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Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers’ New Song, Is About Elliott Smith

Phoebe Bridgers Punisher

Phoebe Bridgers


Phoebe Bridgers is about to release a new album, ‘Punisher,’ and she hasn’t been very mysterious about the fact that the titled track is a song about Elliott Smith. ‘I wrote a song about how, if Elliott Smith were alive,’ she said to the New Yorker, ‘I probably wouldn’t have been the most fun person for him to talk to, I’m a superfan, and I know way too much about his music. So I wrote that as if I were the punisher.’

No mystery is left, you don’t have to do any homework with Phoebe, she gives you the answers even before you get the assignment – the song will be released at the same time than the album, on June 19th.

When I saw her perform with Ryan Adams at a KSCN Benefit Concert in 2014 – oops, a name she probably does not want to be associated with ever, ever again – I was far for expecting she would suddenly become one of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of her generation. I saw her a couple of times after that, she sounded like one of these sad girls with a guitar singing with a timid (and nice) voice under a pale light, but I still did not expect the amount of exposure she is now receiving. Articles in the New Yorker, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, admirative reviews published by Pitchfork and NME, this definitively looks like an overwhelming amount of press for her, while the abundant comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan in the press, have left me a bit pensive.

But now that she has conquered the world with her super indie group Boygenius and another album with Conor Oberst, ‘Better Oblivion Community Center’ – and I am not counting her first release produced by the infamous Ryan Adams at his Pax-Am Studios back in 2015 – she is preparing her second solo release, ’Punisher,’ with an almost perfect score from the press that has been able to preview the album.

The fact that she has a song about Elliott Smith should not come as a surprise, she has basically mentioned him every time she has been interviewed… Here, here, here, here, here and here,… I could fill the page with articles, while her stroll in the streets wearing a suit on a scooter for her Motion Sickness video is probably an homage to Elliott Smith’s video for Miss Misery… we get it, she loves Elliott Smith, and so do I…

So what about her ‘Punisher’ song? She is obviously stalking the same Silverlake streets, with a direct reference to the Snow White Cottages where Elliott lived for a while (‘And walk right by/The house where you lived with Snow White’), she pretends to go to the same bars (‘Hear so many stories of you at the bar’), and there’s even an obvious reference to one of Elliott’s famous songs, ‘Son of Sam’ (‘A copycat killer with a chemical cut‘), while the line ‘I love a good place to hide in plain sight’ echoes ‘some beautiful place to get lost’ (Elliott Smith’s ‘Let’s Get Lost’). There are probably other things… maybe ‘I swear I’m not angry, that’s just my face’ expresses the same sort of feeling than ‘You see me smiling you think it’s a frown turned upside down’? (‘St. Ides Heaven’) It’s just less imaginative.

Is Phoebe Bridgers trying too much to reconstruct this melancholy, this mal de Vivre, this aimless street wandering that she admires so much in Elliott’s songwriting? I bet she is very proud to have already been called Ms. Misery? Phoebe Bridgers may be the new prodigy, but to me, she is often one-note, one-emotion songwriter, wasn’t she able to recognize all these emotions in Elliott’s songs? Sadness is not his dominant color! I want to see her angry, but I don’t know if she can, she is all pastel colors whereas Elliott’s songs have contrasting colors with fire, passion, and deep hatred. That said, this is based on what I have heard so far, as I haven’t listened to the new album yet.


  1. Kii on March 9, 2021 at 7:27 pm

    This is a half-assed article. I don’t think you understand Phoebe nor Elliott.

    • Alyson on March 9, 2021 at 8:48 pm

      What do you know? If you disagree with my last paragraph, you are the one who obviously does not understand Elliott

  2. Sarah on March 9, 2021 at 10:32 pm

    This is a really weakly written and vague article. Sounds like you’re taking a young artist’s comparisons to another artist personally. More like, WE get it, YOU like Elliott Smith. Lol.

    • Alyson on March 9, 2021 at 11:18 pm

      Vague? The critic is easy… Why are you attacking me on this? I barely say anything critical about Bridgers, who cannot give an interview without mentioning Elliott by the way.

  3. GimmeOldIndieRock on November 15, 2021 at 3:16 am

    This twit is a one-trick bimbo and her milquetoast music sucks. Elliott had depth and his music–particularly the first album Roman Candle, as well as the two posthumous releases–are of high quality.

    I’m sure that if the mediocre Bridgers looked like the female version of Elliott, or was ten years older, she wouldn’t have been signed at all. I always think about how homogenous and interchangeable so many female indie musicians are and have been for the past decade or so.

    I wonder if there are many actually great female musicians of Elliott’s caliber who never reach the public ear because they’re deemed not sexxay enough for the public eye. I’m just one guy with one anecdote, but when I was a college DJ in a town with a big indie scene back in the day, there was a slightly more low key (it was the 90s) Phoebe Bridgers type with the cringy lyrics, boring rudimentary instrumentation and Manic Pixie Cool Girl stage persona. There also was a local four-piece with two guitar playing sisters–one sister played brilliantly sad-but-shimmery leads and and the wrote interesting, half resigned/half doomy lyrics which she sang like an American Nico. Over time I was surprised to see the Bridgers clone advancing up the show ladder to open for big touring bands, while these gals and guys never got a break. I alluded to the issue to one of the guys who booked the club who generally had pretty decent taste. He laughed at me and then blabbed about the skinny, scantily-clad, filler-lipped Bridgers clone in comparison to the two guitarists as if he was selecting an “escort” not booking a reputable music venue, ignoring the very obvious discrepancy between their amount of musical talent. I’m sure it’s even worse these days from judging by the crappier music and even faker looking “musicians”.

  4. GimmeOldIndieRock on November 15, 2021 at 3:20 am

    P.S. Elliott was a really nice guy, met him a few times before the big signing. I’d heard some shady stuff about JC years prior to his death, albeit from someone who had every right to dislike her immediately. I’m looking forward to ordering your book. The biography was a snoozefest.

    • Alyson on November 15, 2021 at 8:40 am

      Thanks for the comments and for ordering my book! If you feel like sharing more in private, email me at Thanks

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