Originally written as an assignment for American Literature class, I tied Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening to one of my favorite bands, Boygenius.
From the beginning, boys have been praised about their abilities, accomplishments, and most significantly, their potential in ways that women traditionally don’t receive. Their ideas are automatically given weight, almost by default, because of the cultural, implicit assumptions due to the fact that they are men. And perhaps this is the phenomenon that creates epidemics of male entitlement – society hypes men up for being men. In the music industry, a band composed of the three artists Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus express their ethos through their name: Boygenius. Unafraid to use their platform, their band name wryly calls out less overt sexism in the music industry as the three musicians fuse their artistry & songwriting inspirations in a pursuit of unabashed, women-led storytelling.
From their experiences as female singer-songwriters, Baker reflects that “women are taught to make themselves small. So when you’re a woman and there’s a producer or engineer that’s a man, you have to preface your ideas and seal them up in this little box of ‘I’m sorry, this might not be a good idea, this is just my observation…’ (Coscarelli). The name “boygenius” wryly mocks male entitlement, that far fetched idea of leading a life where one might always be taken seriously the first time.
That’s why for their EP, recorded over four days last summer in L.A., the three musicians removed men from the equation, while embodying that self-assured confidence with nothing to lose. If someone began to doubt themself, as women often do, their approach was almost radical in the freedom of reminding themselves, “No! Be the boy genius! Your every thought is worthwhile, just spit it out” (Coscarelli). Lucy Dacus explained, “we couldn’t waste time self-deprecating.” As Edna portrays in The Awakening, women face a societally taught instinct to “through habit, have yielded to [a man’s] desire; […] unthinkingly, as [they] walk, move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of the life which has been portioned out to [women]” (Chopin 33).
Our culture often requires that women rely upon a man for validation. But with the idea behind Boygenius, we can awaken ourselves with the knowledge that we won’t have to look to someone else for substantiation when we have our own confidence to begin with – that having half-baked ideas can lead to some of the most creative artistry, when what we do with something raw and not perfect is to just let it be. In an industry that pits women against each other, the three artists have found camaraderie, even bonding over each having known the guys “who’ve been told that they are geniuses since they could hear basically [… they’re the] kind of personality you trust because they’re loud. […] I don’t want to apologize for myself for 15 minutes before I do something because I’m afraid of people not liking it. I wanna be a boy genius” (Bernstein).
Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker point out the way that men they know have been praised as geniuses for their art, while women often are belittled and not taken as seriously. Taking action against this unhealthy, often subconscious way of interacting created a collaboration that cut toxic male influences out of the equation; the women self-produced instead, highlighting their own talent without the male-dominated, egotistical aspect of the modern music industry.
Because of the subconscious biases, the path to equality requires eliminating implicit stereotypes that unknowingly impact all of our decisions and thoughts. So while their personal accomplishments may not seem like much in the face of greater oppressions in society, like Edna’s awakening, they have expanded their own bounds and self-growth. In the words of a Pitchfork interview, “Boygenius offer proof in the theory that feelings respected by your peers will instill some of that respect back in yourself” (Mapes).
Because women have not had these self-assured positions in industries such as music, even something so simple as collaborating without male influence (so without the obligatory deference) is completely radical; it drives a totally different, freer feel into Boygenius’ music. And their name? Representative. It’s a reference that is both cognizant of the imbalances, yet aspirational for the remedy.
While their music doesn’t stray far from the realm of their tried-and-true folk-rock, their compelling insights and songwriting refreshingly mesh together in three introspective releases, each featuring one of the singers in the lead. The depth of their creativity and mutual connection manifests in soul-searching songs that hover on the edge of uncomfortably exposed but exactly what the listener needs to hear. With cathartic lyrics chronicling tumultuous experiences and devastating emotions, Boygenius will resonate with anyone who’s ever struggled to balance adolescence and young adulthood. They’re a power group of three artists with an important underlying theme: despite often being raised to make themselves small, women are just as powerful and worthy of the title “genius.”
Bernstein, Jonathan. “The Collaborative Magic of Boygenius.” Rolling Stone, 23 October 2018, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/boygenius-julien-baker-phoebe-bridgers-lucy-dacus-interview-746128/
Coscarelli, Joe. “Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus Formed an Indie-Rock Supergroup.” New York Times, 11 September 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/arts/music/boygenius-julien-baker-phoebe-bridgers-lucy-dacus.html
Chopin, Kate, and Margo Culley. The Awakening: An Authoritative Text, Biographical and Historical Contexts, Criticism. 3rd ed. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton et Company, 2018.
Mapes, Jillian. “boygenius Are the Egoless Supergroup of Your Indie Rock Dreams.” Pitchfork, 18 October 2018, https://pitchfork.com/features/interview/boygenius-are-the-egoless-supergroup-of-your-indie-rock-dreams/