Phoebe Bridgers on Abortion, Me Too, and Misogyny in the Music Industry

Given the state of the world, Phoebe Bridgers thinks it's healthy to be angry. As her star rises, the Grammy-nominated musician is taking her indignation and demanding better.

On a sunny fall afternoon at her label’s Brooklyn offices, Phoebe Bridgers sits at a conference table, reflecting on her abortion. “I hate going to the doctor's office, so doing that was anxiety-riddled,” the musician tells Teen Vogue between sips of an oat milk latte, wearing a Lucy Dacus baseball cap perched on her white-blonde hair. Though her singing voice soars and is silky smooth, Bridgers sounds California chill in conversation, with a low pitch and prone to liberal use of cuss words. “I also hate having people near any sensitive part of my body, so I was already nervous. [In the end, though,] it was just super nice.”

Bridgers first spoke publicly about getting an abortion after the leak of the Supreme Court ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Not long after, the day the final decision came down, she was headlining Glastonbury and led the crowd in a “F**k the Supreme Court” chant. “F**k that sh*t, f**k America. Like all these irrelevant motherf**kers trying to tell us what to do with our f**king bodies,” she added. As her star rises, Bridgers, 28, has become more vocal about the issues she cares about.

A lifelong LA native who grew up with her brother and now-divorced parents, Bridgers has been a songwriter since childhood. She began her career doing commercials to finance recording her first album. Just a few years later, she was sleeping through the announcement of her four Grammy nominations. She remains close with her mother (who approvingly called Teen Vogue “radicalized” to Bridgers before we spoke); when awarded the 2022 Billboard Trailblazer Award for Women in Music earlier this year, it was her mom who gave her the award.

Bridgers has her own record company, Saddest Factory Records, to which she’s signed friends including Haley Dahl of Sloppy Jane and queer icons like Muna and Claud; she’s contributing to hit-TV soundtracks; and she’s finally coming off her successful Punisher tour (named for her 2020 Grammy-nominated album). Over the last few years, Bridgers has also collaborated with other indie stars, playing in Better Oblivion Community Center with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, and performing with The National’s Matt Berninger.

Though people often associate Bridgers' music with themes of sadness and heartbreak, she’s in a happy relationship with Irish actor Paul Mescal. (I don’t plan on asking Bridgers about him, as she’s expressed discomfort with the attention on their relationship. But after we exchange hellos, she asks me to weigh in on an outfit choice Mescal texted to her. I vote for the blue suit over the floral button-up and black slacks.)

On stage, Bridgers’ righteous anger about abortion bans, anti-LGBTQ laws, and more overflows, which might seem in contrast to the quiet tone of some of her music. But inside the melodious indie tunes she’s famous for are lyrics that communicate that anger. Bridgers uses her platform to point out society’s faults and fractures. With her growing fame, she is using her indignation to demand better.

Phoebe Bridgers wears a Paul Smith shirt, Helmut Lang suit, and Nina Ricci shoes.

Photography by Chloe Horseman 
Photography by Chloe Horseman 

Bridgers’ rage makes her a logical musical icon for a generation that has plenty to be upset about. When Teen Vogue polled young people about their views in advance of the fall midterm elections, 71% said they feel “mostly pessimistic about the future”; 90% said the country is “on the wrong track.” Bridgers’ disenchantment with the status quo feels both authentic and appropriate. Her words and actions resonate with Gen Z fans who want celebrities to put their money where their mouth is, without anointing themselves as activists.

Over the years, Bridgers has made an effort to “show everybody what [she believes] in.” In 2020, during the uprising for Black lives, her sophomore album Punisher was set to be released on Juneteenth (an oversight, or “bimbo hours,” as she put it). Bridgers surprise-dropped the album a day early and encouraged listeners to donate to a list of advocacy groups. “That was one of my first moments realizing, ‘Oh, I actually have power,’” Bridgers says. “On the days where everybody's paying attention to me because I'm putting something out there, you can point it to something really useful.”

Other examples proliferate: covering the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” with Maggie Rogers as a fundraiser for Stacey Abrams’s organization, Fair Fight, in 2020; inviting the Texas Transgender Education Network to share resources at her Texas shows, in a state where teachers and social workers have been deputized to police trans children and their parents; and giving onstage shout-outs to the Mariposa Fund, a New Mexico-based abortion fund that focuses on undocumented people.

“I just think middle-class, upper-class white people are always gonna have access to health care and abortion, whether it's through flying [to another state] or even access to f**king organizations,” Bridgers says. “It's just so much harder for the people that it was already hard for, so I like the organizations that are making life easier for those people.”

Part of why she is speaking out about her own abortion is, she hopes, to make life easier for others by reducing the stigma around it — especially as the midterms approach, with abortion very much on the ballot. “Don't let anybody freak you out about an abortion,” Bridgers says. “Because unless you're doing it in an unsafe way, there are resources for you if you're trying to get one — and you should f**king have one, for whatever reason.”

