In Rotation: boygenius by boygenius

In Rotation: boygenius by boygenius

The next artist in my top 5 of 2023 (according to Spotify Wrapped) brings us back to the 2nd artist I wrote about, my #4 most played, boygenius. We already know and love them so there isn’t much to say about them as a group for now. But, I’d like to introduce you to their debut EP, which is so aptly titled, boygenius. This six-track EP marked Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus’ formation as a supergroup. For 5 years until their debut album, the record, this was the only music fans had to grasp onto. This EP showcases the power that this supergroup has, both individually and collectively, as well as highlights each of their vocals and their harmonies together. Even with just six songs, boygenius proved very early on that they were going to do great things. So, let’s get into the breakdown–


 Bite The Hand

Me & My Dog


Stay Down

Salt In The Wound

Ketchum, ID


1. Bite The Hand

Synopsis– The opening track, which happens to be my favorite song of theirs of the 22 they’ve released, is such a showstopper and allows this EP to hit the ground running. It focuses on themes of the parasocial relationships that fans have with their favorite artists and how it can be extremely harmful and negative to both parties involved. Fans expend countless time and energy into these artists’ music and work, and while all may be meant to be sweet and heartfelt, it can be too much when they also begin to invest themselves into the artists’ personal lives. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“I can’t love you how you want me to 

I can’t love you how you want me to” (Refrain)

This phrase is able to express so much with just a few words. Fans often don’t understand the extent to which their actions can cause harm to the people the they seemingly “love.” They want this love in return from their favorite artists, performers, actors, so on and so forth, but don’t understand that this is a love that cannot be reciprocated. They feel a deep connection to these people and resonate with the things that they say and because of that it’s easy for them to fall in love and want that love in return, but there’s nothing of that same capacity being given to the artist to make them love the fans in the same way that they do. Obviously, all artists should, and likely do, have some type of love towards their fans for all they do to keep their careers alive, but it’s not the love that the fans usually expect from them.

“Maybe I’m afraid of you 

I’ll bite the hand that feeds me (Bite the hand that feeds me) 

Bite the hand (Bite the hand)” (Bridge)

The term “bite the hand that feeds you” is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “[acting] badly towards the person who is helping or has helped you.” In this scenario, the speaker is essentially expressing that they may have to hurt the feelings of fans and turn them away so that they are able to maintain their own privacy and feel safe and comfortable in their career. Their fans are the ones who “keep them afloat” but is it truly worth it if they are unable to have a separate personal life from their art?

The Boys’ Commentary– When talking about the relationship between the band and their fans, Lucy explained, “[D]on’t feel beholden to the people that buy concert tickets. You still have to make art that’s true to yourself. Don’t be a people pleaser. Don’t feel compelled to come out after the show, because people are widely disrespectful. Even with kindness, people ask for more than anybody should give — to go out to dinner, or to kiss you on the cheek, or have a five-minute photo session or a one-on-one therapy session. It can be extremely taxing on the road, and I think all three of us need to remember that it’s okay to say no to the people that are funding your art.” (via Tampa Bay Times)

2. Me & My Dog

Synopsis– This song deals with the complex emotional turmoil provided by an unhealthy relationship, past or present. Although there are a lot of good memories associated with this person, there were also a lot of negative underlying things that the speaker was unable to catch until looking back on it because she was so swept up in the positives. This person had such a power over her that they and their mood affected her and her mood and although she’d do seemingly normal things, she’d still feel embarrassed or nervous to embrace herself around them. Ultimately, she details wanting to escape, to go far away, just to be with herself and not have to deal with the constant pressure of the relationship– or just the memories. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“I had a fever 

Until I met you 

Now you make me cool” (Verse 2)

In order to play on the word “cool” in the last line, Phoebe starts by singing that she “had a fever,” which obviously is something that occurs when one’s body temperature is too high. This metaphor conveys that despite her body being physically hot, something she is unable to control, even the subject’s mere presence is enough to “cool” her down, it is them being there that, although it can’t change how she is physically feeling, makes her feel better mentally. The use of cool could be solely to play on this metaphor, or it could also represent her partner allowing her to kind of take a step back and “chill out” in the more urban sense of the word, she no longer feels uptight and on edge about certain things because of this person.

