In Rotation: Stranger In The Alps by Phoebe Bridgers

In Rotation: Stranger In The Alps by Phoebe Bridgers

The final artist on my Spotify Wrapped top 5 most listened to artists of 2023 brings us right back to where I started with this collection. My #5 most listened to artist, my first review of 2024 is none other than Phoebe Bridgers. Her debut album, Stranger In The Alps, which was released in 2017, gets its name from a line said in the edited-for-TV version of the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.” This line, which is quoted as “Do you see what happens when you find a stranger in the alps?” Phoebe said she found “kind of poetic on accident,” and so it stuck. The record itself is very much about sorrow, resentment, and sadness, and in addition to being about wallowing in these feelings, she also depicts attempting to get through and move past them. It is a beautiful collection of 11 tracks that proved from the beginning of her career that Phoebe was going to go far. So, let’s get into the breakdown–


Smoke Signals

Motion Sickness


Demi Moore

Scott Street




Would You Rather

You Missed My Heart

Smoke Signals (Reprise)



1. Smoke Signals 

Synopsis– Smoke signals are a form of communication, used most notably by Native Americans, where someone uses fire and smoke to communicate with someone metaphorically. In this song, Phoebe is depicting someone, most likely her partner, trying to use various forms of communication, including smoke signals (most likely metaphorical), to gain her attention. This track reflects on memories had by Phoebe of her and a previous partner, she notes how they have been able to find each other despite troubles and problems they face together and from life. But she feels as though, no matter what, they’ll find their way back to each other. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“I wanna live at the Holiday Inn 

Where somebody else makes the bed 

We’ll watch TV ’til the lights on the street 

Put all the stars to death” (Verse 3)

She wants to be able to live somewhere where she can be carefree and without worry, having someone to care for her and not have to do so herself. She’ll be able to spend her time with her partner and not have to worry about the little responsibilities that life usually deals out. She wants to just hang around with her partner, doing seemingly activities that have no meaning, but there is actually a lot of meaning to it because it is with this person. By saying the “lights on the street put all the stars to death,” she is most likely referencing living or staying in a city where the light pollution causes for the stars to not be visible.

“I buried a hatchet, it’s coming up lavender 

The future’s unwritten, the past is a corridor

I’m at the exit, looking back through the hall” (Verse 4)

These lines are ones that have particularly stuck with me since the moment I first heard the song, I find them very beautiful in a simple and hidden way. To bury a hatchet means to end a quarrel or to put away negative thoughts and feelings, by saying that it’s “coming up lavender,” Phoebe is expressing that by burying this hatchet, she’s at a sense of calm, peace, and serenity–all things that lavender is commonly associated with. “The past is a corridor” refers to the fact that the past was just a pathway to this unwritten, unknown future, the future that she is anticipating and this corridor is leading her to something beautiful and better than what has since come. At the “exit” to this future, she turns back to reflect on her past, and by looking through this hallway she is able to come to terms with this upcoming future instead of it being something scary. It’s also very purposeful of her to sing these lines right before the outro of the song, which I find very meaningful, it’s leading the rest of the album into this future that she is waiting for, allowing the past to fall behind her.

Phoebe’s Commentary– Phoebe has not spoken much on this track, but she has mentioned, “I think it’s just another love song. “Smoke Signals” is a love song about waking up to your reality, in a way, finding someone who shares the same interests as you.” (via Stereogum) 

2. Motion Sickness 

Synopsis– The 2nd single for this album, “Motion Sickness,” was sort of Phoebe’s “breakout hit.” While it didn’t get too much traction broadly when it was first released, it began to gain popularity, mostly thanks to TikTok, a few years later, and is her most streamed song on Spotify. This track follows the emotional distress, referred to as “emotional motion sickness,” that Phoebe underwent while being in a relationship with someone who was considerably older than her. Eventually, the subject in this song leaves her behind, which forces her to deal with not only the turmoil he has caused, but also now being alone. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“I hate you for what you did 

And I miss you like a little kid” (Verse 1)

The opening line of the track is very straightforward, Phoebe states that she hates what her partner has done to her. In this, she could be referencing a number of things, most specifically her partner’s controlling and abusive behavior, and then up and leaving her. By noting that she not only misses him, but like “a little kid” brings up the significant age gap between the two of them. Reflecting on this situation, she feels as though she and her feelings are not completely developed, while he was a grown man in a relationship with her, she still feels like a little kid in comparison to him. She is expressing confusion in these contradictory statements, how could she miss someone who was so awful towards her? She doesn’t know or understand, just as a little kid wouldn’t.

