Happy birthday to Phoebe Bridgers, the fantastic American indie singer-songwriter who currently sits as one of the biggest names in rock. Phoebe Bridgers is slowly becoming one of the most highly-regarded songwriters of her generation — but that doesn’t mean she can’t work her way around a cover too.
Whether you agree with her guitar smashing antics, get swept up in her ethereal vocal tone or are lost in the intimacy of her recent run of lockdown performances, it’s clear to see that she’s tapped into an incredibly identifiable sound. It’s a sound that has brought guitar music back into the forefront of culture and Bridgers can seemingly deploy at will.
On songs like ‘Motion Sickness’ and ‘I Know the End’, Bridgers spins intensely personal tales in ways that never feel alien or obtuse. It’s always like Bridgers is in the room with you, sharing a cool new song.
That same attitude extends to her choice of cover songs. Her tastes are eclectic, and the artists that she chooses to pay tribute to often reveal a strong influence that Bridgers has absorbed into her own signature style. It means every cover provides another moment of expression.
Today, we look at some of the best covers that Bridgers has performed and recorded over the years. To celebrate the artist’s 27th birthday, here are seven of the best covers from Phoebe Bridgers.
Phoebe Bridgers 7 best covers:
Elliot Smith – ‘Whatever (Folk Song in C)
It might not be obvious now, considering the genre-blending guitar-based riffage of Punisher, but Bridgers’ initial genre of choice was folk. Having grown up favouring the acoustic guitar while busking at farmers markets in Southern California, Bridgers took inspiration from the stripped back sounds of folk singers.
One artist who left a major impact on the young singer was Elliot Smith, the tragic and celebrated singer-songwriter whose delicate voice and personal songwriting would later be mirrored by Bridgers.
The New Moon cut is one of Smith’s signature songs, and Bridgers does it justice by not changing a thing: it’s just a singer and her guitar.
Daniel Johnston – ‘Peek a Boo’
Daniel Johnston is an artist whose vast influence on modern music is belied by the fact that most artists simply talk about his work. Part of the reason is that Johnston’s vocal delivery and songwriting style is so unique to him, in its childlike wonder, that trying to replicate it is almost impossible.
Bridgers goes for it head-on by taking the wide-eyed innocence of Johnston and translating it into a sad, almost country-like dirge. There’s overt darkness in the way Bridgers articulates the chorus of “Please hear my cry for help, and save me from myself,” especially now that Johnston is gone.
Bridgers brings a faithful devotion to a restless and only-occasionally lucid mind. It acts as one of Bridgers’ sweetest covers.
Wheatus – ‘Teenage Dirtbag’
Anyone who is a fan of the singer knows that Bridgers is fantastic at conjuring heartbreaking emotion, bitter anger, amorous romanticism, and all other kinds of complex feelings. But what does she do when she just wants to cut loose and sing about being a loser?
Well, she chooses one of the ultimate celebrations of loserdom, of course: Wheetus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. The legacy afforded to ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, a song that I personally can’t stand, baffles me. It’s gone from initial hit to guilty pleasure to being once again claimed as a supposedly good song. I don’t like it, but if I have to listen to it, I’d rather hear Bridgers do it.
The Cure – ‘Friday I’m In Love’
Mourn with me the recent loss of Simon Gallup to The Cure lineup. The second most-essential member of the world’s best alt-goth-pop band has parted company with Robert Smith, and evidently, it is not on good terms.
We could be sad together, and there would be plenty of Cure songs to which wallowing in misery is basically a requirement, but let’s kick back at the unhappiness by singing along to The Cure’s jangliest of all their jangle-pop tunes, ‘Friday I’m In Love’.
Today the part of Robert Smith is being played by Phoebe Bridgers. Maybe she can be the band’s new bassist.
Radiohead – ‘Fake Plastic Trees’
Bridgers occasionally likes to get regional with her covers. When she played the legendary First Avenue venue in Minneapolis, the logical move would have been to cover Prince.
Instead, she pulled out a cover of The Replacements’ ‘Here Comes a Regular’, because there’s more than one favourite son in the Twin Cities.
While appearing on the BBC 1 Piano Sessions program with fellow uber-talented artist Arlo Parks, Bridgers decided to pay tribute to jolly-ol’ England singing the one go-to Radiohead cover that isn’t ‘Creep’, ‘Fake Plastic Trees’. It’s a gorgeous reminder of the composure Bridgers brings to all of her performances.
The 1975 – ‘Girls’
Dear reader, I have a confession: I don’t like The 1975. It’s not even that I don’t like them, it’s just that I’ve never heard a 1975 song that really connected with me. Maybe I’m missing out on something here, but they’re a band whose indie-pop pomp just hasn’t penetrated my psyche for whatever reason. Obviously the same can’t be said for Phoebe Bridgers, who took on ‘Girls’ during her appearance with culture mag The Face in 2020.
Bridgers brings a level of remorse and articulation that the original doesn’t quite have on its own, and just as I felt with Wheatus, if I’m going to have to listen to The 1975, it’s probably best that it’s through the lighter-than-air vocals of Bridgers. She transforms the song into a lilting and uplifting track that feels as exposing as the sunlight in the footage below.
Sheryl Crow – ‘If It Makes You Happy’
A couple of cover songs have become staples in Bridgers’ live performances. She played Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle’s ‘You Missed My Heart’ at nearly all of her 2018 live shows, and Tom Petty’s ‘It’ll All Work Out’ has become a similar favourite for the singer to give a whirl.
But here we’re paying tribute to Bridgers “friend” Sheryl Crow, to whom Bridgers obvious found a kindred spirit and a source of inspiration.
Bridgers’ take on ‘If It Makes You Happy’ retains the fiery righteousness of the original and reimagines it for a new generation with a simple and impassioned performance.