“I wanna be emaciated 

I wanna hear one song without thinking of you 

I wish I was on a spaceship 

Just me and my dog and an impossible view” (Bridge)

To be emaciated means to be “abnormally thin or weak, especially because of illness or lack of food,” which is a callback to the first two lines of the song where Phoebe sings “We had a great day / Even though we forgot to eat.” Although she doesn’t want to continue to have this person on her mind and remain stuck with her memories of them, she is also wishing to go back to these times, even if they were causing her great deals of pain, all because she misses them. To get away from this anxiety and way of thinking, she is wishing to be somewhere else, outside of this earth. She wants to be with the only thing that brings her comfort, her dog, in a place where literally no one can reach her. Maybe only then will she be able to calm her nerves and think clearly.

The Boys’ Commentary– When speaking on the song, Phoebe commented, “Max is a black pug that I had since I was 8. He’s my best friend and he died at the beginning of last year at 16, which is very old for a pug. I wrote the boygenius song “Me & My Dog” about Max before he died. He isn’t memorialized on [Punisher], but it is just a dark, more adult take on life. Going home to an empty apartment was pretty [messed] up. Punisher has a dark tinge of loneliness. His death felt too raw before, but now I’m getting around to sticking him in stuff more…Max is the most pure thing I’ve ever felt anything about. It’s like the death of innocence. I’m not really a crier in therapy. But a couple of weeks ago I did EMDR [eye movement desensitization and reprocessing] for the first time and my therapist was asking me about traumas, all this [messed] up [stuff] from my childhood, the stuff that I’m actually paying for therapy to get through. Then Max came up and I started sobbing uncontrollably. My therapist was like, ‘Can you please use the tissues on the counter and not your sleeve? It’s gross.'” (via Pitchfork)

3. Souvenir

Synopsis– This track dives into themes of mental health and past trauma, dealing with these things from both an inside and outside perspective. It conveys the idea of the darkness that can reside within one’s head and thoughts, even if they do not mean for it to, it is something that they struggle with and unfortunately are unable to get over at this point in time. It deals with insecurities and the constant thought of what others may think of you, and provides a melancholy and longing feeling throughout the song. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“Always managed to move in 

Right next to cemeteries 

And never far from hospitals 

I don’t know what that tells you about me” (Verse 2)

This is something that Phoebe has not mentioned only once. In her 2020 song, “Halloween,” she sings the lines “I hate living by the hospital / The sirens go all night.” Although she states it as physical, the metaphorical cemeteries and hospitals could be the constant morbidities that she deals with in her head, implying that she likely fixates on what is morbid and that her head is somewhat of a dark place. There is a running theme throughout boygenius songs and solo tracks by all three artists that they are in constant danger of dying or getting hurt, yet they don’t do anything preventative for this case. They just let what happens happen, doing very little to combat it.

“When you cut a hole into my skull 

Do you hate what you see like I do?” (Verse 3)

In these 2 lines and within the entire song, it is evident that the speaker is not content with themselves or their life at this moment. They do not find themself attractive in any way, especially with their thoughts. The speaker hates their brain, their thoughts, and maybe even themself, but what’s more important to them is whether the subject feels the same. They can deal with it if it’s just what they feel, but if it’s the person that they love thinking the same, then there’s more of a chance that they’ll begin to reach out for help.

