Since Abrams started releasing work, the 23-year-old has become well-known for her deeply personal lyrics. However, the singer-songwriter assures me that listening to This Is What It Feels Like now feels like a distant experience and that much has changed since she wrote this at the beginning of the pandemic.
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"I don't listen to it," singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams tells me over Zoom. It's only been a few days since Thanksgiving, and Abrams is talking about her recently released project This Is What It Feels Like while gesturing towards the glaring computer screen connecting us. The body of work has only been out for two weeks. Still, the 12 songs – just over 37 minutes of music meticulously capture Abrams' intimate relationship with her mental health throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and include hyper-specific lyrics like "we don't have to leave the apartment" and "I don't know a lot that could hurt me."
The project opens up with a song titled, "Feels Like," a ballad about best friendship ("met you at the right time, this is what it feels like") and ends with "Alright," a 2-minute and 24-second lullaby-like poem that references escapism ("I still avoid medication, I'd rather take a vacation" and depression ("Someone tell me it gets better, because, for tonight, I'm just not alright"). As a listener, the project feels intimate and emotionally intelligent. The lyrics move back and forth between moments that capture self-assurance ("I've packed my bags in the middle of the night. I got up to say goodbye") and insecurity ("I bury baggage until it's out of sight. I think it's better if I hide it. I really hope that I survive this") and speaks to the ever-evolving process of self-acceptance and coming of age.
Since Abrams started releasing work, the 23-year-old has become well-known for her deeply personal lyrics. However, the singer-songwriter assures me that listening to This Is What It Feels Like now feels like a distant experience and that much has changed since she wrote this at the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, for her rapidly growing fanbase, the body of work feels timely, plucked directly from the pages of her diary, and catapulted into their headphones. Overnight, the project exploded on social media, where many of her fans obsessively complimented the specificity of her "very real" lyrics and the artist's "angelic voice." Yet, even with the explosive success of This Is What It Feels, Abrams still posts about her everyday life on social media, from the same childhood bedroom that many of her earliest fans remember. Her content is relatable: She talks about having bad days, cries to Bon Iver, frequently sports pimple patches, and talks openly about her ice cream-induced stomach aches. On TikTok, she shares snippets in the same universe: She cries to Taylor Swift, teases unreleased songs, and makes fun of herself without a second thought.
Even before This Is What It Feels Like, Abrams shared her thoughts in the form of a debut EP Minor, released in July 2020 by Interscope Records, and across her social media channels in the form of songs, notes, memes, and photographs. Early followers will also remember Abrams' Instagram account, which was once peppered with self-produced videos and songs written from her Barnard bedroom in New York. Before that, she posted about her Los Angeles upbringing. Her Instagram account housed anything from new songs to Spongebob memes and dates with her high school boyfriend Blake Slatkin, who is still a frequent collaborator and influential person in her life today.
In October 2019, Abrams released "Mean It," which has over 18 million streams on Spotify. She followed "Mean It" with "Stay" and eventually released her first project Minor, a collection of 7 songs that redefine bedroom pop and defy genres as we know them today. Minor led to a massive, sold-out virtual tour over Zoom ("Gracie's bedroom tour") that became so popular among her fans that they found ways to secretly share Zoom links to sneak in more audience members. In 2020, Abrams released "Brush Fire," followed by "Unlearn," a single made alongside friend and frequent collaborator Benny Blanco. "Unlearn" made waves on the internet and featured Abrams eating copious amounts of ice cream after an illusive breakup. Blanco and Abrams simultaneously promoted the song by driving an ice cream truck in matching handpainted overalls.
More recently, her attention on social media has turned to This Is What It Feels Like. The promotion cycle kicked off with the single "Rockland," a sulky ballad that received admiration from Taylor Swift. Later that same month, Abrams announced she would be touring with Olivia Rodrigo, a best friend. Still, even as Abrams' following and praise continue to swell across platforms, her content remains consistent since she made her Instagram public in 2016: Abrams is just documenting her life in real-time and sharing it all with her beloved fans.
"Gracie, please break my heart," wrote one user on TikTok, crying with Abrams' fan art behind them. "I am CrYiNg rIgHt nOw!!!!" screamed another while visibly crying in front of a green screen. Her fandom was quick to flock to the new songs from early November in the form of both memes and streams. Abrams explains that she spent the night of the release direct messaging fans alone in her bedroom and that her fans are the reason feels comfortable enough to put out such personal music in the world. Abrams explains that she tries to respond to every fan personally. This, she explains, is important to her because she feels like her fans are genuinely her close friends. "It's a personal relationship I have with each of them, and I really care about them," she explains. "I want to hug all of them. I can't wait to see them again on tour," she adds.
