Arts and Entertainment

Gracie Abrams Says Good Riddance to the Blame Game

Abrams stands at the forefront of bedroom pop fame with lyrical and vocal mastery, dragged down from the precipice by unremarkable production.

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By Iris Lin

Gracie Abrams’s fame is paradoxical. The bedroom pop singer-songwriter has been given the career-making opportunity to open for 30 dates on Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour, graced the covers of L’Officiel Paris and V Magazine, and gained goddess status in the niche world of sad girl indie pop. Yet she remains largely unrecognized by mainstream pop culture. The radio is almost entirely devoid of the stinging fragility of her lyrical mastery, and despite earning the high praise of Billie Eilish, Lorde, and Olivia Rodrigo, she has not achieved the name recognition that these anti-popstar admirers evoke. Ironically, she has been held up as an example in Hollywood’s enduring nepo baby debate—she is the daughter of famed filmmaker J.J. Abrams. Regardless of how Abrams landed in the music industry, the brutal honesty of breathtaking ballads like “I miss you, I’m sorry” (2020) have granted the 23-year-old a cult following. With the February 24 release of her first full-length album, Good Riddance, Abrams continues her slow ascent into indie pop stardom.

Good Riddance follows in the careful footsteps of Abrams’s minor (2020) and This Is What It Feels Like (2021), but it does not tread lightly. If her previous projects were tip-toes on a plush carpet, Good Riddance is purposeful stomping on the bare hardwood floors that lie beneath—unshielded authenticity. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Abrams explained, “I think a lot of my songwriting in the past almost placed blame on others before reflecting on my own role in a situation. [...] With Good Riddance, I wanted to grow out of that really desperately.” This newfound accountability for her actions brings an acute awareness to Good Riddance that adds immense weight to her signature breathy, delicate vocals. This is accentuated by Abrams’s bold vocal experimentation as she pushes the limits of her range, giving her music a new depth and expansiveness. This is evident on songs like “Where do we go now?” and “I should hate you,” in which Abrams flows masterfully between her soulful lower register and soaring falsetto. 

Notably, the album is co-written and produced by Aaron Dessner, frontman of The National and Swift’s folklore (2020) and evermore (2020) collaborator. Abrams and Dessner have worked together previously, with Dessner contributing to four songs on This Is What It Feels Like. Their new collaboration, however, is less successful; Dessner’s production feels recycled, distracting from Abrams’s lyrical originality by mimicking the soundscape that brought him and Swift success. Perhaps the best example of this is found on the album’s fourth track, “Where do we go now?,” which is nearly sonically identical to Swift’s “peace” (2020), save for a glorified clap track overlay. The entire album overuses grainy acoustic guitar backing, aiming to inspire nostalgic rumination but instead dulling the sharp edge of Abrams’s cutting vocals. Sonically, Good Riddance feels unoriginal, which is extremely disappointing considering that Abrams’s fresh lyrical and vocal skills are desperately needed in the blurred monotony of today’s pop landscape.

Good Riddance is at its best when it deviates from this cookie cutter production, primarily on the album’s first track, “Best.” The track layers dreamy synth with rich guitar strumming and subtle tambourine backbeats. The song’s upbeat pacing beautifully contrasts with Abrams’s unrushed, whispery vocals in the verses, and elevates her voice in the surging chorus and intense bridge. True to her goal of taking accountability, Abrams sings about a relationship that did not work because she offset her boredom with cruelty toward someone who genuinely cared for her: “You were there all the time / You’re the worst of my crimes / You fell hard / I thought good riddance.” It is from this line that the album gets its name, with Abrams intentionally twisting the phrase to mean good riddance to her past, reclaiming the insult as a reflection of growth.

The album’s seventh track, “Amelie,” is another one of its highlights, an echoey catharsis showcasing Abrams’s emotional rawness through sonic and lyrical simplicity. Abrams’s yearning vocals are rough and sharp, tearing desperately through the upbeat acoustic guitar backing. The song is about an existential conversation with the titular character—one that ends with a tearful Amelie slipping into the elusive night. During their impactful interaction, Abrams recognizes a darkness in Amelie that she sees in herself; their shared obsessions and intrusive thoughts bind them together in a twisted soulmate connection. Abrams’s enchantment with Amelie coincides with a disillusionment with her own mental health struggles. The familiarity in Amelie’s tortured existence feels soothing because it forges a connection with the most vulnerable, private part of Abrams’s identity, but it also threatens to suck her deeper into her own despair and consume her entire life: “All your words / Felt like a nursery rhyme / I’m comfortable / Handing you my whole life / When all of your words / Felt like a funeral rite.” The song maintains a nightmarish quality through Abrams’s fragmented memories and her haunting calls for Amelie. 

Good Riddance is Abrams’s metamorphosis. “I feel like all of the feelings that I worked through with this album were kind of the realest feelings that I’ve ever had and [about] the most formative experiences in my life,” Abrams reflected. Perhaps, but her formative years are far from over, and only the future will hold whether she breaks into the mainstream or remains in the world of bedroom pop. If she does break into the mainstream, it is unlikely to be with Good Riddance; Abrams may have found her voice, but she has yet to find her sound.