Roundtable Discussion: A Review of Gracie Abrams’ ‘The Secret of Us’

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams
The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams
Atwood Magazine’s writers dive into Gracie Abrams’ sophomore album ‘The Secret of Us,’ an infectious and emotionally relatable album that expands the singer/songwriter’s musical range — and contains a rare feature from Taylor Swift!
Featured here are Atwood writers Aaron Childree, Kelly Dorogy, and Mariam Bagdady!

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

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To start, what is your relationship with Gracie Abrams’ music?

Mariam Bagdady: I found Gracie through my first college friend in the spring of 2022. She had just gone through an emotional break up and was playing her Minor EP on repeat, more specifically “I Miss You, I’m Sorry.” Amid the melancholy and self-despair that any breakup brings along, I found myself seated next to my friend, trying to comfort her whilst appreciating what I then thought was a unique voice in a modern-indie take on heartbreak. From that moment on, Gracie became a regular in my music rotation.

Aaron Childree: I really started tuning into Gracie Abrams’ music with the release of Good Riddance in early 2023. That album was one of my favorites from last year, so I’ve been looking forward to The Secret of Us since it was announced. Gracie’s sound is right in my wheelhouse — I love this kind of pop-tinged singer/songwriter music.

Kelly Dorogy: I started listening to Gracie’s music in 2021. I came across “I miss you, I’m sorry” and ended up loving the rest of the Minor EP. It wasn’t until the 2023 release of Good Riddance that I truly fell in love with Gracie as a songwriter. Shortly after the release of that album, I saw a live show (just a month before she joined the Eras tour) in Austin, TX. I was blown away by her performance and the relationship she has built between herself and her fans. I have no doubt that Gracie will be an artist I will be following along with for a very long time.

Gracie Abrams © Abby Waisler
Gracie Abrams © Abby Waisler

What are your initial impressions and reactions to The Secret of Us?

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

Mariam Bagdady: While I found the album profound in its use of a theme, illuminative in its exploration of soft sounds and overwhelming build-ups, and its lyrics proactive in creating mutual understanding between artist and listener, The Secret of Us carries no secret beyond being a culmination of her debut album and EP. It has the same subtlety as Minor’s “Long Sleeves” and musical punch as Good Riddance’s “Feels Like.” However, I can’t deny that this album is completely and wholly Gracie Abrams. It has that sultry, indie-girl prowess that Abrams has undeniably perfected in her second album. Safe to say, it’s a sound mix of the old and new – but in a good way.

Aaron Childree: I think it’s a strong album that represents an incremental evolution in Abrams’ sound. You can hear her trying new things both in the production choices and her approach to the lyrics, but not in a way that would feel unfamiliar to any of her longtime fans. Gracie has always stood out to me for her incredible sense of melody, and there are lots of memorable melodic hooks here. For all these reasons, I’ve found myself coming back to this album a lot since it released, and I don’t think that will change anytime soon.

Kelly Dorogy: While The Secret of Us is a lighter, more tongue-in-cheek album than Good Riddance, it is evident that the songwriting and production have been elevated as this young artist continues to evolve. While it’s evident that the songs aren’t meant to take themselves too seriously, it’s as clear that Abrams had a distinct vision for what she wanted to do – this is something she has executed flawlessly. The Secret of Us is a capsule of songs that are as relatable as they are enjoyable to listen and sing along with. My first impression of listening was one that I’m sure many had as well; I’m going to be listening to this album a lot (and I have).

How does this album compare to last year’s debut album, Good Riddance – what are the most striking similarities or differences?

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

Mariam Bagdady: You can instantly tell that this album feels much more mature, not just lyrically but even in her voice and sound. Those quiet whispers and ultra-slow notes Abrams has been famously known for are still there, but they’re stronger, more defined, and she hides no face in how and where she sings it. Even in the lyrics and notes are we exposed to a new side of Abrams that she hadn’t quite opened to us yet. While Good Riddance felt like a goodbye to a past self–an emotional farewell to love and admittance of her personal struggle with vulnerability – The Secret of Us is poignant in its exploration of accepting this sensitivity. And this time she’s not succumbing to its pain but addressing it head on and calling out heartbreak and love for it’s hand in her own self-destruction. Yes, there are quite a few sounds that feel as though they could belong on both or either album, but the layered vocals, indie folk ballads, and powered-through crescendos outweigh the similarities. She has grown and she’s not afraid to show it.

Aaron Childree: I’m a big fan of both albums, and they both showcase the strength of Gracie Abrams’ songwriting. Similar to what Mariam was saying, I feel like Gracie’s vocals cut through the mix better on this album, and she isn’t as reliant on the whispery tone that permeates Good Riddance. She’s a master at that whispery tone, and I don’t think she’ll ever completely abandon that (I hope she doesn’t), but I like hearing her evolve as a vocalist.

Kelly Dorogy: These albums are entirely different. One is night and one is day – the constant is Gracie and her ability to craft songs with lyrics and stories that poetically take you on a journey. Gracie is showing us a new side of herself, just one of many more I’m sure she has to share. Both of these albums hold their own space. It’s a wonderful thing to not have to compare as they truly are unique in their own right.

