I love Maggie Rogers. I love her. She consistently gives me joy. Her art school vibe is earnest but endearing – and she’s deeper than just art school. Not only an artist and NYU graduate, she’s also just graduated from Harvard Divinity School after completing a Master’s in Religion and Public Life – a degree for people who wish to develop in-depth knowledge of the complex ways religion influences public life related to their career areas. How does religion affect pop culture and our everyday lives? Why do concerts feel like a sacred place? She went to Harvard to find out.
I was lucky enough to attend her concert at Lafayette two weeks ago, so she could play some new songs off her album Surrender, which released this Friday the 29th. She requested all 600 of us to wear white, as it felt like the colour of the album (she has synesthesia by the way, which means she sees music as colours. Other great artists who see this way are people like Mozart and the world acclaimed musical creator that has gone down in history as one of the best musical talents of all time, Lorde). At the concert, after playing Light On – one of my favourite songs – she mentions that we all looked like we were in a cult, singing along to the same song in the same clothes with our hands stretched towards the stage.
I had a lot of expectations for Surrender. My first knowledge of Maggie’s music was her album Heard It In A Past Life, which is one of those rare albums where every song speaks to you and you skip exactly none of them. She had long flowing hair, ran around in fields, and spoke of the stars aligning and planets converging to affect us here on earth. In short, she was a nature girl, and I recognized myself in her, as a fellow nature girl. I was disappointed to say the least when it was mentioned in The Guardian, “Rogers has expressed bemusement at being seen as a “nature girl”, as if she were a long-haired, bell bottom-clad flower child. ‘I think the nature girl was really funny. It’s a symptom of something greater, which is the desire to make things simple.’”
It’s safe to say that the expectations were high. I love Maggie Rogers, and her layers of multitudes, but Surrender was good, but not my favourite. To be sure, there are songs on there that are absolutely fantastic – but there are also songs that are not, and that I skip every time (I’ve Got A Friend, specifically. The jury is still out for Be Cool).
Coming from her previous album (let’s skip over her university album, as it was made before HIIAPL) of nature and earth and being in your body – to an album that sounds so New York is incredibly jarring. Not in a bad way, but just that it’s so different. Most of her album sounds like you’ve just arrived in New York, the day is new and you are in a taxi. Perhaps you have the windows down and you’re looking at the sky that you can hardly see because the buildings are so high. People are busy and always moving and full of potential. You are excited to get into it yourself, and experience what New York – what feels like the world condensed into an island in the United States – has to offer. That’s what Surrender feels like.
The first song Overdrive could be from the beginning of a movie. The studios have just shown their logos, the film opens with shots of the skyline moving through New York City. As soon as the first lyrics open, we’re down on the street, following people on their daily commute. It’s a long film opening, as the song is 3:14 minutes long. It almost has U2 Where The Streets Have No Name vibes. Excellent.
Followed by her two lead singles, That’s Where I Am and Want Want, which are respectively a confident song about her life and how she’s happy with who she is, and a confident song about wanting to be with someone and going out and getting it. The songs feel a lot tougher, a lot more guitar and drums than her previous works, which just shows how New York and Boston have affected her and perhaps transformed her into a more inner-city person, and someone who’s sure of herself. Natural girl (that never was, apparently) R.I.P. Her song Honey feels very much like ‘90s female rock like Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, or the Cranberries – plenty of guitar and drums, perfect for rocking out too (why does saying “rocking out” feel so cringe? We all love to do it…).
Shatter is another song like that, where it could be straight out of the ‘90s – and however I enjoy that song, there are perhaps too many high notes for me. I’m not sure. Have a listen and see. But it does make you feel like dancing around in your room in your underwear with your hairbrush, jumping and letting go. Good thing I’ve got tickets for the pit for her November concert! Wear good jumping shoes!
Perhaps my favourite song off the album starts confidently with: Watch you go / Cross the street like a dream out my window / Sucking nicotine down my throat / Thinking of you giving head. Ballsy! The song is about freedom, and craving that feeling of surrendering to life and joy and not having a care in the world. Something we all relate to as we get older with expectations and responsibilities that we have and simultaneously think we have, too.
Anywhere With You and Begging For Rain are both close favourites as well, and Maggie’s religious studies come through, You work all day to find religion / And end up standing in your kitchen / Wondering ’bout the way it’s always been.
The state of the world, and especially women and the planet (which could be the same thing, Mother Earth), have had a rough few years lately, and it seems to only get worse. I try my best to not be bitter / Give my rage a babysitter / Stop waiting for the adults to come home. It’s time to grow up and stand up for our rights, but we can’t let it affect our happiness during the day. What you consume becomes who you are.
Maggie mentioned at her secret show that she went to writing camp where she had to write a song every day for two weeks, and her last song on the album came out of that. Del Water Gap, her long-time collaborator, pulled it out of the 100 songs she wrote for this record. It was unassuming and she wasn’t even considering using it, but he was adamant. “Put it on the record; put it on the record.” And that’s how we ended up with Different Kind of World.
One last song, I’ll sing a song
And make it a song for peace
Though we all may carry on
May we do so decently
My hands are shaking, palms are sweating
Thinking ’bout the state of the world
When we’re ridin’ all together
I’m a different kind of girl
In her own words, “If you want-want what you want, then you want it.” In HIIAPL, she mentions that in her first album, “felt like me very much trying to meet the world. Where now I feel very much like: ‘This is where I’m at. Do you want to meet me here?’” She saw who she was and what she wanted, and she went out there and got it. It’s called Surrender. Out now.