A Glimpse into Phoebe Bridgers’ “Stranger in the Alps”

Stranger in the Alps album art.

“Stranger in the Alps” album art.

Gabby Sevita, Arts and Entertainment Staff Writer

“Stranger in the Alps” is a collection of moments we relive in our heads, an album of memories and songs documenting how our relationships can alter our views on life. From the ghostly album cover to the forlorn meanings behind each song, Phoebe Bridgers delivers a debut album filled with ferocity, intimacy, and truth. The essence of Bridgers’ music emanates through the smallest details: a casual conversation, a song on repeat, and the awkwardness of exes. Bridgers’ woeful voice creates an understanding between her and the listener, resulting in heart-wrenching music that doesn’t appear too ghoulish. 

Throughout the album, Bridgers never fails to add veracity to her stories. Her lyrics are incredibly personal, sounding like they came from her own journal. “Motion Sickness,” being the most upbeat song on the record, is juxtaposed with the heavy content of the song. “Motion Sickness” illustrates her abusive relationship with an older man from the music industry, who guilted her into thinking he could propel her career. 

In 2019, Bridgers and other female artists revealed in a New York Times article that Ryan Adams had sexually and emotionally abused them. “I hate you for what you did/And I miss you like a little kid.” In this lyric, Bridgers reflects upon the emotional damage Adams inflicted, while also using the incredibly human experience of attachment to the familiar– despite how he built her up just to leave her behind.

Although Bridgers scrutinizes her present life in “Motion Sickness,” “Scott Street” is an assortment of memories and diary entries. It’s about the awkwardness of seeing an ex on the street, and the loneliness of revisiting parts of your life that you owned but are now shadows of your existence. “Walking Scott Street, feeling like a stranger/With an open heart, open container.” Her song is a bridge between the past and present, that weird feeling of reconnection with someone you used to talk to all the time, and the realization that everyone has moved on, that everything has changed, and no longer feeling welcomed by the place or individual who used to make up your soul. The train honk and the bike bell sounds in the final parts of the song are reflections of Bridgers moving to a different place emotionally. 

Suggesting that she’s departing one part of her life that no longer serves her in favor of entering a new one; she further explains the isolating experience of leaving the life you once knew behind. “Scott Street” ultimately analyzes the passage of time, the feeling of being a stranger to yourself, time moving faster than you can keep up with, and how you’re not going to be able to carry all people and memories with you. Eventually, you’re going to have to let go. 

The emotional mural Bridgers paints throughout her record is also home to a cerebral dose of cultural references, epitomizing the essence of death. “Smoke Signals” embodies a goodbye to childhood. While one can interpret it as another love song about miscommunication, there’s a profound undertone of leaving a part of yourself behind to embrace another. Bridgers evokes various humanly bittersweet feelings: wishing for a simpler life, waking up in your childhood bed, or thinking you knew someone who you didn’t. 

The closing verse, “I buried a hatchet, it’s comin’ up lavender/The future’s unwritten, the past is a corridor/I’m at the exit, lookin’ back through the hall/You are anonymous, I am a concrete wall,” leaves us with the heartbreaking notion that eventually we’re going to have to leave the familiar behind and adopt the unknown, that the future is out of our control, and in order to ‘forget and forgive’ we must relinquish that control and follow new experiences. She’s buried the past, and all the resentment engulfed in it, to achieve harmony within herself. Lyrically and poetically brilliant, Bridgers uses nature and other nostalgic glimpses of Bowie’s death to elucidate the cycle of life. From freedom to independence and ultimately death, she emphasizes the symbolic importance of coming full circle.

Bridgers’ album is permeated with an apocalyptic degree of peace whilst she plunges into her subconscious and evaluates what death illuminates about being human. In “Killer,” Bridgers divulges  macabre elements to her songs, whilst still maintaining the ambiguous poetic nature emphasized throughout the album. “Killer” dissects the dark components of Bridgers’ psyche while struggling in a relationship. Bridgers is an extraordinarily honest artist, hypothesizing her own death to cope with her uncertainty and fear of abandonment. She speaks upon the taboo, intrusive thoughts every individual has, due to desperation and the fear of losing someone you’re codependent on. “But when I’m sick and tired/And when my mind is barely there/When a machine keeps me alive/And I’m losing all my hair/I hope you kiss my rotten head/And pull the plug.” Bridgers finds catharsis in the death of what once was, and discovers that her worth is so entwined with this individual that her depth of attachment proceeds her, and she’s rotting away from their lack of love. “Killer” is a tragically eloquent song, illustrating the profound beauty of love and self-destruction. 

Bridgers sings candidly throughout the whole album, consistently expressing her truth, and typifying her authenticity. “Funeral” is a dismal ballad of grief. Bridgers sings brazenly about the heroin overdose of a close friend her age. On an abstract level, “Funeral” is a song analyzing the guilt from being overwhelmed with depression. Bridgers articulates how cynical and ongoing depression is: the cycle of feeling bad for feeling bad. Death is universal, and Bridgers humanizes the stigmas surrounding despondency within pop culture within her song. She defines the human experience of not feeling enough, of comparing yourself to someone worse off, in order to snap yourself out of the spiral. “Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time/And that’s just how I feel/Always have and I always will/I always have and always will.” Her song ends in acceptance of how it’s going to be, and how that’s okay.

Devoting her songs to both the past and present, Bridgers muses about a past relationship in the midst of her teenage years, indicating the impact it left on her as a growing individual. “Georgia” tells the story of a boy she dated from Georgia, the insecurities and constant need for validation cloaked within her relationship. “If I fix you/Will you hate me?” Bridgers discusses the toxic trait of wanting to fix someone else, especially those struggling with themselves, and in turn, the fear that one day the partner will outgrow you and no longer need you because they’ve become better. 

She provokes the question of how “If I fix you to become someone I want you to be, will you resent me for it?” It comes down to the idea of a one-sided relationship, how one can put in tremendous effort to heal and connect, yet the other only loves them for a fraction of the love they’ve given. “Georgia” speaks to the individuals who come from dysfunctional homes, those carrying the weight of everyone around them and are afraid of no longer being needed. 

“Stranger in the Alps” analyzes the human experience, feelings and emotions that follow heartbreak, and what it means to find oneself again. Though the album traces destruction, serial killers, and the stages of death, Bridgers formulated a remarkably devastating blueprint of anguish. She navigates through her life, dismembering her sorrow and putting it back together in a thoughtful manner. Bridgers leaves a lot unsaid, but after listening to her debut album that feeling of isolation and loneliness has faded. Oftentimes we need someone to relate to, someone to take our shared grief and manifest it into a beautifully poetic understanding. 

Bridgers’ ocean of music is wonderfully compelling. It’s the things she leaves up to the listeners, the fascination with death, and the darker parts of humanity that makes her artistry so tranquil. We come out of this album with the sense that she has discovered the healing she yearned for.