The Boys’ Commentary– Phoebe mentioned about the song, “It’s just very indicative of us, ‘cause Julien was like: “I have a stupid…song” and we were like: “What? That’s like the best song ever” and then we recorded it. I feel like we allow ourselves to do things that we do by ourselves with other people. It’s one of my favorites.” (via SiriusXM)

4. Stay Down

Synopsis– Following a breakup, this track describes experiences of physical abuse and depicts this struggle and the difficulties of trying to cope with such a thing. It also deals with the insecurities felt in a relationship and how difficult it is to stay in one where there is so much love that one feels, but it is extremely and increasingly painful in more ways than one. The speaker wants to be with this person so badly and cares so deeply about them, but those feelings are not reciprocated and she is instead met with pain, hurt, and fear. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“Wasn’t a fighter ’til somebody told me 

I had better learn to lean into the punch 

So it don’t hurt as bad when they leave” (Verse 1)

Julien sings about being taught to accept domestic violence from her partner, being told that if she lets it happen and “leans into the punch” it won’t hurt her as much. The third line also comes with two interpretations, one being the more obvious surface level idea of just feeding into this abuse because if she does, it won’t be as painful as if she puts up a fight. But, the other interpretation comes across as her allowing this to be kept up because if she does, when the relationship inevitably ends by the hands of the subject, she won’t be upset or hurt, but instead relieved. It seems as though she unfortunately loves this person so even if their relationship were to come to an end, although she’d be glad to escape their violence, she’d still be upset and miss who they are despite that. So, if she lets these actions continue to happen, she’ll finally be okay with the end of their relationship because the pain speaks louder than anything else that her partner is or does.

“I look at you and you look at a screen 

I’m in the backseat of my body 

Steering my life in a video game” (Verse 2)

In addition to the physical violence that she is facing, she also seems to be neglected by her partner and is beginning to notice how this person does not really pay any attention to her. She also feels as though she has no real control over her life, as she says that she’s in the backseat of her body. Yes, she’s making her own decisions, choices, and actions, but she’s doing it all to appeal to this person who doesn’t even care about her. It’s almost as if she’s just a character, she has the ability to choose what it is she does, but she’s not choosing so for herself, instead it’s someone else, a clone of herself. She feels that doing this is the only way she’ll be able to get out of this situation so she complies.

The Boys’ Commentary– When the song received a spot on a top 100 songs of 2018 list, Julien was interviewed and she commented, “‘Stay Down’ is a song about responding to confrontation, sort of an analysis of the feelings that arise when a person is trying to deal with a conflict and sifting through healthy and unhealthy ways to respond. The first verse uses the principle of physical combat in which leaning into a blow lessens its impact a as a way to illustrate how a person anticipating conflict or argument could start to anticipate negativity in a way that enables conflict instead of diffusing it, and how surprised that person would be if the other party turned their cheek—that is, if they were merciful or patient instead of antagonistic.” (via Songs For Whoever)

5. Salt In The Wound

Synopsis– Somewhat similar to the previous track, “Salt In The Wound” deals with a one-sided relationship, where the speaker knows and understands that they aren’t getting in return what they are giving to their partner, yet they don’t want things to come to an end. The speaker is being taken advantage of in this relationship and their feelings are very obviously unreciprocated. The subject has a very “up and down” temperament and the speaker never knows what to expect from them. The one thing they can expect, though, is to be shelling out unrequited love. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“You add insult to injury 

You say you believe in me 

But you haven’t decided 

About taking or leaving me” (Verse 1)

Adding insult to injury is to make an already bad or hurtful situation even worse, which is likely something that the subject constantly does. They don’t realize that they are the one causing the speaker so much pain and in turn, begin to add more to make it even more painful. The subject seems very aloof and not very truthful in saying they “believe” in the speaker. This mention of believing them probably is a response to the speaker expressing their love for the subject, and the subject understanding and acknowledging it, but obviously not reciprocating it. They are in this relationship, but for what reason? Because it seems to them as they have all the time in the world to choose whether or not they want to commit or to up and leave, and that’s something weighing down very heavily on the speaker.

“But you take and you take 

Like silks up my sleeve 

Tied corner to corner, never ending” (Chorus)

The subject is evidently just taking the love, appreciation, and care that the speaker is providing them with.They feel nothing is wrong with doing so and decide to just not give anything in return. The second and third lines refer to the silks a magician uses in magic tricks, which would be further conveyed in the following lines, they are never ending, tied together seemingly forever. This creates a metaphor of how drained the speaker feels by the subject, constantly dishing out all of the love they have to offer, and literally getting nothing back, but being unable to end the relationship because of the love that they hold for this person.

