Here’s how to get the most out of your listen to Boygenius’ “The Record”

All of the references you may have missed


Courtesy of Shervin Lainez

“The Record” invites audiences into the intimate lives of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus (pictured, left to right) through meaningful lyrics that tell stories.

Kate Gordon, Copy Editor

The first full-length album from indie supergroup Boygenius, “The Record,” is set to become this year’s album of the summer. Despite having its fair share of sad songs, including its tearjerker ending “Letter to an Old Poet,” the album as a whole manages to still feel overwhelmingly upbeat. “The Record” is an ode to friendship, adventure and the lived experiences of three young, queer women who genuinely love one another.

Boygenius is composed of three indie rock/folk artists who have all already achieved success in their solo careers: Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers, although the latter is admittedly the biggest of the bunch with almost nine million monthly listeners on Spotify. In comparison, Dacus and Baker have around 1.5 million and 400,000 listeners, respectively. Despite the unequal popularity of their individual acts, the three seem to be pretty equal collaborators on “The Record.” Baker has the leading vocals on “$20,” “Satanist” and “Anti-Curse” while Dacus shines on “True Blue,” “Leonard Cohen” and “We’re in Love.” Both take a backseat as Bridgers brings her “Punisher”-esque melancholy to the forefront of “Emily I’m Sorry,” “Revolution 0” and “Letter to an Old Poet.” You can catch the voices of the remaining members in the group’s harmonies, and all three women share the spotlight equally on what is arguably the album’s strongest song—or perhaps just my favorite—ironically titled “Not Strong Enough.” Baker, Dacus and Bridgers scream their hearts out and repeat the line “Always an angel, never a god” 12 times over until you too feel as if you’re “Drag racing through the canyon/Singing ‘Boys Don’t Cry.’”

However, the true genius of Boygenius lies in more than just the emotions their songs evoke. “The Record” is littered with references to both other musicians and to famous works of art and literature, something that is unsurprising considering how the trio met. Baker first formed a connection with Dacus in 2016 when she saw Dacus reading Henry James in the green room of a venue, and the two of them “became friends and developed mutual, unspoken crushes as they wrote each other lengthy correspondences online,” according to Pitchfork. A mere month later, Baker and Bridgers exchanged favorite poets and authors in an email thread of their own. Two years later, all three artists headed into the studio to record a single together. One song turned into six, and eventually Boygenius’ first album. The longer runtime of their second album finally gave the group the space they needed to truly explore their sound, and incorporate into their lyrics the art and artists who brought the three of them together in the first place.

It would be next to impossible to explain in-depth every single reference in the album, so here are the highlights. “$20” has two lines describing the famous Vietnam war protest photograph “Flower Power,” in which a protester places a carnation into the barrel of a soldier’s rifle. “Cool About It” is inspired by Simon & Garfunkel vocalist Paul Simon and interpolates the band’s “The Boxer” into its opening melody. “Not Strong Enough” and its chorus takes its name from Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough”—Crow asks “Are you strong enough to be my man?” and Boygenius answers “I am/Not strong enough to be your man.” “Not Strong Enough” also names The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” as the soundtrack to the group’s race through the canyon, cut short by Baker’s intrusive thought, “Do you see us getting scraped up off the pavement?/I don’t know why I am.”

“Revolution 0” sounds eerily similar to an Elliott Smith song, and references John Lennon’s pronunciation of “music” as “muzak” in his song “How Do You Sleep?” which critiques his former bandmate Paul McCartney. “Leonard Cohen” is about, obviously, singer and writer Leonard Cohen, and uses his refrain “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Interestingly, parts of this line also appeared in two different songs on Lana Del Rey’s new release, “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.” If there’s another older artist heading for a sudden resurgence on TikTok, I’m betting it’s going to be Leonard Cohen.

The references round out with a mention of the biblical book “Ecclesiastes” in “Satanist” and a line from my favorite author Joan Didion in “Anti-Curse” that goes “Was anyone ever so young?” and hails from her essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” Finally, the title of “Letter to an Old Poet” is slightly changed from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet,” one of Dacus’s favorite books. The song itself is a continuation of “Me & My Dog,” the standout hit from Boygenius’ last album. In “Me & My Dog,” Bridgers sings “I wanna hear one song without thinking of you/I wish I was on a spaceship/Just me and my dog and an impossible view.” In “Letter to an Old Poet,” it’s now “I’m ready to walk into my room without lookin’ for you/I’ll go up to the top of our building/And remember my dog when I see the full moon.” 

Apart from these musical and literary references, there is still one more kind that takes up a significant amount of space on “The Record”: the personal ones. The titular “Emily” of “Emily I’m Sorry” is rumored to be Emily Bannon, a fellow vocal artist and voiceover actress who’s a former partner of Bridgers. On the track, Bridgers laments not being a better partner to her. And on “Leonard Cohen,” Dacus sings about another incident, the time Bridgers was so into the song “The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron and Wine that she missed their exit and added an entire hour onto the band’s drive. Bridgers’ bandmates were far from mad, however, Dacus again singing that “it gave us more time to embarrass ourselves/Telling stories we wouldn’t tell anybody else.”

The hidden meanings of “The Record” are so special because they’re more than just name drops or instances of the bandmates trying to look smarter than they are. Baker, Dacus and Bridgers are sharing their favorite books, songs and times spent together. It’s like being let into their secret club, even if only for the three or four minutes a song lasts. And while deciphering the messages they’ve left behind and listening to the band’s stories isn’t the same as actually experiencing Boygenius’ riotous, chaotic friendship for itself, it’s as close as any of us are ever going to get. I’ll take it.