of boygenius teamed up again for a few of Dacus’ and Baker’s solo tracks, but a full-blown reunion was looking unlikely, especially after Bridgers landed a slot opening for some of the dates on Swift’s Eras tour.

“When we left the tour in 2018, I was like, ‘No way we don’t make music together again. We’re gonna do this again for sure,” Baker recalls.

Behind the scenes, however, the wheels were in motion. Like everybody else on the planet in 2020, the band was stuck in varying degrees of coronavirus lockdown for much of the year, unable to tour (and in Bridgers’ case, unable to participate in anything resembling a normal press cycle for Punisher). “I feel like it would have taken us eight years to make something if it hadn’t been for COVID,” Bridgers says. “COVID, for me at least, cleared the slate. I was supposed to do so much fucking work in 2020, and I still did, virtually, but my evenings were left to stare at my hands and think about what I wanted for my life, and it was to see my friends.”

Bridgers channeled that pent-up energy into songwriting, and she began dropping songs into Baker’s and Dacus’ inboxes, starting with “Emily I’m Sorry.” Within months, they had a shared Google Drive of new material and were well on their way to finishing what would become their debut fulllength, the record, which came out in March on Interscope and is the basis for the band’s huge spring and summer tour through North America and Europe.

Photo Credit: Romona Rosales; Top Row: Shirt and Tie: Stylist’s own; Jewelry: Model’s own; 2nd Row: Tyler McGillivary Top; Third Row: Joomi Lim Chocker; Sweater: Stylist’s own.

Photo Credit: Romona Rosales; Freak City Girls Shirts; Flip Flops: Stylist’s own.

The album has more bells and whistles than any of their previous work, and it’s the first major-label release for any of them. It was recorded at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, and Kristen Stewart directed a short film promoting it that features three of their songs. It seems clear already that the record will surely end up on many “Best of 2023” lists, but in another world, it—and boygenius—might not have existed at all. Before the trio got to know each other, Bridgers was annoyed that people kept comparing their music because of some perceived connection between young female artists who write emotionally devastating lyrics. “Everybody was sending me Julien’s album and being like, ‘You’re gonna fucking love this and you’ll love this person, they’re exactly like you.’ And I was like, ‘Fuck you,’” she explains, adding that she was “resistant” to the notion that their music was similar. “It was all older white men be- ing like, ‘You’re gonna love this chick music.’ That’s the way I interpreted it. But it was actually so much sweeter than that. They were correct. I thought I was being profiled, and actually I was being known.”

Even now, their work gets lumped into an amorphous subgenre known as “sad girl music,” which is chiefly characterized by plaintive vocals, raw lyrics, and a fair amount of heartbreak. The term can be pejorative or complimentary depending on who’s using it, but either way, the members of boygenius are tired of being pigeonholed. Their band name is harmony, and lyrical vulnerability can’t be punk rock. This is perhaps one reason they were so delighted to work with Stewart—a world-class actor who spent years convincing the public
she was capable of making serious art—on the band’s short film. “We love Kristen,” says Dacus. “She put her whole essence into [directing] this. We care a lot—she cared so much more. She texted all of us all the time about minor details. She would go to sleep and wake up thinking about it.”

Stewart was also generous about sharing her acting expertise with her subjects, who cold-emailed her to ask if she’d be interested in directing their project. “Kristen is underrated, I think,” Bridgers says of the Oscar nominee. “It was so nice to be held by somebody who knows how humiliating it is to be in front of a camera.”

Like Stewart, boygenius isn’t afraid to speak out about issues that affect them and their fans. Each member of the trio is determined to use their growing platform for good, as evidenced by the way they’ve spoken out against various horrific developments in American politics. When the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade leaked in May 2022, Bridgers took to social media to share her own abortion story and encouraged her fans and followers to donate to abortion funds in states with already-diminished access to reproductive health care. “I had an abortion in October of last year while I was on tour,” she tweeted. “I went to Planned Parenthood where they gave me the abortion pill. It was easy. Everyone deserves that kind of access.”