The Boys’ Commentary– Lucy explained how the song came to be by saying, “For me, the second song I brought in was “Salt in the Wound,” which I wrote in the studio, day two. I think it was a product of the place. We played it live once now and Julien is doing this ripping solo that I would have never allowed on my album, but it’s my favorite moment and you didn’t even want to do it.” Phoebe responded by saying, “In the studio, I was like, this is cheesy,” and Lucy combatted her response with “And we were like [wags finger] nuh, uh, uh. You have to do this. And you too, [Phoebe], were like, I’ve never belted this high at the end of my range, and me and Julien were just fist-bumping while you were recording.” Phoebe responded with, “Because at the end of the take, I’d be like, oh my god, I’m so sorry, it was horrible,” and Lucy stated, “And I’d be screaming. So that felt like a true victory, to me.” (via The Muse)

6. Ketchum, ID

Synopsis– While being out on the road and longing for home, this track reflects the homesickness that comes from being in one’s early 20s, touring, and constantly being away from home. With being on the move comes dissociation, somber, and emptiness, something that is very hard to deal with. The song tackles the inability of the speaker to call any one place home as there is no real home for them. They also are unable to truly experience any place that they come to, they feel lost, maybe even confused, and constantly detached from anywhere that they are. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“Back in the States now 

In a college town 

I could walk around 

But it’s really coming down” (Verse 1)

After being on a world tour, they arrive back in the United States, in a college town specifically. It is assumed that the college town they are referencing is Boise, Idaho, home to Boise State University, which is not too far from Ketchum, the town referenced in the title of the song. The boys have also commented that they’ve all harbored pre-existing love for Idaho, which is why they decided to land on it for the song. By saying “it’s really coming down,” they could be referring to the weather–whether it be rain or snow–making it hard to take a walk and experience the town. It could also be referencing their emotions “coming down,” feeling closer to home again, but still not yet home, which is causing them to be homesick and not even want to get out to explore.

“I am never anywhere 

Anywhere I go 

When I’m home, I’m never there 

Long enough to know” (Chorus)

These lines feature multiple directly paradoxical statements. For starters “I am never anywhere / Anywhere I go” , followed by “When I’m home, I’m never there” are both self-contradictory statements that in technical and literal terms, would not make any sense. These lines, though, convey the feelings of being on tour, constantly on the road. When touring, although they get to visit all these new, beautiful places, they don’t really get to experience them because they’re just there to perform. So, are they really anywhere? The third line about being home but never there is trailed by “long enough to know” which expresses that although they have time to be home, it’s never long enough as they are right back on the road again, so while they don’t get to experience these new places, they also don’t get to experience the comfort of being home. The constant change in location and scenery can be extremely hard to deal with for performers, something that the boys are obviously commenting on in this track.

The Boys’ Commentary– This song, which was recorded in 20 minutes, went into the studio unfinished and without a clear path, Phoebe reflects on this experience by saying, “We’re not recording this song. This is not happening […] What if the lyrics said this? What if we put this over here? What if we phrase it out like this?” She also commented, “It felt like a rock documentary […] Like Dave Grohl was looking directly into the camera describing this magical studio moment: ‘And then, just like that, they wrote the song in 20 minutes.’ It really did feel like that.” (via Rolling Stone)



For 5 years, this EP was all the fans had from this supergroup, unaware if and when there was going to be any more music from them. But, even with only 6 songs released, it was evident that this trio had so much star power to them. 5 years later and fans were blessed with the release of the record, the band’s debut album. I’m personally incredibly grateful that this EP isn’t all that we have from the band, but I’m also very glad that it exists and is what created this incredible and powerful group. It is clear that solo and as a collective, the boys are amazing and should all be praised for their wonderful work. Let’s just hope it isn’t another 5 years before we hear from them again. And finally–


1. Bite The Hand

2. Me & My Dog

3. Salt In The Wound

4. Stay Down

5. Souvenir

6. Ketchum, ID




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