“I love your shirt, by the way,” Gracie Abrams tells me during a cozy Zoom call from Los Angeles, where she grew up and still lives. “It’s incredible.”
The T-shirt in question is printed with a photo of Taylor Swift and Lorde, two of Abrams’ favorite artists (and mutual admirers), hugging one another at a 2016 Grammys afterparty. It’s a replica of a shirt previously worn by the indie pop prodigy’s friend and 2022 tourmate Olivia Rodrigo, who credits Abrams’ artistry with being a major inspiration for her own music.
Rodrigo, Lorde, and Swift – the latter of whom invited Abrams to open a slew of stadium shows on her highly anticipated Eras Tour – are just a few of the many A-list artists the indie pop prodigy has made friends and fans out of since launching her music career in 2019, with debut Interscope single “Mean It.” Billie Eilish has also sung her praises, as has fellow Swift opener Phoebe Bridgers, whom Abrams has been following since she was a 13-year-old with a Soundcloud account.
With so many famous fans, and fans in general (with 1.4 million Instagram followers and nearly 8 million monthly Spotify listeners), it’s a wonder that Abrams waited so many years to finally release her long-awaited debut album Good Riddance, out Friday (Feb. 24) – especially considering the streaming prowess of her 2020 breakthrough EP Minor and 2021 12-track project This Is What It Feels Like. If she wasn’t a cult T-Shirt-level icon before, it probably won’t be long until the poetic mastery on Good Riddance makes her into one.
But timing was vital for the full-length to come together as it did, she insists. Mainly, there was the matter of finding a producer whom she clicked with, following her sticky breakup – which ended up inspiring some of the most painful songs on Good Riddance – from former go-to producer and longtime boyfriend Blake Slatkin, who recently snagged a record of the year Grammy for his work on Lizzo’s “About Damn Time.”
She eventually found what she was looking for in Aaron Dessner, whom you may know either from beloved indie rock outlet The National or, of course, his work with Abrams’ upcoming tourmate. The two spent months hammering out songs like racing lead single “Difficult” and followups “Where do we go now?,” in which she soberly weeds through the remains of an overgrown relationship, and “Amelie,” a tender love letter to the ways a stranger can permanently alter our lives without realizing, at Dessner’s Long Pond Studios in upstate New York.
“I wanted to do [the album] in a way that would be its own world,” Abrams tells Billboard. “I felt so drawn in my head [to exploring], ‘What would it be like to sit down with one person?’ We were in the middle of nowhere – having space from L.A. was so important.”
Abrams has come a long way since the days of singing alone in her bedroom, posting whisper-soft covers on Instagram and performing concerts via Zoom. In just a couple weeks, she’ll make stops at smaller music venues and theaters on her headline tour in support of the new album before joining Swift’s sold-out Eras trek. But through the crush of rising to mainstream status, connecting with an expanding audience and, as the daughter of Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, fielding increasingly tedious questions about her “nepo baby” origins – all while dating someone new, though she declines to give more details other than “he’s great” – Abrams is keeping her focus on what matters most.
“I’m sure there are misconceptions, as we all have about everyone,” she says of public perceptions amidst her growing profile. “I don’t choose to worry myself too much about what those are. I’m really just trying to, as much as I can, have the primary focus be about the music and let it speak for itself.”
In Good Riddance’s case, that music is visceral, brutally honest, unflinchingly self-examining storytelling of the highest caliber. In places where her past work would speak, her new songs whisper – and yet, the message behind each is so much louder than anything she’s written before. This effect is only heightened by Dessner’s delicate production, which demands no special attention of its own and dutifully serves as a supporting act for Abrams’ flickering voice and blisteringly nuanced lyrics. It’s the most mature set of songs she’s ever made, reflective of the oftentimes uncomfortable emotional growth spurts she’s experienced over the past year or so (“I know I changed overnight,” as she puts it on “Where do we go now?”).
“It’s an interesting thing to just grow up, period,” the 23-year-old reflects. “Month to month, s–t varies, deeply. There’s lots of fast-track development that happens.”
Below, Billboard catches up with Gracie Abrams about evolving through heartbreak and getting vulnerable with Aaron Dessner on Good Riddance, being “deeply obsessed” with Taylor Swift and more:
You’ve been open about the stage fright you felt going into your first touring experiences. Is that something you’ve since conquered?
I love performing now, and that’s due to how truly kind my audience is. They’re all sensitive people too, and that has changed my life even on a songwriting front. There’s less fear about being dead honest in my writing; I can rely on them to connect to what I’m talking about now.
They’ve been so generous with their experiences and telling me how different songs remind them of s–t they’ve gone through. Seeing them cry and dance and laugh in the audience makes me feel like I can do all those things too. That part kind of eliminates the fear.