Days before our conversation, Baker participated in Love Rising, a Nashville benefit concert organized in part
by Brandi Carlile to benefit LGBTQIA+ organizations after the Tennessee state government passed anti-drag and anti-trans bills. Baker, who like both of her bandmates identifies as queer, knows that other states would be less hostile to her identity, but she feels an obligation to make Tennessee— where she was born and raised and now lives—safer for her friends and neighbors. “I felt like it was important because a lot of the folks who played were Tennessee residents,” she says of Love Rising. “I stayed [in Tennessee] because I wanted to invest in making the place where I grew up—that informed all of my cultural sensibilities—[better]. I wanted to stay in Tennessee because that’s where my family is—my family as in the people who are related to me by blood, and also that’s where my chosen family is, the people I grew up playing music with in college and the entire queer community in Nashville and Memphis. I feel beholden to them to stay and work on cultivating something safer and more empowering for the queer community there.”

“Everybody was sending me Julien’s album and being like, ‘You’ll love this person, they’re exactly like you,’ And I was like, ‘Fuck you,’” Bridgers explains. “But they were correct. I thought I was being profiled, and actually I was being known.”

Dacus, who in 2021 wrote a beautiful essay about coming out for Oprah Daily, notes that having grown up in Virginia she, too, knows the importance of expanding your worldview within your own community. “I used to think terrible things,” she recalls. “I used to be in church thinking abortion was bad, and I don’t anymore, and that’s because of people having patience with me and probably having to hear a message over and over. Now I try to fundraise for abortions as often as I can.” (In 2021, she donated all proceeds from her Texas shows to local abortion funds after the state’s SB 8 law effectively banned the procedure.)

The band members’ willingness to share these kinds of personal stories in interviews and in their lyrics is part of the reason their fan base has grown exponentially over the past few years, especially among young women and LGBTQIA+ listeners. After the trio got matching wrist tattoos of a tooth (visible on the record’s cover) in a nod to their song “Bite the Hand,” their fans started doing it, too, and you can find countless photos online of homemade replicas of their 2018 tour jackets. It’s not unlike the devotion you see for artists like Taylor Swift or K-pop bands, only the idols in question are singing about battling opioid addiction (Baker) or their tumultuous relationship with their late father (Bridgers).

Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus absolutely love it when they see teen girls being escorted to their shows by their mid- dle-aged dads, a setup more commonly seen at, say, a Justin Bieber concert. “That breaks my heart and fills my soul,” says Dacus, who describes a Bruce Springsteen show she recently attended with her own father as “the third best night” of her life—surpassed only by the days her BFFs Baker and Bridgers were born. Bridgers agrees, adding that she loves seeing the way that these fathers allow their kids to lead. “Yeah, the dad with an armful of merch standing, like, 50 feet behind the five teenagers he brought to the show is [my favorite],” she says. “That’s, like, letting her decide what is cool in a way. Because my dad was like, ‘Do you wanna see Stevie Ray Vaughan?’ I was like, ‘No.’ But I was kind of forced to do that for him and be like, ‘It’s pretty cool guitar.’ I’m grateful for a lot of that [now], you know, like [learning about] Neil Young and shit. But, like, taking me to a concert that I wanted to see? Unheard of. So, it’s special to see it.”

The flip side of this intimacy with fans, though, is that some of their admirers—not all of them, boygenius is quick to clarify—interpret this as a green light for behavior that ranges from worrying to stalkerish. “I don’t love being idolized,” Dacus says. “Adoration isn’t really love. We’ve talked about people who have our faces as their Twitter profile pictures who are also mean. That’s adoration, but it’s not love. Not like I’m needing love, either. I would like respect.”

