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Revisiting Phoebe Bridgers' poignant remarks about sexism in music

Phoebe Bridgers cannot escape notoriety, no matter how much she wishes to. Her decision to smash a guitar on stage was met with uproar, her relationship with Ryan Adams raised eyebrows, lest we forget the way she blatantly referenced The Big Lebowski with her fiery first album. She may wish to escape the eyes of the public, but it’s unlikely she will ever be fortunate enough to do so. And in her own idiosyncratic way, she deserves the spotlight.

But that’s not to say she enjoys every aspect of fame, and it’s possible to discern from the snippet below a weariness towards the lazy journalism that pits her against her fellow female peers. In an interview with The Skinny in 2018, Bridgers opted to let out years of vented frustration, stating how tiring it is for her to hear that she has been compared to another artist. “I read shit all the time that’s sheer sexism,” Bridgers says, “Comparing me to like, Lucy Dacus, like, insert either one of us: ‘The Phoebe record blows the Lucy record out of the water,’ or ‘Lucy Dacus, a fresh take on the Phoebe Bridgers sound.’” It’s an issue that certainly isn’t specific to singer-songwriters.

Bridgers made an excellent point: It’s hard to consider a similar comparison between two incendiary male artists in the field of rock media. Listening to Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers respectively, it’s hard to see many similarities between the two artists, other than their gender. “We’re a scene because we’re all angry about the same shit,” Bridgers elaborated, “And because we all like each other and talk to each other, and because we all send those insane articles back and forth like: ‘Oh my god, can you believe this?’ I love those people and I’m honoured to be associated with them, but it’s funny when we read shit like that.”

Put it this way: Would we compare these two if they were men? I don’t think so. Nobody compares Liam Gallagher and Alex Turner, despite both of them continuing and furthering the narrative of Northern rock. And then there’s Damon Albarn, who rarely gets compared to his musical peers, regardless of whether they are American or British.

Bono and Sting both wrote some of the most infectious anthems from the 1980s, but nobody decided to play them off one another. 10cc and Wings sounded alike, and nobody played those two against one another. And then there’s the small matter that Aerosmith, The Stooges and The Heartbreakers borrowed their Rolling Stones influences heavily, and nobody batted an eyelid.

What Bridgers is highlighting isn’t the vast amounts of women in the arts, but how few there are. So, what few are lucky enough to use their template for their own purposes naturally get compared to one another. It’s highly unlikely that the artists waste their time slamming other people’s works, and it’s hard to picture either Dacus or Bridgers crying to the sound of their rival’s material, thinking they could never hit those heights.

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This is why Bridgers is perfectly right to call out what she perceives as an arbitrary overview of her career, especially when it comes with such a hackneyed, lazy comparison. Bridgers has only released two albums and has yet to tune her lyrical voice, but this hasn’t stopped others from comparing her to another musical peer. Instead, she is being placed in the realm of another artist, as if shadowing her every move, carrying out her every detail in an industry that is prized to turn women off one another.
Women in art, like most fields in life, find it tougher than men in the industry, partially because there aren’t as many as them and as a result of the men being overtly pally with one another.

A recent study shows that many female artists suffer from performance anxiety, precisely because their gender tends to overshadow their abilities as an artistic voice. Like men, Bridgers music should be judged on the value of the work alone, and the work should be counted as the work in itself. Her work goes where she wants it to go, and no matter how much you might disagree with her guitar postures, it’s nothing short of laziness to pit her against another artist, who works to a completely different beat of her own.

Immersed in the extremity and power of her work, Bridgers should be allowed to shock as she sees fit, but let’s not call her a “Lucy Dacus” clone. Let’s not call Lucy Dacus a “disciple of Phoebe Bridgers”. Surely the world is of higher intelligence and can enjoy the two disparate artists by their respective modus operandi. Because if a pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re really short of art in this world.

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