Phoebe Bridgers’ Copycat Killer brings me ethereal ruin

By Lynlee Derrick, Forest Hills Central High School

With Spotify’s “Friend Activity” tab as a testament to my following statement, I have survived these past months on Phoebe Bridgers’ albums Stranger in the Alps, Punisher, and her Instagram stories. It’s quite frightening, actually, when I realize that I cannot fall asleep at night unless I put on one of her albums, but that’s life.

And it’s through this dependency on her music—I sing to myself “I don’t know when you got taller” far too often and off-key, of course—that I stumbled upon her release of Copycat Killer right at midnight on November 20.

This four-track EP features four of her past songs, songs that were already perfect in my eyes, remastered alongside the help of instrumentalist and arranger Rob Moose; it’s a new spin on past lyrics, and despite these being songs I have played thousands of times by now, I was still that eye-twitching, nail-biting kind of nervous. A kind of nervousness that is symbolic—that, in my eyes, is a sign from the universe that I may not be ready for what comes next.

But I never listen to signs nor the directions in my calculus textbook, so I clicked play.

The first track on this EP is “Kyoto,” Bridgers’ song from her album Punisher, and while the original version of “Kyoto” starts with joyful trumpets and a steady synth line, the Copycat Killer version of it goes back to its roots as a ballad.

And it is utterly devastating.

With celestial cello strums and her dynamic voice that frame “I want to believe / but then I look at the sky, and I feel nothing,” this version lines the song with empyreal silver lining that just makes it feel complete. It makes me feel complete.”

As Bridgers’ was encouraged to make “Kyoto” stand out on Punisher by not being the impactful, slow-burn style she usually sings but rather a strong, piercing rock song, this version was everything I imagined it would be after watching her “Diary of a Song” interview about the original version being a ballad. The string instruments harmonize to this eerie yet enchanting note, and Bridgers’ vocals step in as if this was how the song was always meant to be—as if it was normal for me to tear up 15 seconds into a song. Complemented by the orchestral instruments that only empower her raw vocals, Bridgers’ completely owns this song. She makes me feel light, like my bones are merely air and the world is lavender day-in and day-out. It doesn’t end either; even when Bridgers sings “I’m gonna kill you / if you don’t beat me to it,” nothing can shatter the macrocosm this song creates in mere minutes.

I find myself rewinding it over and over again to feel that emotional world—to feel the lyrics poison my mind with feelings so potent I can’t help but love them—and the masterful violins cosmically collaborate with her echoing words.

This doesn’t stop as the song switches to “Savior Complex.” Immediately, I note the difference of the beginning: violins start the song in a manner that somehow sets my body alight, ready for Bridgers’ voice. But the violins couldn’t prepare me. In all honesty, I don’t think anything could have prepared me.

With the foreboding string instruments setting the stage, Bridgers’ words are crisp even in my muffled, broken computer speakers. Her first words of “Emotional affair / overly sincere” are piercing, yet the song is soft as the orchestra moves like its own entity. They follow her emotion; they hold my hand as Bridgers reaches into depths of my soul with her starkly introspective lyrics, ones that don’t hold back about exploring her own personality, and her mellifluous voice reinforces this with the end of her second verse “With a savior complex / all the skeletons you hide / show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.”

Everything about this song is achingly powerful—so much so that my body cannot help but react to the purposeful silence and the crushing violin crescendos. It packs a sickeningly sweet punch, one so tragic yet tremendous that I find myself replaying this version of “Savior Complex” after I rewatch the music video for the 57th time.

I recognize that by now I’ve made it evidently clear how powerful Bridgers is on this EP; it’s not something new—her lyrics have always resonated with me—but the orchestral instruments embolden their impact. Maybe that’s because I regret giving up on the cello and made my mother get one for me that is missing a string. Or maybe it’s because Rob Moose and Phoebe Bridgers are a force to be reckoned with.

This second theory seems more plausible to me, especially as “Chinese Satellite” further enraptures my soul. With celestial cello strums and her dynamic voice that frame “I want to believe / but then I look at the sky, and I feel nothing,” this version lines the song with empyreal silver lining that just makes it feel complete. It makes me feel complete.

It’s almost some form of torture—how “Chinese Satellite” makes me feel whole—for Bridgers to then finish this EP with undeniably the most ruining version of “Punisher” I have ever heard.

Right away, her voice floats over the track. Truly, it floats. There is no background noise, no string instruments, no upbeat piano. Instead, the instruments slowly weave themselves into her lyrics. As Bridgers sings “And walk right by / the house where you lived with Snow White / I wonder if she ever thought / the storybook tiles on the roof were too much,” her vocals and the supernal strings lend each other their power.

This song—a tribute to her idol Elliot Smith, a neighborhood in L.A., and the instance of eyes glazing over when she talks to someone—is a giant build-up. As she describes “stucco” and how the drugstore is open 24/7, the chorus creeps into the song with long strums of the violin. It all builds up to fall delicately apart into light violin strums and contrasting cello notes as Bridgers gingerly whispers “What if I told you / I feel like I know you? / But we never met.”

I fall apart, too. Not so delicately, though, because her words are so, so soft in their sound, but they bore into me—into my heart and mind and the tears welling in my eyes.

At least this EP, “Punisher” in particular, gives me a fatally deific soundtrack for my cataclysmic ruin. It is an intimate yet short one, but that’s what makes it so significant.

Copycat Killer is all so purposeful, so planned, so perfectly colliding within its own macrocosm. Phoebe Bridgers and Rob Moose created an introspective masterpiece, and despite my friends knowing not to text me when they see me listening to it in the “Friends Activity” tab on Spotify, I cannot stop playing it.

This story was originally published on The Central Trend on December 9, 2020.