Gracie Abrams © Abby Waisler
Gracie Abrams © Abby Waisler

Given it’s only been 1.5 years between these two albums, how does The Secret of Us showcase Abrams’ musical growth in that relatively short time?

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

Aaron Childree: What a gift to get two albums from such a talented musician in 18 months! And it does provide a great opportunity to see how Gracie Abrams is evolving as an artist in real time. I can hear her yearning for a bigger sound while not wanting to stray too far from what has made her successful. I wouldn’t be surprised if her experience opening for Taylor Swift on the world-shattering Eras Tour had an impact on her decision to include some songs with a more upbeat, propulsive feel to them. But she might have also learned from Taylor that a variety of tempos and instrumentation can work in a big arena. She also takes on a bigger role in the production process on The Secret of Us, coproducing the album with Aaron Dessner.

Gracie Abrams teased The Secret of Us with “Risk” and “Close to You.” Are these singles faithful representations of the album?

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

Mariam Bagdady: Both songs are beyond faithful representations of the album. In fact, I believe her selection of these as her opening singles ushered in a new musical era for Abrams and welcomed her audience to a new version of herself and her voice. “Risk” is edgy, creative, and a well-conducted experimentation of her vocals pushed to levels she hasn’t gone before. Likewise, “Close to You” carries a lyrical and compositional tension that playfully embodies that same trigger she sings about– it’s a full body punch whose harmonies are all too addicting. Both are excellent introductions to what she had then yet to unfold in the album. Through these songs, Abrams is embracing this new epoch in her life without abandoning her signature sound.

Aaron Childree: I think these are great choices for singles, but I don’t know if I necessarily see them as representative of the album as a whole. What they do well is highlight the way The Secret of Us is different from her past work. These are the two most upbeat songs on the record, and they feel like radio-ready, mainstream pop. Meanwhile, many of the other songs aren’t all that different from Good Riddance or even the music she released prior to 2023. Still, I definitely understand why these were the singles, and I wouldn’t have wanted her to change that decision.

Kelly Dorogy: Yes. I believe both of these singles are perfect choices for very specific reasons. “Risk” is the first song Gracie and Audrey wrote for the album. It was the catalyst and it truly encapsulates the entirety of The Secret of Us. “Close to You” has been a fan favorite since Gracie posted it on her social media accounts many years ago. Gracie has said that this album is for her fans. It’s for them to sing together at shows and she very much built it based on the relationships and experiences she’s had to her fans so far. Putting “Close to You” on the album and releasing it as a single, to me, is very much a love letter from Gracie to her fans.

Taylor Swift’s presence on “us.” is a massive surprise. What do you make of this song, and her feature on it?

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

Mariam Bagdady: When I first heard that Taylor Swift would feature on Gracie Abrams’ album, I feared her voice and presence would overpower Abrams. I was wrong, in some aspects at least. The song is a star on the album and harmoniously blends both of their voices effortlessly. “us” is emotional, a proactive confession of a hopeless romantic’s desire for what has passed and it’s done so entrancingly. However, there are points in the song where it feels almost too Taylor. From the bridge’s poetic libretto to the strums of guitar that sound faintly like Swift’s Folklore, the song is enchanting, but feels a bit too out of Abrams musical character.

Aaron Childree: I really like this song. I agree that from a songwriting perspective, Taylor Swift’s fingerprints are definitely all over it. I’m certainly not saying this as a bad thing — I’m a big Swiftie, and “us.” is a great song that still fits in pretty well with the other tracks on this album. As a bonus, this song also brought us the instantly viral video of Gracie and Taylor trying to keep Taylor’s apartment from catching fire after a candle fell over while they were working on the song!

Kelly Dorogy: “us.” is an incredible song. The only reason this feature is surprising is because Taylor does not often feature – especially lately. But doesn’t that make it all the better? To me, everything about this collaboration makes sense. Gracie has admired Taylor from afar for years. Now, they’re friends and close collaborators. Their styles are similar, both being tortured poets in their own rights. Aaron Dessner ties the bow perfectly together by producing this track alongside Jack Antonoff. Gracie put an exclamation to it by giving us a wink with it being track 5. If you’re a fan of Taylor, you know the significance of this. I am so happy we live in a time where a song like “us.” with all its many pieces, can exist. This is a favorite off the album for sure.

Abrams has said relatively little about The Secret of Us, other than that she made it with some of her closest friends. How do you interpret this album? What is it about, to you?

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

Mariam Bagdady: The Secret of Us is an honest interpretation of the perils of love, of want, and of the ache that coincides with both. Compared to her previous album, she is no longer solely looking inward, but now looking outward. Even in its name do we find that there is no real secret here. Instead it is, in the social sense, the fashioning of a relationship between one’s understanding of love and its devastating reality.