“It's super safe,” she continues, returning to her own experience. “Shout-out to Planned Parenthood. I was very held during it.”

Beyond abortion advocacy, Bridgers has made a point of criticizing politicians like Florida governor Ron DeSantis, whose administration architected the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” policies for students. She led a chant of “F**k DeSantis!” during a sold-out May show in Tampa. “Everybody ready to say ‘gay’ on three?” she asked the crowd of thousands, who yelled back, “Gayyyyy!”

Bridgers has spoken to many outlets about her affection for her fans, many of whom are young and queer. She told the Tampa crowd, “I like going to places with an especially f**ked-up government, because the youth is so angry and cool.”

On the Punisher closer “I Know the End,” Bridgers starts off quietly, crescendoing into a wall of sound, wailing until you hear her voice rasp out. It’s a song written for screaming with your friend in the car at the futility of the world, at the egos of men, at the ugliness of our government. A song for being angry.

Bridgers’ wrath also seeps into her lyrics, particularly on tracks from Punisher, released in the first months of the COVID pandemic, ranging in subject from arguing over politics with her ex’s mom (“ICU”) to burying a Nazi (“Garden Song”). (A more obvious example greets you in the first track to Stranger in the Alps, “Smoke Signals”: “All of our problems, I’m gonna solve ‘em/With you riding shotgun, speeding ‘cause f**k the cops” – a line that gets a hearty cheer at her live shows, in my experience.)

“I didn't think writing about killing a Nazi was a political statement, it was just something I was thinking,” she replies offhandedly when I ask whether she intentionally incorporates politics into her lyrics. “Then [for “ICU”]... Those tearful political conversations are the worst. It's when I get the most hateful. And I think being hateful is okay, actually.”

It’s not hard to understand what she means. It’s not about being cruel; it’s about being ready to choose a side. And Bridgers seems more than ready.

Phoebe Bridgers wears a Chopova Lowena Dress, Grenson Boots, and Anthony Lent bracelet. Cece jewellery ring, The Sacred Other necklace, Bitersweets New York necklace, Talon earring, Catbird earring, all available at Catbird

Photography by Chloe Horseman 
Photography by Chloe Horseman 
Photography by Chloe Horseman 
Photography by Chloe Horseman 

Bridgers is part of a legacy of artists — including Sinead O’Connor and Fiona Apple (who became a Bridgers collaborator) in the 1990s, the Chicks in the 2000s, and countless others into the 2010s and today — who joined the music industry, looked around at the world and those running it and thought, This isn’t good enough. Alongside Bridgers, those  speaking out for what they believe in, especially when it comes to abortion access, include Megan Thee Stallion, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Olivia Rodrigo.

Paramore’s Hayley Williams, another Bridgers collaborator, was one of the few women in rock permitted to succeed in the 2000s; she has since criticized their hit “Misery Business” for contributing to a “‘cool girl’ religion,” “feeding into a lie that I’d bought into, just like so many other teenagers — and many adults — before me.” Like Williams, Bridgers has taken up the mantle in a movement to provide emotionally complicated music that is detached from the misogyny the genre was built on, and to make space to talk about different types of pain. Bridgers’ vulnerability is a key feature of her music and lyrics, earning comparisons to her icon, Elliott Smith.

Having been let down by the musicians who came before, many of whom were white, male, and straight — and some of whom took advantage of their younger, female fanbase — she and her peers feel a sense of responsibility to create better industry conditions than the ones they endured. “I’ll bite the hand that feeds me,” Bridgers, Dacus, and Julien Baker harmonize on the 2018 boygenius EP.

Today, rock and alternative are dominated by women-led, genderqueer, and LGBTQ+ artists from a diversity of backgrounds, from Mitski and Pom Pom Squad to Snail Mail and Black Belt Eagle Scout. They represent stories and experiences previously disregarded and ignored in rock music, overtaking tales of men hurting women and blaming them for it.

“It's just sad that we've been forced to identify with white boys…. I think it shows you how desperate we've all been for any f**king representation,” Bridgers says. “I also think, at the heart of it, it's just wanting to be understood.”

Phoebe Bridgers wears a Tory Burch sweater and pants.

Photography by Chloe Horseman
Photography by Chloe Horseman 
Photography by Chloe Horseman 

The arrival of the #MeToo movement in fall 2017 — and its long horseshoe around to misogynistic backlash — coincided with Bridgers’ arrival in the spotlight. That September, her debut album Stranger in the Alps dropped. The album's best-known song, “Motion Sickness,” is about her relationship with musician Ryan Adams, an indie diss track concealed in a deceptively light, lilting groove. As Bridgers later told The New York Times, she met Adams when she was around 20 years old and Adams was around 40. “You were in a band when I was born,” she sings. (In a statement to the Times via a lawyer, Adams called their relationship “a brief, consensual fling.”)