"I love Gracie because she speaks what I'm feeling but does not have the words to say," comments one fan on Abrams' TikTok. "Yes, Gracie. Teach me how to articulate my feelings," wrote another. "I literally LOOOOOVE gRaCiE So Much!!!!! She's literally my favorite, like, EVER, I couldn't live without her," comments another.
When I show up early to Abrams' sold-out show in New York, her fans are lined up outside awaiting her arrival. I watch as a collection of young women make their way toward Abrams when she graces the stage. Abrams immediately thanks the audience for coming out to see her. Then, before Abrams can finish one song, the same collection of young women have claimed space to the stage's right and start hysterically sobbing.
On-stage, Abrams is confident and self-assured. She pauses between songs, acknowledges her hidden all-encompassing social anxiety linked to performing live shows, yet still makes space for her fans to speak with her. "How are you?" she asks to no one in particular in the distance but still waits patiently for her fans to respond to her question.
"I love you, Gracie!!" says one fan from a distance before throwing a white T-shirt with handwritten letters toward her. "I've been waiting for this all of covid!" screams another. Abrams listens to their answers, responds individually, and then continues with her set.
Months later, over Zoom, when I ask Abrams if she remembers these same specific interactions from the tour, she lights up and explains the importance of these moments to her as an artist. "I'm just so grateful for them. They mean so much to me," she says, smiling at the thought of her fans. "I don't know what I would do without them. I can't wait to see them again on tour. I miss them so much already," she adds while gesturing towards her iPhone. Abrams explains that she tries to keep up with them over social media but that there is something special about performing on tour, especially since songwriting is so personal for her. "It was just so special to be performing something I wrote alone in my bedroom. It was such a full-circle moment to see people singing and enjoying my music. I can't tell you how much it meant to me," she explains.
Abrams finds that This Is What It Feels Like is one of the most personal bodies of work yet. "I've always had a journal. I was writing literally what was in my head," Abrams explains about creating the project. "I knew I wanted all these 12 specific songs on this project because they just so accurately represented where I was at," she explains about the specific time in her life that influenced her work. Since putting out the music, she's mainly been in Los Angeles, visiting New York, and collaborating with Aaron Dessner (at his Maine studio called Long Pond), who Abrams says has become increasingly influential to her.
"[Dessner] has been a really great sounding board in my life. He reminds me if you love something, your fans will love it too and to focus on that and why I write in the first place versus the pressures from stuff on social media or people," she explains. The two artists first released "Rockland" which begins with the lyrics– "Hey, I feel like I might say the wrong thing"-- mentions an illusive breakup ("broke your every heartbeat") and goes on to explore feelings relating to loss and longing ("I see you every night in my sleep, anticipating every bad dream, like falling with a knife you cut deep, you cut deep"). The singer-songwriter confirms across from me that "Rockland" is only the first of many songs that the two made at Long Pond and that there is a forthcoming body of work that will be out soon. This music, Abrams says with a smile, is true to her creative taste and unlike anything else she's ever put out. It's hard to imagine a body of work that feels more true to Abrams. Still, throughout our conversation, she reminds me that all of this– releasing music, social media, and meetings with collaborators, executives, and creative directors is still relatively new for her. Especially since so much of her career has been in the confines of her bedroom during the pandemic, she hasn't had many opportunities to meet many of her fans face-to-face. Instead, she's interacted with them online through virtual tours, direct messages, TikToks, and her art. As a result, her music connects with her fandom and simultaneously encourages young people to embrace the complexities of their emotions.
What's next? On December 6th, global pop star Olivia Rodrigo announced that Abrams would be a special guest on the Sour tour. In addition, Abrams announced her own The Is What It Feels Like tour, which officially kicked off in early February. These two experiences will have her on the road most of next year, touring, and connecting with more of her fandom. Abrams says she hopes to keep writing on tour, too, since she plans on releasing a lot of new music in the next year. When I ask Abrams how she feels about traveling, she smiles and reiterates that it feels silly to complain about touring because she's just so incredibly grateful to make music at all. "I love music so much, and I feel so lucky every day that I get to make music," she adds.
In the next few months, though, as Abrams prepares to travel the world, she says she wants to be present, hang out with her friends, bake, and just continue to focus on her craft. That, of course, includes journaling, recording voice notes on her iPhone, recording at Slatkin's studio, and sharing snippets of this all on social media for her eager fanbase.
"I'm just genuinely so excited to see my fans. They are so important to me, and I feel like we're real-life best friends," Abrams adds over Zoom. Moments after Abrams leaves, I open my phone to a 15-second TikTok: "Gracie please release more music from Long Pond. I know you want to," begs a fan. The TikTok was only posted five minutes ago, but already the comments actively populate. "Screaming, crying, throwing up, I'm seeing Gracie in a few months!!! I can't wait to cry and feel so much better after her New York show in Feb," comments another fan.