Phoebe Bridgers smashed a guitar in her performance on Saturday Night Live last weekend, and the internet is talking about it.
Though this particular event has caused the most widespread and consistent chatter, I feel like I could write a number of variations of “Phoebe Bridgers did _____, and the internet is talking about it.” She’s an artist who gets attention for more than just her two albums, 2017’s Stranger in the Alps and 2020’s Punisher, though she gets a lot of attention for those too. Bridgers is very present online, maintaining a well-loved Twitter profile with an impenetrable and self-deprecating style of humor. She’s tremendously dialed into the common Twitter practice of making something out of nothing as well as tweeting shocking and plain-spoken morbid or sad thoughts, which is also how her lyrics often function.
And she’s always working—collaborating with artists such as Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst under the name Better Oblivion Community Center, songwriters Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus under the band name boygenius, and providing guest vocals on the latest Kid Cudi album. At once blasé and all business, Phoebe Bridgers has collapsed the trajectory from buzzed-about indie artist to pop-culture mainstay in four short years. If ours was a generation that was inspired by the designation of one voice to represent us, it may as well be Phoebe Bridgers.
It’s this balancing act between the various appeals of Phoebe Bridgers that makes smashing a guitar on SNL the most Phoebe Bridgers action possible.
The most common act associated with instrument destruction is The Who, who were becoming an icon for youth culture at the time they adopted the practice in the mid-1960s. Then it was an act meant to set the band and their fans apart: to offend what came before and push towards something new. Now, smashing a guitar is mostly a cheap trick. The very act of repeating it fails to live up to the challenge it was meant to provide in the first place.
Phoebe Bridgers knows this, and she’s one of the only people I can think of who can have her cake and eat it too when it comes to contrived rock-iconography. She has the credibility to step into over-the-top, self-important, voice-of-a-generation theatrics, and she also has the self-awareness to poke fun at the whole concept. There is no joke you can make about her that she hasn’t already made herself. To try and pin down how earnest she is being when doing anything is a fool’s errand. Bridgers knows that smashing a guitar on will inevitably cause people to roll their eyes, but that those people will also have to comment on such a bold choice. And she knows that it will also somehow still upset some people, like Boomer-oracle David Crosby. And to do so on Saturday Night Live, a show that isn’t that great but that many people still want to believe can be great? Perfect.
All throughout the online chaos, Bridgers is sitting comfortably doing what she knows best—creating something out of nothing.
Jordan Petersen Kamp graduated in 2017. He works as the controller for Trellis, a certified Herman Miller furniture dealer located in West Michigan. In his spare time he enjoys talking about the books and albums he looks forward to reading and listening to someday—the ones that he’s definitely heard of but not heard or read yet.