Aaron Childree: From the interviews she has given about the album and the singles, I’ve had two main takeaways. First, this is the first album Gracie has made with a live audience in mind. She has talked about thinking through how the songs would translate to the stage and mentioned that she wanted to write lyrics that she could hear her fans singing along to at the top of their lungs. Second, she started with real stories from her own life or her friends’ lives when writing the lyrics, but she allowed herself to use the seeds of these true-to-life scenarios and then take them to the extreme. So for example, in lead single “Risk,” she isn’t telling a story about having a crush on someone—it’s about being so in love with someone that you can hardly function even though you haven’t met them yet. Yet somehow these extreme versions of reality she sings about make the songs even more relatable in most cases.

Kelly Dorogy: To me, The Secret of Us, is the manic feeling of unrequited love. It’s deciding to go for it because what’s the worst that can happen, even though the worst usually does happen. It’s the freedom of being in your 20s when your friends are the absolute most important people in your life. When you have them – it makes everything else less scary, so why not go for it? Your friends are there to call you out on your BS. They’re there to make you laugh when you want to cry. And they’re there to pick up the pieces when you have a broken heart. That is what this album is and that is why it is so special.

Gracie Abrams © Abby Waisler
Gracie Abrams © Abby Waisler

Which song(s) stand out for you on the album, and why?

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

Mariam Bagdady: I am a sucker for a good build-up in songs. There’s something about that escalation that transports me from my reality to the artist’s that I find so addicting. “Free Now” embraces musical intensity to its fullest. With it’s lyrics so vulnerable listener’s are ought to feel exposed in their melancholy, and it’s production creating a melodic peak it’s echoes can be heard even by song’s end, the song is a stand out, a perfected harmony, and a layered track euphoric in every right.

Aaron Childree: My two favorites are “I Love You, I’m Sorry” and “Normal Thing.” Both of these songs are beautiful downtempo ballads that really shine musically and lyrically. I also have a soft spot for “Risk,” which I got a chance to write about for Atwood after it was released as the first single. I really like the quick rhythm of her vocals on that song and how that rhythm mimics the frantic energy of a new crush.



Do you have any favorite lyrics so far? Which lines stand out?

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

Mariam Bagdady: That final coda in “Free Now” has resided in my brain since my first listen. Abrams sings: If you find yourself out, if there is a right time/ Chances are I’ll be here, we could share a lifeline/ If you feel like fallin’, catch me on the way down/ Never been less empty, all I feel is free now.

It’s powerful and so lyrically requited, I can feel the emotion she’s imbued in the words like a subtle wave of fierce passion and ultimate freedom.

Aaron Childree: The outro of “Normal Thing” blows me away every time I listen to it, and I’ve listened to it so many times I’ve lost count. It’s gut-wrenching, but so emotionally resonant:

Had a good time, but I guess I’ll see you
You’re a good guy, but I guess I’ll see you
And you changed my life, but I guess I’ll see you
‘Cause it’s over now, so I guess I’ll see you
I know now, but I guess I’ll see you

She has this refrain of “I guess I’ll see you” that ends each line, but each line increases the intensity of the emotion. At first, she’s just saying “yeah, we had a good time together” and trying to play off how serious the relationship was. But then as the song progresses, she lets the wall come crashing down—she’s admitting that this person changed her life and revealing that she still has feelings but feels like it’s too late to change anything. To do all of this in just a few lines is absolutely masterful.

Kelly Dorogy: “I Knew It, I Know You” and “I love you, I’m sorry” stand out to me. “I Knew it, I Know You” is such a beautiful, heart wrenching song. It’s Gracie’s songwriting at the absolute top tier level. The other distinction in this song is its production. Gracie joined forces with Aaron Dessner as a co-producer for the first time on this body of work. Interesting little things like the outro of “I Knew It, I Know You” showcase her abilities in a new light.

“I Love You, I’m Sorry” is such a special nod on the album. It ties the bow on “I miss you, I’m sorry” while giving us the best bridge (in my opinion) of the album. Gracie shows how much of a true poet and storyteller she is by bringing this story full circle on this album. I love everything about it.

Where do you feel The Secret of Us sits in the pantheon of Gracie Abrams’ discography?

The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

Mariam Bagdady: Front and center, top of the chain, and an all-around best of the best crowning for The Secret of Us. It stands to be her best album to date in all the factions that matter: lyrically, vocally, and musically. Gracie Abrams has found her voice with this record, maturing into it naturally and fully tapping into her truest and most vulnerable self.

Aaron Childree: To me, it’s between The Secret of Us and Good Riddance for my top spot in Gracie Abrams’ discography. I might give the edge to The Secret of Us because of how it showcases a wider range of sounds—from bedroom pop to stadium anthems. It feels like she’s ready to continue stretching herself and showing the world that while she’ll always be able to draw us in with whispered vocals and minimalist acoustic arrangements, she’s also capable of much more.

Kelly Dorogy: As I mentioned before, I think each part of her discography holds its own space. To me, this shows a natural growth and evolution while all highlighting completely new and surprising strengths we didn’t know she had. Gracie is a true artist. She is going to have longevity and I look forward to following along to whatever she does next, but right now – I’m very much enjoying this era.

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:: stream/purchase The Secret of Us here ::
:: connect with Gracie Abrams here ::
Stream: “Close to You” – Gracie Abrams

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The Secret of Us - Gracie Abrams

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? © Abby Waisler

The Secret of Us

an album by Gracie Abrams

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