For 20-year-old bedroom pop songstress Gracie Abrams, moving forward comes in the form of refusing to pick up the phone and call a former flame on her whimsical, personal track “21.”
Stream: “21” – Gracie Abrams[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/759674041″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=true&visual=true&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”300″ iframe=”true” /]
The great irony of Gracie Abrams’ “21” is the way the jagged, sharp feeling of missing someone is packaged into a soft, beautiful song that is both breathtakingly intimate and melancholy. The bedroom pop songstress fully claims her feelings in this track – and the result is a tune that rounds out any playlist (just ask Atwood’s Editor-in-Chief Mitch Mosk, who included it on a recent Editor’s Picks).
Achingly raw and chillingly honest, ‘21’ is a testament to the complexity of the feeling of regret. Of uncertainty. Of pain. It’s no surprise that the singer stated that writing the song “felt like a therapy session. It was everything I needed to say but couldn’t really, before being in that room.” Abrams also credits Sarah Aarons and Joel Little for helping write the masterpiece that is ‘21.’ Though she originally planned on taking more of a back-seat approach to working with the duo to allow them to work their lyrical magic, this idea quickly vanished as Abrams gained an understanding of how the team works. “Working with Joel and Sarah, all I really wanted to do was sit back and watch them as I think they’re two actual geniuses, but after ten minutes of talking it became apparent to me that they’re such geniuses because of how comfortable and open they make you feel,” she said. “Once we started writing it just felt like every sentence we spoke made its way into the song.”
I missed your 21st birthday
I’ve been up at home
Almost tried to call you, don’t know if I should
Hate to picture you half-drunk happy
Hate to think you went out without me
I’m sorry if you blame me if I were you I would
Thought you’d see it coming, but you never could
I still haven’t heard from your family
But you said your mom always loved me
The song doesn’t feel entirely grounded – there’s something whimsical, floaty, and light about the instrumental in the background. There’s also a poppiness to it. It feels vaguely dream-like, the world that Abrams’ song lives in. Her strong voice is what packs a punch, and brings this track back down to earth. Abrams opens the song with a confession. “I missed your 21st birthday // I’ve been up at home // Almost tried to call you, don’t know if I should,” she admits. Continuing, Abrams adds, “Hate to picture you half-drunk happy // Hate to think you went out without me.” In just a few lyrics, Abrams reveals what makes this track so memorable – the honesty. It’s truthful, despite the fact the truth is a painful one. She isn’t hesitant to admit that she hates to imagine this person continuing on, going out without her. She also doesn’t hold back from confessing that she nearly reached out to them.
Abrams goes on, singing, “I’m sorry if you blame me if I were you I would // Thought you’d see it coming, but you never could // I still haven’t heard from your family // But you said your mom always loved me.” The listener gets more of a comprehension of what’s going on, and that there has been an ending. There’s a pain to remembering a small detail about someone no longer in one’s life, and this song puts a melody to that intense, sometimes annihilating, feeling. A birthday is typically an occasion that is celebrated, but when a connection between two people no longer exists, reaching out can feel forced or just incorrect. In the case of Abrams, it’s a milestone birthday that was missed – their 21st.
Sometimes I go blurry-eyed
Small talk and you tell me that you’re on fire
Lights on and it’s black and white,
I couldn’t stay forever
I see the look in your eye
and I’m biting my tongue
You’d be the love of my life when I was young
Abrams goes on, singing, “Sometimes I go blurry-eyed // Small talk and you tell me that you’re on fire // Lights on and it’s black and white, I couldn’t stay forever.” Even though there seems to be a sense of guilt in the earlier lyric, “I’m sorry if you blame me, if I were you I would,” there’s also a sense of owning up to what was done in this portion of the song. Abrams says that, “I couldn’t stay forever,” and essentially claims that she was bound to leave. We learn that she ultimately did.
There’s an interesting back and forth in the next few lyrics about the idea of being the love of someone’s life. Abrams sings, “I see the look in your eye and I’m biting my tongue // You’d be the love of my life when I was young // When the night is over // Don’t call me up I’m already under // I get a little bit alone sometimes and I miss you again // I’ll be the love of your life inside your head.” There’s clearly a disparity about the role Abrams played in the life of the person the song is about, and the role they played in hers. She only believed them to be the love of her life when she was young, demonstrating how she feels there was an expiration date on their relationship. The other person still seems to be in love with her, at least, inside their head. This only highlights the disparity between what the two people want, and reveals how incompatible they were. The idea of calling someone up is again mentioned here, except this time, Abrams isn’t the one considering phoning. She instructs, “When the night is over // Don’t call me up I’m already under.”
When the night is over
Don’t call me up I’m already under
I get a little bit alone sometimes and I miss you again
I’ll be the love of your life inside your head
When the night is over
Don’t call me up I’m already under
The next verse adds another layer of complexity to the situation. She sings, “Audrey said she saw you out past twelve o’clock // Just because you’re hurting doesn’t mean I’m not // If it doesn’t go away by the time I turn thirty // I made a mistake and I’ll tell you I’m sorry // ‘Sorry.’” Here, Abrams reveals that she knows what the person has been doing, assumedly to get past their hurt feelings. And despite how the relationship ending seems like it was mainly on her terms, she confesses to hurting, too.
Several of arguably the most poignant lyrics in the song are dropped just moments later, when Abrams sings, “If it doesn’t go away by the time I turn thirty // I made a mistake and I’ll tell you I’m sorry.” While she doesn’t specify what ‘it’ is, one can infer that ‘it’ is a sense of regret, questioning, or hurt. This also subliminally reveals how damaging the end of this relationship was for Abrams. She considers the fact that she might still be thinking about the collateral damage of this situation a decade later, when she’s 30 years old. Abrams was only 20 when the song debuted.
Audrey said she saw you out past twelve o’clock
Just because you’re hurting doesn’t mean I’m not
If it doesn’t go away by the time I turn thirty
I made a mistake and I’ll tell you I’m sorry
“21” is a beautiful take on the agonizing pain that accompanies remembering.
It’s a youthful song, and reads that way, but it also manages a maturity that feels exceptionally rare. The retrospective lyrics and the responsibility Abrams feels for the demise of the relationship is detailed in this song, and the result couldn’t be more moving. It’s somehow both demure yet overwhelming, sentimental yet strong. There’s a sense of confusion, and more importantly remorse, on this track. But there’s also a sense of determination to move on. And by making the decision not to call, Abrams commits to moving forward – at least for now. Yes, she still thinks about the person this song is about. She remembers their birthday. She almost tried to call them. But ultimately, she couldn’t convince herself to pick up the phone.
Stream: “21” – Gracie Abrams
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