“This Is What It Feels Like” Album Review: Pause. This one will make you sit with your emotions

22 year old pop artist, Gracie Abrams released her debut album This Is What It Feels Like this November 12th. When the first song, “Feels Like”, was first released, the song almost felt like a happy ending. Gracie Abrams writes about meeting the right person at the right time, which is something you’d hope for at the end of an album; after a turmoil of emotions, resolution at last. That’s where you could use a relief from the missed connections and misconnections, the hint of a beginning where things fall in place. And here it is, as the beginning itself. So where do things go from here?

“Rockland”, which follows this, jumps right into heartbreak; not heartbreak she suffers but one that she has caused. She’s left her ex but she can’t move on. And what do you do when you feel that way, when you decide to let go, but the feelings still linger?  She doesn’t pretend she hasn’t caused the pain she has. In fact, she says it over and over again, almost as if to remind herself of the reality, to keep her hopes down. But her hope isn’t all the way down: she calls, only to hang up. She visits their neighborhood but doesn’t want them to see her. I get the sense from this song that it’s not even that she wants to get back together. It’s just the hope that the breakup doesn’t overshadow their relationship, that her ex doesn’t hate her (even though, as she reminds us, how could they not?)

But as we go further into the album, her refrain that “Bet you, wish you/ Never even met me”, doesn’t seem to be coming only from sorrow about  the pain she has caused. It gets more complicated when you listen to songs like “Camden” and “The Bottom”, where she lets you into her insecurities and hopelessness: “I never said it but I know that I/ Can’t picture anything past twenty-five”, “I took the most that you could offer/ I’m gonna drag you right down to the bottom”. In “The Bottom”, she keeps warning her lover to leave, telling them it’s a mistake to let her in. And revisiting Rockland now is like listening to a friend, who to a stranger is doing the right thing of owning up to her faults. But you know that it’s more than that; she’s being too hard on herself.

This feeling of uncertainty and helplessness emerges recurrently in the album. “Hard to Sleep” is filled with the crushing weight of bearing it all alone. “Augusta” is an expression of confusion, of feeling lost, with Abrams’ whisper-like vocals complementing the loneliness travelling from the previous song into this one. The album is also interspersed with musings on growing older. In “Wishful Thinking”, she’s lamenting that the person she’s addressing hasn’t grown up. This is immediately followed by “Older”, where she turns to the less pleasant things that growing older has brought: small talk and holding back from each other. The beginning of the album seems to have had me fooled. I thought it would be about exploring one’s relationship with others. Well, it kind of is, but it is so by unpacking how the narrator feels about herself– the thing that stays with you in all the relationships that you build. And Abrams does this so openly and honestly, and in a way that is inviting. I can look at myself too; let myself feel the way I do.

So how does Abrams close the album? The last song, “Alright”, doesn’t really resolve the anxieties. In fact, it accentuates the sense of distress pulsating throughout the album. It ends on this chorus: 

“I don’t know if I’ll be alright (Alright)

What will it take to make this good?

Oh, someone tell me it gets better, better, better, better


Because for tonight, I’m just not alright”

With this, the album reaches the reverse of what I thought might happen. It leaves you feeling uncertain, lost, and awaiting hope. And hope? That was there right at the beginning, when there was someone who could have told her that it gets better. Sometimes, I play the album on repeat, and it goes right back to the start. The first song plays like a memory, allowing me to be lost in the comfort of happy beginnings. But I can’t keep doing that because that would be to miss the point. I have to sit with the ending, and not have the answers. This is not about anguish being brushed away. This is not about a false resolutions, or a sympathy happy ending. This Is What It Feels Like.


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