Are the Boys Alright?

The Rise of Boygenius

Genre: Alternative, Indie Rock

Sound: Crisp, sometimes like summer and a little like autumn.

If You Like: HAIM, MUNA, Wet Leg, Ethel Cain, Car Seat Headrest, Big Thief

Why You Should Listen: gay yearning, boy band, accessible, meticulous guitar riffs, catchy lead-ins. 

My Favourite Tracks: “True Blue” and “Satanist”

2023 was a year filled to the brim with absolutely mind-blowing pop culture moments. Prince Harry dropped a memoir that was supposed to expose the royal family more thanThe Crown, but instead, he told us about his oscillating penis. The Weeknd’sThe Idolcame out to a wildfire of criticisms that werenotin his, or co-creator Sam Levinson’s, favour. The Green M&M got her boots back, and Barbeinheimer ruled the summer. To cap off 2023 in music scenes (other than, I believe, Nicki Minaj’s long-awaited sequelPink Friday 2), the general public bore witness to the mainstream rise of Boygenius, which they had likely been made privy to in the past. Named “Boygenius” because a“boygenius is someone who their whole life has been told that their ideas are genius. [...] genius is a weird, toxic word to use for anybody because it’s unattainable or it comes with, a lot of the time, abusive tendencies”, the band is composed of Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker (synonymously known as “the little one”). Even though these artists have since had stints on the mainstream’s radar, whether it was through the indie scene (whatever that means these days) or TikTok, the supergroup initially realized their potential in 2018 with a self-titled EP.

The EP became a whisper in the wind for those who were already fans of one, if not all of the trio. Within the band’s silent years, Dacus releasedHome Video, Bridgers releasedPunisher, and Baker released Little Oblivions—all critically praised and monumental to their careers. However, in 2023, the band made a surprise comeback, releasing three new singles within the first few weeks of January. Shortly after, in March, they released their fourth single, “Not Strong Enough,” and an accompanying music video.

To conclude this absolute whirlwind of an album rollout, the indie outfit released a visual album directed by Kristen Stewart to coincide with the album’s release. Unlike their short-lived EP, the release ofThe Record signified a commitment made by each member of the band, taking a year off their individual careers to become a cultural tour de force.

The band took to the road on two headlining tours in the name ofThe Record, selling out each show within hours. Fittingly namedThe Tour, the trio went worldwide (NA and EU) from April to October, making festival appearances in between, notably performing at Coachella in the US, Pukkelpop in Belgium, Connect Music Fest in the UK, and Rock en Seine in France. Their reach went beyond their own shows, however, with TV spots onJimmy Kimmel Live! and SNL, and Bridgers soloing “Not Strong Enough” while opening for Taylor Swift in Nashville.

More relevantly, they have been nominated for and won a few prestigious pieces of hardware at the 2024 Grammys. With nominations in competitive categories like Album of the Year, Best Alternative Album, and Record of the Year, they stand amongst heavy hitters like Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, and Taylor Swift with six nods. They ended the night strong with Best Rock Song, Best Rock Performance, and Best Alternative Album.

Boygenius encapsulates a certain brand of alternative rock and indie pop, merging all three of their voices together and stuffing their songs with creative guitar riffs that have an old-school appeal that many contemporaries lack. Boygenius resonates with a wide demographic because they remind millennials and Gen-X of music from their past, drawing inspiration from Sinead O'Connor, Cyndi Lauper, and Bobby Vinton. However, they simultaneously resonate with Gen Z by drawing on Car Seat Headrest, Big Thief, and Death Cab for Cutie (all influences found on this playlist by the band). Even then, there's something about this band that eludes words. Beyond their innovative style, there's an inclusivity and feeling of belonging that makes Boygenius' performances feel and sound special. As Jill Maples described in a show review for Pitchfork, "Boygenius turned New York's Madison Square Garden into the world's largest bisexual convention."

I was fortunate enough to see Boygenius this past summer on a spur-of-the-moment invitation from an old friend. It truly changed my life. We were a little late because my work schedule made us haul ourselves from Richmond Hill to Budweiser Stage in 2 hours. Although we may have missed the openers, we still beat the crowd. Level 200 seats, up close and personal. The lights dimmed around their silhouettes as they opened withThe Record’s opening track, “With or Without Them.” Budweiser Stage (as we all love or hate) is an outside venue, and thus, the band waited until sunset to start their high-theatrics performance. And what can I say? It was worth the wait. As the first concert—big or small—of my summer, I was not expecting anything I experienced. I was surrounded by Boygenius fans and their dads, boyfriends, girlfriends, and/or partners. A lot of them were white and most of them were young (of course, excluding their dads), but all of them were more than welcoming, just wanting a good time. A lot of people cried. The Toronto Boygenius Project, a fan initiative where everyone put a sticky note in front of their phone cameras to create a rainbow, was stunning to see in action. Everyone hollered lyrics of every song that seamlessly weaved into each other, with the band stopping after “Cool About it” to tell everyone about the band’s meet-cute origins.

As described in an interview with Music Collection: “We all met because we toured with Julien Baker. Lucy and I opened for Julien on the same album cycle. Julien was like, ‘You guys would love each other,’ and then we decided to all tour together. The first time that we were in the same space was the first day that we were a band.”

My memories of the concert were fading, already a haze, but I can distinctly remember how I was surrounded by so many people and colours. The pictures I took from the concert are long gone, but they've been permanently plastered behind my eyelids to this day. The band was a beauty to behold, but their sound rang through the venue, and their performances were especially crisp and raw compared to studio recordings. Beyond sound, however, I felt something that I had never felt at a concert before. It was at the Budweiser Stadium that I saw the fanbase that Boygenius had cultivated bloom. Something similar to the Swifties, but not quite. Something similar to Beyonce fans, but not exactly. It was, as Maples put it, a bisexual convention with boyfriends, girlfriends, and fathers tagging along for the Doc Martens, maxi skirts, dyed hair, and septum-pierced fanbase. In spaces like these, I tend to feel out of place because I am made uncomfortably aware that I am not white. But this crowd never made me feel Othered. Despite the seemingly white majority, the line of divide was never there. Boygenius and their fans created a space with their concerts unique to its members. As Maple writes in their account, "When they turned the cameras around on the crowd last night, for several minutes on the big screen, it was just a sea of feminine faces (sprinkled with a few masc ones)." And I could vividly attest that a similar happening occurred in Toronto. 

On stage, Dacus had been injured but still dragged herself out to perform for Toronto. She mostly sat in a chair with her legs outstretched, guitar on her lap, singing her heart out. For her solo song, she stood up and held the microphone with Bridgers and Baker supporting her from both sides. Back in her chair, Bridgers straddled her as they belted out another song and grinned through a kiss. 

On February 2nd, 2024, at the time I finished writing this article, Boygenius announced a hiatus during two acoustic sets in Los Angeles, disbanding to focus on their anticipated solo ventures. It is an unfortunate inevitability that supergroups will always be bound to disband (and hopefully reunite time and time again until they’resickof each other). Even though 2023 was the year of Boygenius, there’s plenty of hope from me and the rest of their fanbase for more music, more live performances, and more lesbian yearning.