“You said when you met me you were bored 

And you, you were in a band when I was born” (Bridge)

The first of the two lines signifies that her partner wasn’t looking for anything serious in getting into a relationship with her. By saying this, she implies that he most likely did not put his all into the relationship and was not emotionally vulnerable. This, on top of everything else he’d done, made the relationship all the more complicated and difficult. The following line states that the subject was in a band when Phoebe was born, this is something obviously true and goes to amplify how huge the age gap between them truly was. This can also suggest that his boredom and desire to pursue a relationship with her stemmed from some sort of mid-life crisis that he was having.

Phoebe’s Commentary– While performing the song for the Tiny Desk series, Phoebe stated that the meaning of the song is “being in love with someone who is super mean to you, I don’t know if that’s relatable, you know, like conflicting feelings.” (via NPR). The person that this track is about, Ryan Adams, is 20 years older than Phoebe, and they began dating when she was only 20, making Adams 40. She says about writing the song, “I was, like, I really…hate this person, but that’s not interesting, so I should write it as if there’s more nuance to it. But in retrospect that’s exactly how I felt, and how I feel. I had so much to get over, and there was so much heartbreak surrounding that situation.” (via New York Times)

3. Funeral 

Synopsis– Death is a common theme throughout this record, and is extremely present on this track. Phoebe wrote “Funeral” about a friend of hers who unfortunately passed away due to an overdose. The friend in question was only a year older than her, which leads her to question what this could mean for her and ponder how life is not everlasting. She also begins to reflect on her feelings and wonders how she could feel this way when “someone’s kid is dead.” Unfortunately for her, this depression is not something she can get rid of and she can’t help but criticize herself for feeling as her life is too good for her to be this sad. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“And I have this dream where I’m screaming underwater 

While my friends are all waving from the shore 

And I don’t need you to tell me what that means 

I don’t believe in that stuff anymore” (Verse 1)

The first 2 lines refer to a dream (obviously) had by Phoebe, but she doesn’t quite understand what the meaning of it is. Why are her friends not helping her? Why are they all just standing on the shore acting happy-go-lucky? By them waving, they are acknowledging her presence, that she is there in the water, but they are not trying to save her. This song has a lot to do with continual sadness and the constant presence of it, which relates to the fact that she says that she doesn’t need someone to tell her what her dreams mean. She is full of too much sorrow to even care or put in the effort to uncover the underlying message of these upsetting dreams. She also can’t take the time to even attempt to wrap her head around any “meaning” she’d be given.

“Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time 

And that’s just how I feel 

Always have and I always will” (Chorus)

Phoebe describes her sadness as feeling “blue,” the color commonly associated with these types of feelings. She references the persistence of this despair by telling listeners that she always has and always will feel this way. This chorus is actually very powerful because instead of just singing the lyrics, Phoebe takes quick pauses between “I’m so blue” and “all the time” as well as “always have” and “and I always will,” which helps to further convey the ever-present feeling of sadness that she feels. It’s something that she’s used to because it’s always been there, but it’s much worse because she feels like it’ll never leave.

