By Melanie Broussalian-
It’s no secret that the aughts are back: the teens are reviving low-rise jeans, Crocs are no longer worn ironically, and the nostalgia around an age before the pervasiveness of social media has never been stronger. So how do you make music that encapsulates that feeling without being completely derivative? Enter Maggie Rogers’ newest album, Surrender.
When Rogers released her first new single, “That’s Where I Am”— her first since her 2019 debut Heard It in a Past Life—the immediate imagery it conjured for listeners across the internet was the credits scene of an early 2000’s rom com, perhaps starring fierce teen icons like Julia Stiles or Brittany Murphy. Much to Rogers’ delight, that’s exactly what she was going for and it set both the tone and expectation of what was to come. The resulting full-length release expands on this specific, yet incredible, tangible essence: that we’re all capable of being the main characters of our own stories. In the midst of creating Surrender, Rogers attended Harvard Divinity School, where she earned a master’s degree in the study of religion and public life. Specifically, she focused on the spirituality of public gatherings and ethics in pop culture, and her findings weave themselves into the fabric of the album. Rogers comes out of the gate strong with the opening trio “Overdrive,” the aforementioned single, “That’s Where I Am,” and her following single, “Want, Want.” All featuring varying degrees of raunchy, reverb-y synths and snarling guitars, Surrender announces itself as a pandemic record not in its insularity but in its desire for physical connection in the outside world.
Even in the quieter moments on the record, Rogers is relentless from start to end, but in a way that’s gratifying and not grating. Part of the magic touch of this album is due to co-producer Kid Harpoon, who, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated pop producers in music right now. Middle track “Horses,” an acoustic, mid-tempo ballad, is particularly special in its honesty and raw pleading: “I see horses running wild I wish I could feel like that for just a minute. Would you come with me, or would you resist? Oh, could you just give in?” Rogers is doing less hiding behind veiled metaphors that characterized Heard It in a Past Life. Life is too short for pretense, so why not just get straight to the point? Sonically, Surrender feels more grounded, trading the ethereal quality of Rogers’ previous work for a grittiness and distortion you can hold onto. Songs like “Be Cool” and “Honey” tap into that early aughts joy, made famous by the likes of Leslie Mills, Lucy Woodward and Liz Phair (to name a few), but in a way that brings something different to the table. Perhaps the secret sauce lies more in instrumental restraint, coupled with forthright lyrics. Or in Rogers’ words, “joy with teeth.” “Shatter” is an ’80s-inspired, synth-heavy song perfect for those sticky dog days of summer; Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine also lends background vocals (and some sick tambourine skills). If there’s anything I notice most in this body of work, it’s the unabashed confidence in Rogers’ vocal performances. Thinking back to the viral video of her presenting Pharrell Williams her first single, “Alaska,” there’s a stark difference between the seemingly timid artist who hid behind reverb and breathy falsetto and the post-pandemic
Rogers, who’s belting from the rooftops without fear. Even on ballads like “Begging for Rain” and “I’ve Got a Friend,” she doesn’t hold back, in part helping her lyrics hit the listener even harder. Watching her Coachella set—her first live performance since 2019 and post-grad school—you can see a shift in her stage presence that brings her audience even closer together. The final track, “Different Kind of World,” is less a song and more a prayer for hope and a place where we can reconnect with one another through music. Of course, in classic Maggie Rogers fashion, the final 45 seconds of the song erupt into a guitar-led, cathartic cacophony that you long to hear live. Frankly, it’s a reality she’s manifesting as much as we are. On first listen, I felt as though I had reached the conclusion of my own personal movie—fulfilled, emotionally exhausted, released. At the end of the day, Rogers understands better than most that music can provide the spiritual, full-body experience that no other art form can, and Surrender is her gospel.