With the Eras Tour specifically, it’s gotta help that there’s probably lots of overlap between your fanbase and Taylor Swift’s.
Obviously, she has everybody in the world obsessed with her. I know her fanbase so well because I’m a part of it. At the very least, whether or not any of her fans know that I exist, I feel very stoked to share a space with people who are deeply obsessed with Taylor too. I think I’ll feel safe up there knowing that everybody in the stadium is there to see her, because that’s also why I’m there.
It means so much. She’s as spectacular a person and friend as she is an artist, writer, director. She’s really that great. To be able to lean on her in any capacity really means a lot. The opportunity is so outrageous – it’s a funny thing to talk about, having not done it yet, because I feel like I don’t even really believe it’s real. I’m so stoked to watch her crush it every single night. To see her up close in that way and be able to study that is the greatest gift.
Has she heard any of Good Riddance?
I know Aaron’s played her a bunch of it. I’ll let you know if I find out [what she thinks of it].
Why did you wait until now to release your official debut record? There were certainly enough songs on This Is What It Feels Like to constitute a full album.
It didn’t feel like the time was right before. I had to work on myself a lot internally. This Is What It Feels Like came together in lots of fragments and pieces over different periods of time. It was scattered in a way I think I really needed at the time.
When I met Aaron, it was a pivotal point for me. Having a partner who I trusted so wholeheartedly felt like the right time. I was so curious to explore what we could do together. I also think I had a lot to write about.
What drew you to Aaron as a producer and co-writer?
I’ve been a fan of The National since I was 12 years old. There’s a strength in the fragility of his work. I’ve always loved space in music, when songs are allowed to breathe and aren’t muddied or weighed down by unnecessary production elements. We both bring something different to the table, so to combine our individual skill sets was the best experiment ever.
I’m not someone that’s had very much success in the speed dating of producers, trying a day and seeing how it goes. It’s likely because of how much I write alone. I need to trust whoever it is I’m working with, and I don’t think I can accomplish that in one day, necessarily. But the second I met Aaron, I was like, “I don’t feel remotely filtered in any capacity.” I felt supported and challenged by him in really healthy, positive, beneficial ways. Even when we were writing about all the heavy s–t, it was the best time.
The breakup that inspired a lot of the album happens to involve someone who did a lot of your production in the past. Do you feel like you’ve had to reinvent yourself as an artist as much as a person without having that collaborator by your side anymore?
All I can or want to say on that front is just that it’s a lucky thing to be able to evolve with someone and without someone. It’s been a really lovely and challenging thing to figure that out.
There’s something about making this album that felt so right and natural the entire time, and so devastating, too. With Aaron, I felt safe to figure out my sound alone. I don’t necessarily think reinvent is the word I’d use, more so just get closer to myself. Coming out of the relationship that I did, to have met someone who was so willing to have those conversations with me and sit with those feelings was definitely life-changing.
Why choose Good Riddance as the title?
There’s a side of it that sounds kind of harsh, but I also think there’s a satirical bit that I like: to be comfortable casually throwing certain things away and walking into the next chapter no matter what that looks like.
The album’s not just about one thing. There’s lots of self-reflection and accountability in the words this time. I felt like there were a lot of personal shifts over the course of the year that the album came together, and walking away from versions of myself that I didn’t recognize anymore and very much saying “good riddance” to those.
Lyrically, “Amelie” is so different from the rest of the album, which mainly focuses on your breakup or self growth. Why make it a single?
I had this journal entry for a long time that a lot of the lyrics came from, about the deep curiosity, pain and admiration of being struck so immediately by someone. Aaron recorded the guitar at the same time as I sang, we did one take and that was the song. It’s very unexpected as a single, because it’s not this driving pop song – not that this is a pop album – which is something else I love about it.
Our whole vibe making this album, the spontaneity and mutual trust that I felt when we recorded, was reflected in the song. Before anyone heard it, he and I privately were like, ‘This song is important to us. F–k it.”
“The Blue” also stands out because it’s the only traditional love song on the album. Is it about your current relationship?
I love songwriting so much because as an overthinker, it’s a space where I can imagine all of these possibilities with a person. I actually wrote that song about someone I never even dated, but was so intrigued by. It was fleeting, and ended up being very not right. I don’t think they would ever know it was about them.
Which song on the album was most difficult to write?
“I Know It Won’t Work” hurt to write. “Best” hurt to write. And “Fault Line.”
The thing with all these songs is that they all were written so quickly. The ease at which a lot of the words came out was the painful part, because a lot of what was said in the songs wasn’t said directly to the person [they’re about].
I have no idea how anyone will receive the songs, I also do worry about some people thinking a song is about them when it isn’t. I don’t know how to navigate my personal life and – lucky-enough – job being intertwined so seriously yet. How do you do that?