Phoebe’s Commentary– On recording and performing the song, Phoebe commented “It’s a different feeling going in and recording a song surrounded by all your friends. You’ll figure out you had no idea that a certain thing can bother you so much. It can be therapeutic. Sometimes I’ll sing “Funeral” and think, “Oh…a bunch of people are about to feel really bad for me. We’re just having a pity party right now.” (via Consequence) 

4. Demi Moore 

Synopsis– This song encapsulates the hardships that come with loneliness and how this can force a person to become very devastated and put in a rut. The speaker longs for some, any, form of connection with the subject of the track, but that longing is ultimately unfulfilled, and sends her into her own lonesomeness. In this track, Phoebe dives into the darkness of thought that comes with a desire to be desired and how it connects to her own vulnerability and the fact that she is still alone. Overall, it tracks the fragility of human connection and how quickly it can lead into isolation. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“It got quiet on the other line 

Said the sun was coming up, and I 

Laughed until I couldn’t breathe 

Now I’m too tired to go to sleep” (Verse 2)

The “other line” suggests that she spent the night speaking to someone over the phone, when they mentioned how late (or technically, early) it was, she couldn’t help but to laugh. This could signify her boredom and tiredness manifesting into delirium, or just her simply thinking “wow I can’t believe that this is the time and this is what we did for so long.” The final line is an oxymoron, being “too tired to go to sleep” is a completely contradictory statement. Her anxiety and depression is feeding into both her over-tiredness and lack of ability to be tired. This lyric speaks to how because of

“I’ve got a good feeling 

It doesn’t happen very often” (Bridge)

After going through a breakup and experiencing intense loneliness, Phoebe doesn’t get to feel happy or “good” very often anymore. She’s stuck in a state of depression and devastation because of her situation which in turn becomes this dark feeling of lonesomeness. In these lines, she is reflecting on, for once in what feels like forever, she actually feels good about something, she has a good feeling, yet she can’t understand what it means. She is forced to believe that it won’t last long, because it never does, and although she is in this moment of a “good feeling,” she has to think about how it is something that she rarely gets to experience.

Phoebe’s Commentary– With Demi Moore mentioned nowhere in the song, listeners have pondered where the name of this track came from. Upon questioning, Phoebe said, “The song’s title comes from the dumbest reason ever. Someone misheard me when I said, ‘[…]stoned anymore.’ They were just like, ‘stoned Demi Moore?’ It was a dumb working title, but I got lazy when I tried to think of other titles.” (via Consequence)

5. Scott Street 

Synopsis– This track gained immense popularity over the past year when it began circulating and trending on TikTok. It expresses the feelings of loneliness and the scenario of catching up with someone that you’ve had a relationship with but haven’t seen in a long time. The speaker can’t help but to think about how this person’s life is going, and wonders if they think of her still; and, if they do, what is it that they think of? It shows how she wishes that things did not end up the way that they did, but, because they did, what does it mean for the both of them now?

Lyric Pullouts– 

“I asked you, ‘How is your sister?

I heard she got her degree’ 

And I said, ‘That makes me feel old’ 

You said, ‘What does that make me?'” (Verse 2)

The final line in this quartet implies that the person that she is catching up with is significantly older than her. When she says that she feels old because his sister is graduating, he takes it as an insult, believing that she is also referring to him as old, when in all honesty she was most likely only thinking of how much time has passed since they’ve last seen each other. He probably sees that there is an inherent wrong to their past relationship because of this age gap, but doesn’t want it to be acknowledged by Phoebe or anyone else.

“Do you feel ashamed 

When you hear my name… (Chorus)

…Anyway, don’t be a stranger” (Outro)

Phoebe wants to know her past flame’s feelings towards her now, after their relationship has ended and they are finally seeing each other again after a decent amount of time. She is hoping that he still thinks of her fondly, but can’t help to believe that he is ashamed of her when he thinks of her, whether it be because he does not care for her anymore, which is what she does not want to be true, or because he knows that he way he treated her was wrong, and so he should be ashamed of his actions. The latter seems to be the main focus of the line as it was supposed to initially be followed by the lyric “I hope you do,” but there is plenty of room for interpretation of either meaning. Despite all of this, Phoebe still does not want him to become a stranger. Even though he probably did awful things during their relationship, she wants him to remain as someone that she knows and does not have to feel awkward around when they inevitably bump into each other.

