“Jump[ing] in the Shallow End Headfirst” with Gracie Abrams
Issue 7, Volume 112
At 22 years old, Gracie Abrams may not be a household name yet, but that won’t be the case for long. An up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, Abrams has created a unique brand of heartbreaking bedroom pop that has earned her a dedicated fanbase, including A-listers Billie Eilish, Lorde, Taylor Swift, and Olivia Rodrigo. Rodrigo even credited Abrams’s debut EP with inspiring her hit song “drivers license” in an interview with Apple Music. For those who haven’t been closely following Abrams’s career, she is perhaps better known as the daughter of the esteemed film director J.J. Abrams. However, Gracie is a talent in her own right and has earned her spot in the music industry with clever ballads like “I miss you, I’m sorry” and “21.” Gracie Abrams proved herself once again with the release of her debut album “This Is What It Feels Like” on November 12.
“This Is What It Feels Like” is characterized by the same vulnerability and unsureness as her first EP, “minor” (2020), but Abrams exhibits a new maturity, both vocally and lyrically. While “minor” was defined by Abrams’s storytelling abilities, “This Is What It Feels Like” is a masterful reflection on being in love when you’re not at your best. Abrams stops downplaying her anxiety for the sake of the people she cares about and starts healing. Much of the album finds Abrams working through her self-sabotaging nature and inability to separate her identity from the melancholy that has shaped her music.
Minimalist production balances the unique rasp in Abrams’s voice, which is complemented by delicate piano melodies, echoey guitar, sharp ukulele fingerpicking, and hypnotic synth backbeats. The album has a sound akin to Phoebe Bridgers’s “Punisher” (2020) or Taylor Swift’s “folklore” (2020). In fact, four songs on Abrams’s debut (“Rockland,” “Hard to Sleep,” “Camden,” and “Augusta”) were written with and produced by Aaron Dessner, Swift’s “folklore” collaborator and frontman of The National. “This Is What It Feels Like” is bubbling with hidden pain and buried insecurity. While the high points signify Abrams in love, the low points see her scared of losing control.
These themes are represented strongly on the standout track “Rockland,” which marries the intimate hush in Abrams’s voice with understated production, making the song reminiscent of a late-night message to a regrettable ex. Abrams uses humor as a self-defense mechanism, joking about hiding in the bushes to spy on a party she wasn’t invited to and refusing to get along with her ex’s new girlfriend. Dessner lives up to his reputation, producing a fan favorite that is simultaneously “folklore”-esque and distinctly haunting when paired with Abrams’s chilling vocals.
But the true album standout is found in “Camden,” a prime example of Abrams’s talent as a storyteller. She reflects on the fact that she can’t picture her life past age 25 and admits to “self-diagnosing till [she’s] borderline.” Lyrically, the song reaches its peak in the second verse when Abrams expresses gratitude toward her brother for shielding her from cigarettes, implying that her self-deprecating nature could’ve caused her to abuse addictive substances if she had access to them. Abrams’s genuine contemplation is tinged with the enlightenment of quarantine; at the end of the track, she murmurs, “I really hope that I survive this.”
The 12th and final song on the album boasts Abrams’s most intelligent and descriptive lyrics to date. “Alright” sees Abrams in her darkest hour, looking for an escape from her cyclic self-destruction: “What if I drove to you backwards / Jump in the shallow end headfirst.” The feeling of being terrified by yourself is at once relatable to anyone who has suffered from intrusive thoughts. Abrams seeks reassurance, but from her tone, it’s evident that she’s old enough to know she might not be alright.
While “This Is What It Feels Like” might not contain enough radio-ready bangers to make it big in the mainstream, it will certainly be a success amongst diehard indie pop fans. The singer’s debut album creates a dreamscape of beautiful brokenness through dark humor and witty lyrics, resulting in a stunningly relatable pandemic record. “This Is What It Feels Like” possesses a strength unseen in Abrams’s previous works. In “For Real This Time,” Abrams sings, “I’m sorry if I make you cry tonight.” Well, we had fair warning.