The Maggie Rogers Phenomenon: Self-Realizations, Folktronica, & Instagram Stories
By now, most of us know how Maryland native Maggie Rogers skyrocketed to fame: the 2016 viral video of Pharrell's masterclass in which her Broods-reminiscent single “Alaska” was debuted. Her life has since been a whirlwind of well-reviewed albums, magazine features, and sold-out concerts. At only 24, she's become a modern American success story– one of a talented young woman plucked from university-level normalcy and thrown into the limelight without really asking for it. Recently, my Instagram feed has been filled with Rogers's concert videos, links to her songs on Spotify, and reposts of her Stevie Nicks-esque outfits. Why the sudden obsession on social media? What's with the highly publicized passion for the folk-pop concoction amongst 20-somethings?
Fans describe her newest music as “addictive, uplifting, and unique.” I was surprised to hear this; her latest album Heard It In a Past Life fell flat for me. “Give A Little” was distracting with its synthesized pop drum beats. I almost mistook “Overnight” for a Katy Perry cover, while “Past Life” feels too melodramatic for its lyrics. Rogers is attempting to step out of her comfort zone by incorporating R&B vocal runs, loud synth beats, and the classic indie-pop dichotomy of upbeat rhythms accompanied by sad lyrics. This combination results in a collection of overproduced songs.
Regardless, critics would be in the wrong to overlook some of the pure genius infused into the album. If you haven't already pay attention to the lyrics on songs like "Fallingwater."
I never loved you fully in the way I could // I fought the current running just the way you would // And now I'm stuck upstream // And it's getting harder // I'm like falling water, falling water, falling water
Nature-inspired lyrics, along with soul-resounding drum beats, leave me feeling inspired, almost cinematic. Surely something Florence Welch would approve of. It gives me hope that she'll keep sticking to her production originality as heard on "Alaska." Another heart-wrenching song is "Back In My Body," where Rogers is full of self-realization and ultimately decides to face her new life head-on:
I'm standing by what I said about the album being way overproduced. This is most likely a result of Rogers's collaboration with big-shot Hollywood pop producers like Greg Kurstin. Look him up, and you'll find he's worked alongside some of the most prominent names in the music industry. I find myself wondering what the album would sound like with some younger female producers on there... food for thought.
GQ wrote a piece on Rogers earlier this year, titled "Maggie Rogers Makes 'Weird' Music for Normal-ish People." The title exemplifies how I was feeling about Rogers. I had a hard time wrapping my head around her extreme popularity, but then realized she might just be a more palatable version of Grimes or Beck or even Björk.
Folktronica, in theory, is appealing to a broad audience. But after giving, let's say, Bon Iver's new album i,i a listen, that audience dwindles to a very niche crowd. Rogers was initially headed toward this genre (think folk + electronica + elements of hip hop + acoustic instruments), but her new album and persona is de facto indie pop.
I want people to be more expressive about their "weird" music. You should be able to post Beck's new single on your Instagram story if you want, and not feel judged by it. I've seen an immense amount of Maggie Rogers concert footage on Insta/Snapchat/Twitter, so there has to be a reason behind the Celebrity Worship.
Let's consider the rise of Stevie Nicks. In 1981 Nicks released her first debut solo album, Bella Donna. The album launched a persona that resonated with women all over the world: feminine, but mysterious. Elements of paganism. Flowy black dresses. Female empowerment ensues. To some, (most likely ignorant men) this "witchy" concept felt gimmicky. But women were using the persecution of witches as a translation for modern-day sexism: reclaiming some aspects of paganism became an artful form of self-expression. Rogers, I would say, is having a similar effect on everyone in 2019 with her nature-rooted prose, Stevie Nicks stage persona, and other-worldly style.
After speaking with her fans, I think Rogers draws people in with her authenticity and relatability. She's a free spirit, a sounding board for the existential crises of young millennials, and someone who glides across the concert stage with a zany elegance. Am I disappointed Rogers didn't push her musical limits more in Heard It In a Past Life? Yes. But that's part of her charm– she refuses to fit into one genre, opting instead to dance to the beat of her own (synth) drum.