The newspaper spoke to multiple women about Adams and his alleged “pattern of manipulative behavior in which [he] dangled career opportunities while simultaneously pursuing female artists for sex.” Bridgers claims that after she broke it off with Adams, he “became evasive about releasing the music they had recorded together and rescinded the offer to open his upcoming concerts,” according to the Times. (Through his lawyer, Adams denied the allegations in the Times report, calling the accusations “extremely serious and outlandish.” Adams also denied withholding her songs.)

Bridgers and I trade names back and forth of celebrities we’ve long heard murmurs about, then turn to the biggest #MeToo story of 2022: the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard case. Not long after the trial ended, Bridgers liked a tweet that supported Heard, who made accusations of abuse against Depp in a high-profile, polarizing trial. (Ultimately, a jury found that Heard was liable for three counts of defamation, and Depp liable for one of three counts in Heard’s countersuit.) Across the internet, people mocked Heard and her allegations of abuse against Depp, and many celebrities liked Depp’s post-trial “comeback” posts on Instagram.

“I think that there's been this falsehood — and I think queer people are included in this — of having to be the perfect victim, or the perfect survivor, or the perfect representation for your marginalized community," Bridgers says. "If Amber Heard exhibited any neurotic behavior, it was held against her. Then Johnny Depp, out of his mouth, admitted some of the most violent, crazy shit in court, and it's somehow like, people aren't surprised?” 

The giddy public consumption of the trial was troubling, Bridgers continues. “That whole situation was so upsetting to me, that it was treated like a fandom war. Laughing at someone crying in court? It was disgusting.”

This is something Bridgers seems stuck on: What does accountability or justice actually look like in a society that continuously diminishes survivor narratives? “It can feel insular, like the rest of the world doesn't care about the same morals as us,” Bridgers says. She notes that, like Depp (who lost a libel case in the UK after the court found that a newspaper’s printed allegations that he was a “wife beater” were substantially true), many powerful men accused of abuse continue their lucrative careers.

“I mean, is [cancel culture] real? Who's lost their job politically? One huge offender is in jail for actual sex crimes, and then anything short of that is, maybe, they lose a couple friends or lose a couple jobs,” she says. “Then five years later, they're like, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry.’ And they come back, but they never apologize — they never go away.”

Bridgers is grateful for the solidarity she’s found with friends and others in the industry, as well as other survivors, but she won’t forget the cost. “It sucks that I trauma-bonded with a lot of my friends first,” Bridgers says. “We didn't get to come from a place of joy; we had to connect on something so dark.”

Phoebe Bridgers wears an Alexander McQueen jacket and shirt, Monse Skirt, Ganni boots, and a Steff Eleoff ring. Rug is from Home Union.

Photography by Chloe Horseman
Photography by Chloe Horseman 
Photography by Chloe Horseman 

Like many of her fans, Bridgers came up at a moment of reckoning over who holds power in the music industry — and the culture at large — and how they get to wield it. That’s why Bridgers takes her celebrity so seriously. Yes, she’s a musician who’s pouring her heart out onstage as fans sing (or sob) along. But she’s concerned with making sure everybody is passing the mic — and that it doesn’t stop with her.

“I'm selling me,” she points out. “If I post a link to my friend's GoFundMe, maybe two people will donate to it. But if I'm like, ‘Hey, I will trade you this piece of myself for this’ — I do it all the time with songs…. It’s a lighthearted way to draw attention to something that's dire. As a musician, I have no power to draw anybody's attention to something in any other way.”

Over the course of this interview, Bridgers gets fired up about transphobia (“I've been able to waltz through my life not seeing transphobia every day. The burden for trans people is they will be faced with it every day.”), cis, white, trans-exclusionary feminism (“Even the fall of Roe was pissing me off, that meme everybody was posting that was like, ‘Not celebrating July 4 for a lack of freedom, sincerely, women.’ I was like, when has anybody ever been free in this f**king country?”), police abolition (“It's so impossible to start anywhere other than from zero, right? Abolish is the only answer”), and more. 

But all this anger, it’s going somewhere. Bridgers loves a song that starts out quietly, and ends with a scream. “I feel like hate is actually healthy,” she says. “It's okay to be f**king super angry.” She sounds self-assured, satisfied — like her anger is fuel. Though she doesn’t share specific plans for her next act or album, as she gathers her empty latte cup and cookie wrapper Bridgers says, “Whatever I'm angry about now, I'm sure it will come to the fore in whatever I make next.”

Phoebe Bridgers wears a Hyke Jacket, Gucci top, Thom Browne skirt and socks, and Grenson Shoes.

Photography by Chloe Horseman 
Photography by Chloe Horseman 

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Photographer: Chloe Horseman 

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