Gracie Abrams – The Secret Of Us

Finding a unique sound somewhere between Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift...

When Gracie Abrams was around three to five years old, playing on her father’s electronic drum pad, she couldn’t have dreamed that about 20 years later, she would be opening for “the most generous friend”, Taylor Swift, on The Eras Tour in jam-packed stadiums more than 30 times in a row. When she started writing her first lyrics at about eight years old, could she have imagined even a tiny possibility of being nominated for a Grammy as Best New Artist one day? Did she expect that in the summer heat of 2024, she would make her late-night debut singing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, when she was making her first-ever public performance in fifth grade?

So many questions, right? Fuck it, it’s fine. And the answer to all of them: probably, she didn’t. It’s weird to see thousands of recent comments and likes under her old photos on Instagram from ten years ago, as if we are in a time machine with Marty and Doc. Yet, it’s highly expected right now. When people see millions of views on her music videos on YouTube and read in the news that she became one of the top 500 most streamed artists on Spotify, hitting over 16 million monthly listeners, it’s pretty natural to assume that she is a big deal or that she was even destined to become one. 

However, just four years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, she was conducting a humble Zoom concert from her childhood bedroom in Pacific Palisades for only a 100-person audience. “This is obviously so weird,” she said back then, not even expecting this and this. “Nepo baby! Everything is clear with her”, would yell an adept of the theory, recently popularised by Vulture, from the internet crowd. Nevertheless, even a quick scroll through her old Instagram posts, where she showed her tattered “guitar fingers” and posted Elliot Smith photos, shows that she has lived for music at least for the last 10 years, approximately from 15 years old.

Around this age, she covered RadioheadNico, and The Beatles, as every icon of bedroom pop did. One day, she stumbled upon Phoebe Bridgers’ SoundCloud musicking, which was years away from the release of her debut album, and this train of new hope for “sad girls” started to move. Abrams’ debut record, ‘Good Riddance’, was very similar to ‘Punisher’s sound and could easily fit into the roster of Saddest Factory Records. Still, it looked promising thanks to its deeply emotional delivery, cute shyness, and craving to absorb new folk trends. The more interesting it was to wait for her next move. Especially while Bridgers was on hiatus, deleting her X/Twitter account and wiping all her Instagram posts. 

Remember her furore at The Eras Tour, which we discussed recently? So, ‘The Secret of Us’ marked her path to becoming the new country pop icon for sensitive youngsters with one more spare hour for music listening after the two-hour-long TTPD. Abrams didn’t continue to develop her Billie Eilish-goes-indie folk endeavors and instead turned to the territory of louder and more daring teenage anthems from the playbook of Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift. On ‘Risk’, her first and most popular single from the album, as well as in the music video, she has somehow connected Elliot Smith’sJoni Mitchell’s, and Patti Smith’s moods with an irresistible pop chorus and modest impudence (yes, I just made it up).

While her debut was full of longing and exposed vulnerability, this one sounds much brighter right from the buoyant opener ‘Felt Good About You’, filled with Vampire Weekend-ish jangly guitar rhythms and Swiftian catchy and nimble hooks like “I felt good about you ’til I didn’t” or “We were fightin’ more than laughin’, black and blue”. In ‘Blowing Smoke’, she channels Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow, simultaneously confirming the guess about some intergenerational bond with Kate BushPat Benatar, and Sandra with lines: “Tell me if she takes you far / Far enough away from all the baggage you’ve been carrying / Up that other hill to all the girls who’ll help you bury it”.

While there is still some strong Bridgers-ness in her oeuvre, like in ‘I Love You, I’m Sorry’ or ‘Good Luck Charlie’, Jack Antonoff’s “big bam boom” is getting closer in her sonics. Both figuratively and literally, in the Taylor Swift link-up ‘Us’, partly produced by him. The rest of the album is made in collaboration with Aaron Dessner, the primary folk producer of our time (Sharon Van Etten, Bess Atwell). Just like he helped Swift regain her roots in Folklore and Evermore, he supported Abrams along the way to more poppy material. Elsewhere, ‘Tough Love’ is almost a minimal electronics swirl with a pinch of R.E.M.’s old-school guitar drive; ‘Gave You I Gave You I’ goes The 1975-indebted ambient; and ‘Normal Thing’ has almost Jamie xx club-ready beats under the surface.

But still, the question of how Abrams came to music if her parents are totally into movies interests many, I bet. The answer is simple and very close, right in the following sentence. Her mother, Katie McGrath, is a big fan of Joni Mitchell and stuff (just look at this, I believe, family collection of vinyl), while her father, J.J. Abrams, is a very musical person, believe me (or click the hyperlink). Apart from his iconic participation in this ‘Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions’ thing, he is also totally into synths. We can confidently say that maestro J.J. is a synth enthusiast, a fan of synthesizer pioneer Tom Oberheim, and an obsessed collector of electronic keyboards. We can hear many of them not only in his movies but in his daughter’s songs as well. At least, I hope he let her press keys on a few of them.

According to Gracie Abrams’ words, the “wild stories” and “crazy imagination” of the father helped her become a storyteller, too, but in her own manner. “I push my luck, it shows / Thankful you don’t send someone to kill me”, she sings in ‘I Love You, I’m Sorry’, showing the family’s knack for blockbusters. Of course, this is not Marina AllenKaty Kirby, or even Maya Hawke level of poetry. Lines like “You were the best, but you were the worst” don’t help to establish a reputation as a literary-inclined American songwriter. Even her friend Olivia Rodrigo had hilarious puns already on her second single: “I made the jokes you tell to her when she’s with you / Do you get déjà vu when she’s with you?” However, Abrams continues to improve and sometimes delivers punch lines like “You were the crash, and now I break” in ‘Gave You I Gave You I’.

Let’s admit, not everyone is as highly talented as Phoebe Bridgers, breaking through the industry with just a debut album and making an iconic record on the second try — other musicians are forced to learn from their mistakes, and Abrams does so. She has come a pretty long way from this photo, covering songs by teenage idols, obvious borrowings from indie folk peers, and “that nepo-baby thing” to quite distinctive sonics and a reputation as a new soon-to-be Swifties icon. The experience of touring, which she didn’t have at the release of her debut, is clearly heard in her bolder and more open delivery. Maybe ‘The Secret of Us’ is still not her Sour or 1989, yet she is firmly committed to making one someday. In other words, hey, online teachers, leave that kid alone! Just let her sing!

7/10

Words: Igor Bannikov

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