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From Re:SET Concert Series: boygenius Rejects Girl Group Status

Anyone searching for the nostalgia of a boy band need look no further than boygenius — an indie-rock holy trinity comprised of musicians Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus.
Anyone searching for the nostalgia of a boy band need look no further than boygenius — an indie-rock holy trinity comprised of musicians Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. By Courtesy of Gwendolyn M. Ibarra
By Gwendolyn M. Ibarra, Crimson Staff Writer

Following a land acknowledgement and short song from Tecumseh Caesar of the Matinecock Turkey clan, “The Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy roared over speakers and the group’s Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson shortly introduced the night’s headliner, boygenius. The first day’s luck ran out after the entire lineup for day two was rained out, but boygenius fans — who began lining up for the sold out show at dawn, already indicating that the festival was going to end on a high note.

Anyone searching for the nostalgia of a boy band need look no further than boygenius — an indie-rock holy trinity comprised of musicians Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. Their Sunday performance — the last one of the Re:SET concert series at the stage at Suffolk Downs — introduced queer joy to fans of rock music.

Replacing the hedonistic themes of rock and roll, boygenius sang of unconditional love from a gay perspective utilizing rock iconography. In songs like “True Blue,” they wore cutoff suits that evoked images of AC/DC’s Angus Young. “Thank you for spending your Father’s Day with us,” Bridgers laughed at the song’s finish. Rather than emulating traditional female roles, perhaps the focus of boygenius is revolutionary music and performance to provide a model for other women and queer musicians. If their aim was to abandon the box of being a so-called girl group, “The Boys” have succeeded tenfold.

The collaboration between Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus began as a promotional project for a tour which they separately co-headlined in 2018. After setting out to record a seven-inch, the unexpected discovery of their chemistry led the musicians to form the supergroup and release a self-titled LP. Earlier this year, their friendship birthed fame with the release of “the record,” which soared at number four on the Billboard 200 and topped charts in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

The long-awaited set began with the first track on their debut album, “Without You Without Them.” The crowd watched in anticipation as a screen revealed boygenius singing a capella backstage. The three ran to the stage and began the energetic track, “$20,” driven by loud electric guitars and bold polyphonic screaming. The next three songs, “Satanist,” “Emily I’m Sorry,” and “True Blue,” deconstructed this unison to showcase each musician’s personal musical style.

Baker led the pack with filthy, burning sections of shredding in a musical tribute to classic hair metal.
Baker led the pack with filthy, burning sections of shredding in a musical tribute to classic hair metal. By Courtesy of Gwendolyn M. Ibarra

Baker flung her body up and down during the peak of “Satanist,” backlit by red hues of her image bordered by a barbed wire. The singer led the pack with filthy, burning sections of shredding in a musical tribute to classic hair metal. Bridgers and Dacus excitedly jumped up and down while they watched Baker hold her guitar to the sky in a visual descent to the underworld. Throughout the evening, songs like “Stay Down” and “Anti-Curse” began with Baker’s shivery voice and gradually became fuller-bodied with warm drums and guitars joining in.

Baker’s breakneck speeds were contrasted with the eerie strum of Bridgers on acoustic guitar in the ballad “Emily I’m Sorry.” The stage washed over with shades of green that added to the Grammy nominee’s supernatural sound. The beautiful choral sounds of Baker and Dacus singing alongside Bridgers return with lines that narrate a devastating apology to a lover named “Emily.” The stereotypes of sapphic anthems — the tension of a first kiss, heteronormative lipgloss, a certain degree of queer baiting — are left behind in Bridgers’ honest depiction of the full range of emotions within a gay relationship.

Dacus’ voice restored energy levels in “True Blue,” a comforting song of unconditional love and understanding that held the crowd in a warm embrace. As Dacus began the chorus, the racetrack filled with a sea of paper hearts that reflected the crowd’s true-blue dedication to the band. Dacus delivered an equally exhilarating performance without leaving her microphone, swaying with an occasional knowing nod while bright blue lights and fog marked the song’s high moments.

“The Boys” sang in conversation with each other during picks from their individual albums: Baker’s “Favor,” Bridgers’ “Graceland Too,” and “Please Stay” from Dacus which detail a girl’s struggle with suicide from three perspectives. Their distinct stylistic differences were complemented by images on the screen, beginning with a burnt-out highway sign for Baker. After five years, side-by-side performances of “Bite The Hand” and “Not Strong Enough” made it clear that their enhanced collaborative ability lies within their independent development.

The evening’s anti-establishment tone can be summed up in three words from Baker: “Respect the flag.” Halfway through the night, the crowd tossed a lesbian pride flag onto the stage which the musician draped from her mic stand. The pink colors blowing in the wind while boygenius chased each other across the stage and stumbled into a kiss at the end of “Salt In The Wound” was a heartwarming emblem of unapologetic queer joy.

As boygenius continues to reject the patriarchal and heteronormative limits of rock, they provide today’s youth with relatable anthems of love and growing up. For seasoned lovers of the genre, boygenius is the queer visibility they never had.

—Staff writer Gwendolyn M. Ibarra can be reached at gwendolyn.ibarra@thecrimson.com.

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