Baker has noticed fans coming up to Dacus and Bridgers on the street and touching them without permission, while she deals more with strangers throwing their darkest traumas at her unsolicited. Especially since the 2015 release of Baker’s gorgeously raw solo album Sprained Ankle, whose title track begins, “Wish I could write songs about anything other than death.” “There’s a type of guy who will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, just wanna let you know your music means a lot to me,’ and then he will tell me about his failed suicide attempts,” she explains. “And I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I wrote music about that. But I’m buying a breakfast burrito.’ For a long time, I struggled with this because I was like, ‘It’s my duty as a performer in this world to inhabit that space for you,’ to be like, ‘Yeah, man, more than one person on Earth wants to kill themselves sometimes.’ That’s a fine thing, but it’s not the locale where that’s appropriate.”

Bridgers shares an upsetting story about a man in a car slowing down next to her as she walked around Nashville. He wanted to tell her his name was Scott, like her 2017 song “Scott Street,” but no woman alive would have initially assumed that man’s intentions were pure. “I was like, ‘OK, you just fucking terrified me,’” she says. “Never find out where we live and go there. Never send fan mail to my home if my address somehow ends up on the Internet again.”

As the most high-profile member of the group, Bridgers, an L.A. native who still lives in that area, also has to contend with a different kind of unwanted attention: paparazzi. Their interest in her stemmed in part from her relationship with Paul Mescal, star of Normal People and Aftersun. The duo kept their romance mostly private after going Instagram official in December of 2021, but fans speculated they were engaged before they split sometime in 2022. More recently, she’s been spotted with comedian Bo Burnham, leading observers—and the tabloids—to assume they’re dating. (boygenius declined to answer questions about their personal lives, but Bridgers told Rolling Stone in January that she is not engaged.)

The only relationship Bridgers is willing to discuss is the one she shares with her pug, Maxine, who makes occasional appearances in the photos she shares on social media. “She does this thing where she’ll snake up by me in the middle of the night to cuddle into my armpit, and then we roll over like a couple in the morning,” Bridgers says. Her bandmates light up, too, when Bridgers mentions Maxine, with Dacus saying she feels like the pup remembers her even when they don’t see each other for a while because she lives in Philadelphia. “I feel chosen by Maxine,” she says. “I think everyone feels like they’re her special little friend.”

Baker, for her part, has a dog named Beans, who has appeared on her merch and got a credit on Dacus’ last album. “Beans gives nothing, and I absolutely love it,” says Baker, who lives in Tennessee with her partner, Mariah Schneider. “My dog doesn’t give a fuck about me. My dog is trying to get her needs met.”

The women’s friendship—pet love included—is as much a part of their appeal as their music. It’s delightful to watch them finish each other’s sentences and burst into laughter at their inside jokes, cracking themselves up when they think they’ve said something too pretentious. When they hear this story is coming out in June, they ask if it’s related to Pride Month before launching into a riff on which month is “Shame Month.” (The consensus is something in winter, perhaps December or January.) Unsurprisingly, they’re super supportive of one another’s solo endeavors as well; Baker and Dacus assure me that they’ll be in the audience for at least one of Bridgers’ dates with Swift.

“There are reasons that it makes sense,” Dacus says of the trio’s deep connection to one another. “We have a lot of shared experiences, we have a lot of shared ideals and perspectives, and we have similar tastes. There are other people who I meet where all of that is true, too, but they’re not these guys.” Ultimately, what boygenius shares is a once-in-a-universe kind of love—and we’re all just lucky to be able to listen in.

“I don’t love being idolized,” Dacus says.

“Adoration isn’t really love.”

Photo Credit: Romona Rosales; Trenchcoat, Socks, Garters, Shoes: Stylist’s own.

Top Image: Photo Credit: Romona Rosales, Styling by Linsey Hartman; Makeup by Amber Dreadon; Hair by Dita Vushaj; Animal Crackers Neck Collars; Ties: Stylist’s own.

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