Phoebe’s Commentary–Phoebe has mentioned, “I guess ‘Scott Street’ is about being really lonely. Sometimes I want to cop out and say it’s about a lot of different things, but really it’s all there. It’s just a diary.” (via Bandcamp)

6. Killer 

Synopsis– This song is the finished and produced version of the first demo and title track of Phoebe’s 2015 debut EP, Killer. Phoebe explores the darkness in her mind and soul and makes an attempt to cope with her insecurities and fear of abandonment throughout this track. Towards the subject of the song, Phoebe has very obvious conflicting feelings, and she feels as though her flaws may become a burden in their relationship. She believes that her partner is the only one who can provide a source of comfort for her but can no longer deal with chasing after their attention and affection, despite loving the thrill of it. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“But when I’m sick and tired 

And my mind is barely there 

When a machine keeps me alive… 

…I hope you kiss my rotten head 

And pull the plug” (Verse 2)

Phoebe wants her partner to know, assuming that they are still together as many years pass, that she has given them and their relationship her all, everything that she could have. She wants her partner to understand and to be at peace with this and also allow for Phoebe to go peacefully. She knows that she has done everything she can to show her love and appreciation and she does not want to be stuck in a state of rot knowing that she’s done everything in her power, she is at peace knowing that she gave all of her love.

“I am sick of the chase 

But I’m stupid in love 

And there’s nothing I can do” (Chorus 2)

She so desperately loves this person that she’d do anything for them and to keep them around, even if it leads to more pain for her. She is tired of having to go to extreme lengths and do extravagant things just to gain their attention, but she’ll do it if it means that they’ll remain in her life. She states that there’s nothing more that she can do to further prove that she loves this person the way that she does, but she is willing to continue to chase after them so that they’ll stay together.

Phoebe’s Commentary– When introducing the song for her Tiny Desk performance, she simply said, “This song is about murder.” (via NPR). She’s also reflected on the song by saying, “My song “Killer” is entirely about toxic energy and toxic feelings, and I don’t think I’ve gotten bad [reception] from it, ever. People who come up to me and understand that [song], it isn’t like, ‘my toxic energy is affirmed!’ It’s like, ‘oh my god, I hate feeling controlling.’” (via Jezebel)

7. Georgia

Synopsis– According to Pitchfork, this is the first song that Phoebe created for the album. It was something that she had written while in her teenage years and she finished and had it produced for the album. It is also one of the three songs to be featured on her debut EP, Killer. The track follows Phoebe’s love, admiration, and want for someone that was born in Georgia (as obviously suggested by the title). She refers to this person as the son of the state and ultimately reflects on her longing for this person.

Lyric Pullouts– 

“Georgia, Georgia, I love your son 

And when he gets older he might be the one (Oh) 

He might be the one 

Georgia, Georgia, he has beautiful bones” (Verse 1)

Phoebe is infatuated with this person and feels very deeply for them. Since she’s only a teenager, she cannot predict what is to happen in her future, but believes that as both of them age and mature, their relationship can and may become very strong. She knows that there’s a lot that has to go into that which is why she cannot automatically assume that they are going to be together forever, but she knows, at least, that this is the person she loves. By referring to them as having “beautiful bones,” she is expressing her love for every part of them. Beauty is a very subjective and superficial thing, something that is only usually seen on the outside. She cannot see this person’s bones, but she carries the assumption that they are “beautiful” because she views everything about them as beautiful.

“And if I breathe you, will it kill me 

Will you have me or watch me fall? (Fall) 

If I fix you, will you hate me?” (Bridge)

In these lines, she is expressing that she knows that there is a very high chance that things will not work out in this relationship. They’re both very young and immature and as much as they want things to continue, there are inevitable issues that are going to arise. She’s stressed and confused, wondering if she continues to spend time with this person–will it ultimately drain her so much, to a point where she feels she’s dying? At the same token, will they continue to stick around when she has problems and needs help? Will they allow her to help them change to become a better person? There are all these questions that she holds that she won’t ever get the answers to because this relationship is not one that was meant to last forever.

