Gracie Abrams is not an artist who shies away from painful truths. No, she pours her heartache into her music. With her debut EP “minor” (2020), Abrams introduced the world to her poetic lyricism and innate storytelling abilities with hits like “I miss you, I’m sorry” and “21.” A year later, she followed up with her second EP “This Is What It Feels Like” (2021), accompanied by her first tour, where avid fans could see the rising star live. Now, Abrams has graced the world with her debut album “Good Riddance” (2023), which is her most intimate and reflective work thus far, though it falls short due to repetition and a lack of creativity.
When it came to her first album, Abrams combined forces with Grammy-winning writer and producer Aaron Dessner. Dessner previously worked with one of Abrams’ personal idols, Taylor Swift, on her albums “folklore” (2020) and “evermore” (2020), and there are many notable lyrical and sonic similarities between the three albums.
The strength of “Good Riddance” lies in the lyrics and anecdotal stories told through them. Abrams wears her heart on her sleeve and details the struggles of young adolescent love, something that is highly relatable to her audience, which includes many teenagers. In her songs, she sings about falling in love and, mainly, the struggle of being in love with someone you know is not healthy for you. Heartbreaking lyrics like “What am I supposed to do / When you used to be my lifeline?” in “This is what the drugs are for” and “Pulled the knife out of my back, it was right where you left it / But you aimed kinda perfect, I’ll give you the credit” in “I should hate you” exemplify Abrams’ ability to translate her intense emotions into impressive lyrics.
The singles from the album — “Difficult,” “Where do we go now?,” “Amelie” and “I know it won’t work” — are by far the strongest lyrically and sonically. “Difficult” emulates the same energy as her previous single “21,” while “Where do we go now?” has the best bridge of her entire discography. “Amelie” is a dreamy, acoustic track that allows Abrams’ vocals and haunting lyrics to take center stage. “I know it won’t work” rivals “Amelie” as the lyrically strongest track on the album. In an interview with Billboard, Abrams explained that the former was one of the songs that hurt the most to write, saying, “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],” which likely explains why the song feels so raw and poignant.
Though the album is strong for a debut, Abrams falls short sonically by falling into a repetitious pattern. Many of the songs can be categorized as the typical ‘sad girl’ music trope, featuring lo-fi synths, acoustic instrumentals and an almost whispery way of singing. This is not necessarily a bad thing; people like sad music, as seen in Abrams’ over 8 million monthly Spotify listeners. However, after 12 tracks, it can become a tad repetitive — though, as seen in “I know it won’t work” and “Difficult,” not all of the songs fit that ‘sad girl’ stereotype. Still, the vast majority do. While listening to the album, there are times that you crave a bit more angst and you wish Abrams would scream the lyrics, as opposed to whispering them with a guitar.
Anyone who has seen Abrams live knows she is capable of performing songs beyond piano ballads and acoustic guitars. As seen in her cover of “Dancing on My Own,” which she performed at festivals this past summer, Abrams is more than able to take an uptempo song and bring out her inner rock star. This talent, however, has never been seen on her albums as she too often sticks to the basics. Unlike some similar artists like Olivia Rodrigo — who combined ‘sad girl’ music like “traitor” and “enough for you” with more pop-rock tracks like “jealousy, jealousy” and “good 4 you” on her 2021 album “Sour” — Abrams’ album feels like too much of the same and lacks sonic experimentation and creativity.
“Good Riddance” is a solid debut album and Abrams’ songwriting abilities at a mere 23 years old prove that she is a talent the industry should keep its eyes on. Though the album can feel monotonous, the songs are still wonderful and highlight her misty, romantic vocals. Maybe with time, Abrams will branch out beyond her typical music style — even her non-album single “Mess It Up” shows her ability to write a killer pop song beyond whisper-pop — but perhaps that is something she is saving for her sophomore album.
It has been a delight to watch Abrams evolve from a teenager posting songs from her bedroom on Instagram to a widely recognized artist who is not only leading her own tour but will be joining Taylor Swift for the Eras Tour. With every single, EP, and now album, Abrams has matured and her songs have continuously proven her abilities as a young artist. While “Good Riddance” will likely leave you wanting more, maybe that is a good thing. Maybe that just means you will keep an ear out for her next releases.