A Pretty OK Song: "Motion Sickness" - Phoebe Bridgers
Morning people fluster me. To be fair, among my closest friends, I'm the morning person, but that's only by virtue of the literal time that I get out of bed on the weekend (which isn't even that early, guys—come on). Real morning people, who don't just get up, but thrive in the morning, are a puzzle I feel like I'll never crack.
That doesn't stop me from trying. I set my alarm preposterously early on weekdays, with the naïve hope that maybe I'll be like a morning person today—maybe I'll get up and go to the gym, or at least do something productive like cook food to make lunches for the week (I think the kids call it meal prep?). But there's a fatal flaw in my plan: I don't use an alarm-like sound to wake me up; I use a local radio station, WNRN. So what often winds up happening, because I'm a weak-willed bum, is that I sit in bed listening to music until I realize that once again, I'm in the no-man's land where it's too late for me to realistically go exercise, but I also can't go back to sleep.
It's not all bad, though, because I often wind up getting introduced to new songs that I wouldn't have heard if I had gotten up, popped a podcast on, and gone for a jog. Like, for example, Phoebe Bridgers's "Motion Sickness."
Bridgers is a 23-year-old singer-songwriter from Los Angeles whose debut album, Stranger in the Alps, is "a collection of songs about intimacy, documenting how our relationships affect the way we view ourselves and interact with others." She's not unlike Julien Baker if she were from L.A. instead of Memphis: sparse-yet-beautiful music with soul-crushingly heavy lyrics, but with some unmistakable California sheen to the production.
"Motion Sickness," which Pitchfork called "one of the year's most exquisite breakup anthems," is a song about the end of a relationship leaving you feeling used and confused and numb and sorry and unable to escape, all at the same time. From the first line—"I hate you for what you did / and I miss you like a little kid"—the internal conflict is apparent, a ringing reminder that the people we love the most often wind up being the people who do the most damage.
A laid-back drum pattern and a steady electric piano lay the foundation for loose, bouncy guitar lines that keep the track feeling light and airy despite the weight of the lyrics. Bridgers's voice is a breathy falsetto in the verses, but gets fuller and more assertive for the chorus:
I have emotional motion sickness
Somebody roll the windows down
There are no words in the English language
I could scream to drown you out
Motion sickness is a perfect way to describe that special brand of ill that you feel when a relationship goes awry. You get sick to your stomach, a little dizzy and lightheaded, and find yourself feeling incredibly drained. A prominent health website noted that "focusing the eyes on objects straight ahead may help," but anyone who's felt motion sickness, either emotional or physical, knows that it's difficult at best to not look around you as the car hurtles down the highway—or back at the relationship that just ended.
Considering that the song is about an older man ("You were in a band when I was born"), there's certainly been speculation about who that person might be—perhaps Ryan Adams, who was playing in Whiskeytown in 1994 and whose label, Pax-Am, put out Killer, Bridgers's 2015 7-inch? We'll probably never know. But regardless, we should all be able to enjoy the burn that Bridgers pops into the second chorus: "Hey, why do you sing with an English accent? / I guess it's too late to change it now." No matter what confusing emotional stew this breakup has left her mired in, she can still poke fun at the foolishness of putting on a British affect to sing.
Until next week.