Phoebe’s Commentary– Phoebe commented on the song by stating, “The track “Georgia” comes from the fact that I dated someone from Georgia. I had never even been there before. I was just feeling super self-conscious in a relationship for the first time and just needing constant validation. That’s definitely what it’s about. That night [I’m singing about], there was a rainstorm, and he followed me to some weird coffee house.” (via Consequence) 

8. Chelsea 

Synopsis– This song, as mentioned by Phoebe, touches on concepts such as the obsession of how somebody could kill another person. The track follows the murder of Nancy Spungen, a media figure before “influencers” were a thing, who was killed in the Chelsea Hotel, accusingly by her then boyfriend (and rockstar), Sid Vicious. The song depicts the relationship of Nancy and Sid and follows the events that led to her death. 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“And you spit the blood back, spit the blood back, baby 

I’m amazed that you’re alright 

Oh, so long, prison boy 

I won’t be home with you tonight” (Chorus 1)

There is a well known theory that on the night that Nancy Spungen died, both she and Sid Vicious were attempting to commit suicide together. The lines in the chorus are meant to be coming from the ghost of Nancy, who is watching Sid not pass away as she did. It’s hard for her to fathom that he was able to survive this (most likely overdose) and withstand much more than she could (she was stabbed to death). She refers to him as “prison boy” because of the multiple times that he was arrested on counts of assault and domestic violence, and eventually for her murder, and this is her final goodbye to him. She says that she won’t be returning home to him because she cannot, but she acts as the lucky one in the situation because she is now free in death because her attempt was successful.

“Long before I reach one hundred, I’ll have fallen to the ground 

And for generations, they’ll romance us, make us more 

Or much less than ever was before, the Chelsea and the floor” (Verse 2)

Nancy was unable to achieve being 100 years old because she passed at only age 20, falling to the ground because she was stabbed to death. For years after her death, people romanticized their relationship and made it the face of the rockstar and rockstar’s girlfriend trope, despite all of the devastation and heartbreak that surrounded them. No one knew them, yet they made them out to be people that they weren’t–whether it be bigger or smaller than what they truly are. Phoebe mentions the Chelsea Hotel because that is where Nancy’s body was discovered, and the floor because it shows how unfortunate and sad her death was, it’s not like she passed away on a bed or couch, but on the cold and hard floor, probably falling right before she died.

Phoebe’s Commentary– Phoebe commented, “‘Chelsea’ was a poem that I started writing when I was like 16, and I discovered it way later and was like “wow, this still works.” (via LA Record)

9. Would You Rather

Synopsis– Phoebe wrote this track about her brother and the relationship between them, most specifically when they were growing up. It also depicts instances of domestic abuse, both witnessing it and being the victim of it. She talks about the resemblance between her and her brother and 

Lyric Pullouts– 

“You were still in the ambulance 

When the cops suggested you’re the one 

Who tried to burn it down” (Verse 1)

The first verse refers to the time that Phoebe’s house caught fire when she was 19. Both her mom and brother were injured due to the house fire and the police and their neighbors speculated that her brother was the one who started the fire–purposefully. Phoebe knows her brother better than anyone, though, and she knows that he wouldn’t ever do something like this, especially with the fact that he was also injured because of the fire. Earlier in the verse she mentions that during a game of would you rather, her brother told her that he’d choose drowning over dying to fire, she includes this in the context of this house fire to further show that she knows he wasn’t the cause behind it.

“We have the same face 

I laid awake as someone shoved you up against the wall 

Quarantined in a bad dream 

He’s half the man and you’re twice as tall” (Verse 2)

Phoebe starts this verse by acknowledging the similarities between her and her brother, mentioning that they have “the same face,” which exaggerates how close and similar that the two of them are. She immediately takes an extremely dark turn by recalling her witnessing her brother being abused by someone. Her brother is apparently bigger and stronger than this person, but is the one enduring the violence, most likely because he does not want to fight back. She is likely supposed to be, or assumed to be, sleeping by both her brother and the abuser, and is probably trying to, and she feels like she’s in a nightmare by having to see this.

