When the pressures of fame hit her, the pop phenom turned to an unlikely place for solace: college.
Posted on July 28, 2022
Maggie Rogers never asked to be put on a pedestal. But as with most pop stars, once her music began to resonate with fans around the world, those fans began to look to her for spiritual guidance.
“There was definitely a time in my career where I wanted to be able to help out,” Rogers told Exclaim! from New York on Zoom. (Perhaps that moment coincided with when she sold products that depicted her as one of the mages.) “And I think maybe the biggest lesson is that you can’t help anyone else. other as long as you don’t help yourself and can’t be everyone’s everything,” she says, modulating with ease between fiery conviction and letting throaty laughter burst into doubled constellations. of her freckles. “The place I come to now… I feel a lot more relaxed, I think, because I’m just like, ‘I don’t know.'”
It might not be what she went to school to figure out, but it seems to have helped regardless. Exhausted from many months of touring when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Rogers was craving structure. In 2021, she enrolled in the pilot year of Harvard Divinity School’s Religion and Public Life Graduate Program and recently earned her certificate, fulfilling part of the degree requirement with her performance at Coachella. This year.
“Live music to me is the most spiritual thing in the world,” she says, and although studies show that practicing religion in a traditional sense has become less and less common, she knows people are looking for more than ever a sense of belief – and they often look to musicians to find it.
Rogers herself is no exception: “I’m a music fan, and I’ve always been a fan first, so I look at artists the same way,” she explains, echoing a painful lament for the loss of David Bowie to the frenzied essential of “Shatter”, taken from his forthcoming second album, Abandonmentout tomorrow (July 29) on Capitol Records.
“I take the responsibility of the scene very seriously,” she says. “I grew up in a super rural area where I had to travel very far to see music,” noting that coming from a non-musical family, it was always something she had to fight for.
“I think what artists do is feel really deeply,” she continues, noting feeling overwhelmed by “so many feelings in the world right now and so much to feel about the world right now. this moment” elsewhere in our conversation. The radical vulnerability of creation and performance often acts as a vehicle for audiences to access their own emotions; the musicians give us permission and encourage us to express ourselves in their mirror image.
But it’s a two-way mirror: “It’s a very classic songwriting trope whose most personal is most universal,” Rogers offers. “And that way I feel a sense of community. I feel a connection because I write about my most personal, innermost feelings, and then when someone says, ‘I felt that too,’ it means my experience is human and I wasn’t the only one who felt like the world was screwed.” And that is the foundation of peace – both in one’s own consciousness and in the world at large, for which the closing track “Different Kind of World” is a plea.
If making the album was world-building, her job in graduate school was to bring the world she had built into the world at large. (The parallels are surely not lost on her — her new album shares its title with her master’s thesis.)
“A lot of what I was doing in school was sort of preparing to re-enter the public sphere or preparing for the record release,” she tells me of the musical and scholarly backing pieces. The first was “a lot of thinking about how to bring people together and what I think are the ethics of that power and the responsibility of artists,” she says, after thinking deeply about the boundaries needed to protect sanctity. of artistic creation.
In what has become central to the mythos of Maggie Rogers, the Maryland native went viral in 2016 after a video of Pharrell Williams’ stunned reaction to an early demo of her song “Alaska” in an NYU masterclass, which earned him a major place. label contract. This song had its flash moment in a bottle, but it took him the majority of his undergraduate degree to write. Even in the pop machine’s pressure cooker, Rogers continued to defy the demands of an audience ready for instant gratification by taking until January 2019 to release. Heard in a past life. She knew they would be waiting.
The new record seems to pick up precisely where its predecessor left off, answering the call of the final track “Back in My Body” – in order to foreshadow its next move; as if she knew this was all going to happen. Three years after an album on past lives, she is more anchored in the present moment than ever.
This sense of physicality is Abandonmentis the driving force. The larger-than-life, oil-slick grit of Changeling’s lead single “That’s Where I Am” immediately showed new teeth—an image repeated throughout the album—to Rogers. “There are these big drums and distorted guitars because I needed a frequency that could send a shock back to my body,” she says, recounting being overwhelmed with numbness amid “so many dystopia”. She found solace in the distortion as chaos she could control, having never experienced it before because, she said, it didn’t seem accessible to her as a woman.
It was the singer-songwriter’s response to the sweetness that marked many heartwarming first pandemic releases, which made her miss the experience of being a fan, drunk on beer at a music festival. British. “I was, like, crazy feeling the bass in my collarbones,” Rogers says, and that hunger helped her unlock a darker sonic palette at times worlds away from her airy, flowing beginnings.
Going to college when most of the record had already been recorded (between his parents’ garage in Maine, Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in the English countryside and Electric Lady in New York) also made him realize that the world she had built was missing. Something. “It was just this weird blocking,” Rogers recalls, haunted by the feeling that the B-side – the half of the record which, ironically, is more about questioning than its counterpart’s declaratory statements – needed a lead. what’s more. During her Thanksgiving break, she found him in “Honey.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the song encapsulates what she learned most from studying religion: If she knew the answer, she’d tell you.
“These are all systems for organizing the chaos of the world, and for finding a sense of calm and reason in it,” she says of spiritual practices, “but in the end, there is literally no answer”.
And she finds a greater sense of ease under the cloud of ignorance. “Joy is an act of rebellion or resistance in an era that constantly asks us to make ourselves smaller,” she says, more assured of what is and is not her responsibility as an artist. “Like, that’s what I believe in,” Rogers said with a shrug. The rest is up to you.