Phoebe’s Commentary– Phoebe stated about she and her brother, that, “[S]itting in front of the TV was one of the main places we bonded as kids, second only to long road trips. This song beautifully shows that knowing someone means knowing all of their darkest and most gruesome childhood fears and nightmares, but friendship and time can turn those negative emotions into something useful.” (via Instagram)

10. You Missed My Heart 

Synopsis– This track is a cover of the song of the same title by Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle. It follows themes of darkness and depicts the twisted story of a murder. It follows the events of a man who is upset with how his relationship ended with his ex-girlfriend, that he breaks into her house. He tries to kick out her current partner but he stays put–which leads to his inevitable death by the speaker. The woman, who is extremely distraught, causes even more anger to rise within the speaker and he kills her too. He then is chased by police, arrested, and taken to prison, and eventually dies there. 

Lyric Pullouts–

“Saw him in the kitchen, hanging up the phone

I asked him nicely once to pack his things and go

He gave her a reassuring look, said he wouldn’t leave

But I asked him one more time, this time pulled out my sheath” (Verse 1)

The speaker most likely came to the subject’s home to talk to her about how their relationship ended, but seeing her current partner there led him to become full of extreme rage. He gave him the ultimatum of leaving, but understanding (most likely from stories that the subject has told) how dangerous the speaker is, he decided to stay in order to protect the subject. The speaker gave him a final warning and when he continued to stand his ground, the speaker kills him. He goes on to tell the speaker that he “missed his heart,” which comes across as a sarcastic thing to say to the speaker, giving him one final ounce of anger before he passes away.

Looking out the window, up at the blue sky

Listening to her scream, listening to her cry

A feeling of relief came over my soul

I couldn’t take it any longer and I lost control” (Verse 2)

After the murder of the subject’s partner, the speaker feels relieved, he is glad to have gotten rid of him and can finally have the subject again. The description of him peering out of the window at the clear blue sky makes it seem as though he is free of worry and burden. However, the death of her partner leaves the subject in immense pain and agony, and the speaker is glad that he could cause the same pain to her that she did to him. But it becomes too much for him to handle, and he loses his temper, goes searching for her, and ultimately murders her as well. The verse continues with the speaker naming all of the things that he missed doing with the subject when they were together as she is dying, and she finishes her life by telling the speaker that he “missed her heart.”

Phoebe’s Commentary– On recording a cover for her album, Phoebe said “I have this thing where I have to listen to songs over and over if I like them alot […] but then I was like, I have to play this. It’s an extra level, I have to get inside it. That song totally resonated with me, I couldn’t stop listening to it.” (via The Line of Best Fit) 

11. Smoke Signals (Reprise)

Synopsis– On the final track of Stranger In The Alps, Phoebe can be heard humming a 34 second version of the first song on the album while gently plucking a single string on an acoustic guitar. The mysteriousness and sadness heard in her tone of voice helps close out the album–bringing up feelings that are conveyed throughout the record. 



Although she did not gain major popularity until after the release of her sophomore album, Phoebe quickly rose to fame amongst the alternative scene and showed (and continues to show) the power that she has to become huge to all indie listeners. I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to see her live on 5 different occasions (once on her solo tour for her album, Punisher, once when she opened for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, and three times with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker as boygenius). These heartbreaking tracks never fail to leave my jaw dropped and my world shaken. I cannot wait for Phoebe to release new music because she has so much potential (as seen in both of her solo albums) and I know that whatever she puts out next will be incredible and most likely cause me to be speechless and in awe, as I usually am any time she sings. And finally–


1. Georgia

2. Scott Street

3. Smoke Signals

4. Funeral

5. Motion Sickness

6. Demi Moore

7. Killer

8. You Missed My Heart

9. Chelsea

10. Would You Rather

11. Smoke Signals (Reprise)





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