On September 15, 2021, Maggie Rogers delighted fans with a startling tweet. The indie pop darling, who shot to world fame in 2016 when a clip of an awestruck Pharrell Williams discovering her music went viral (8.2 million views on YouTube), had kept a low profile. “Where were you?” asked a fan on Twitter. “Lol I’m in collegeRogers replied with a picture of a student ID; Margaret D Rogers was enrolled at Harvard University. She had just started a master’s program, researching ethics in pop culture.
Ever since she was a senior undergraduate in music production and Williams had made a surprise visit to give grades on her class work at New York University, Rogers’ life had been a whirlwind. She toured her album, Heard It in a Past Life, played sold-out concerts, appeared at awards shows (she was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys in 2019) and caused a stir at Glastonbury and Coachella. It was exhilarating. “It all happened, and more than I could have ever dreamed of,” she recalls.
It was also tiring. “After those four, five years of really intense touring, I was really exhausted. I had only been working. I hadn’t lived a life,” she says. We’re in the living room of her downtown hotel from London. She’s layered in gold jewellery, her necklaces dangling from a ruffled white buttonhole, evoking a glamorous vintage rocker girl. “I didn’t wear this– a swipe gesture at her outfit “At Harvard,” she laughs. Although speaking, she carries the calm, thoughtful intensity of someone who shows up to class after reading.
Going to higher education was a way to restore some normality. She cycled to class, steamed broccoli in her small kitchen; one night on her way home, she heard a loud student party, knocked on the door, and walked in (it turned out to be a party for one of the infamous college exclusive events Final clubs). She worked on her thesis, titled Surrender: Cultural Consciousness, the Spirituality of Public Gatherings, and Ethics of Power in Pop Culture, on the responsibilities of the musician as an individual who brings people together and their role in dismantling the oppression.
Abandonment is also the title of his new album. She started working there in early 2020, while at her parents’ house in Maine during the pandemic. “I baked bread and went for a walk and read a bunch,” Rogers says, “and then all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh, there’s this thing that I likes to do to pass the time. It’s making music.'” She built a studio above the garage and started working: “I wrote 100 songs for this record.”
Those 100 have been whittled down to 12 on an album that celebrates the act of disappearing into something bigger than yourself: into love, into friendship, or into the sweaty ecstasy of a dancing crowd. One early single, Want Want, in which Rogers sings of desire against a roaring synth reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, is about “sex – not really any other way to put it,” she bluntly wrote in an Instagram post. “It’s a song about really wanting to have sex with someone and doing it.”
Rogers Called Surrender a “pandemic album”. It feels like one, in the sense that his songs ache for the feelings of embodiment, exuberance and community that had been rendered so rare. “I wanted sensuality, I wanted touch,” Rogers says of his making.
She usually begins working on her albums by assembling images; the visual moodboard for this album included “really sticky, gooey red lipstick; a silver jacket, shiny as if it had been hit by a car headlight; many teeth; jaw; collarbone.” She catches the air as she narrates. Another source of inspiration was New York, the city Rogers lived in for six years and where she feels most at home.
The album may seem like a departure from his previous work. Alaska, the song that left Williams speechless, was inspired by an formative hike Rogers took there as a student. In it, the singer pays homage to the state’s icy streams and glacial plains, against the sound of a cooing dove. On the cover of Heard It in a Past Life, an album that was made over a whirlwind two weeks as she coped with her sudden fame, the musician is draped in a red scarf, standing against a sky dark blue on an open plain.
Rogers expressed bewilderment at being seen as a “nature girl,” as if she were a flower child with long hair and a bell. Surrender’s cover is a close-up of her eyes, in pure black and white, dusted with the bangs of her pixie cut, and her songs are a tribute to the bustle of New York City. Was this his way of saying goodbye to the “nature girl”?
“No, because none of these memorandum decisions were made in relation to the press,” she says. “I think Nature Girl was really funny. It’s a symptom of something bigger, which is the desire to simplify things. She adds that she doesn’t think cities are “unnatural” and that “the desire to create this pair, city/country, doesn’t really work”.
She moved between the two, having grown up in rural Maryland, where she learned harp, piano, banjo and guitar. “I didn’t have a cell phone, wifi or TV until I was 18.” The first night she arrived in New York for college, “a woman came up and asked me if I had a cigarette, and I didn’t. And she turned around and pulled her pants down and showed me her asshole. Since then, Rogers has come to love the city but, at first, it was difficult: before New York, she “had never met anyone who had alternative motivations before; I thought anyone who was nice to me wanted to be my friend.”
Rogers no longer considers herself naive — “because if you’re naive and you live in a city, you get punched in the face” — but admits she’s “awfully serious.” Joy is an important component of his life and of Surrender. “Despite the world, despite the systems of oppression, despite the darkness, to say that you’re alive and you can claim this agency, that’s really important to me,” she says. “And really something that, to me, seems to be our only hope in the cynicism and destruction and death of it all: finding joy and finding ways to reaffirm life.” She announced a tour through Europe – her name is Feral Joy.
I ask her what she thinks of the experience of going viral six years later. “I was so overwhelmed for so long,” she says. “That’s what required me to develop a sense of spirituality” – to accept things happening to her that she may never understand. It feels like after months of isolation and solitary walks on the cliffs, writing songs in his parents’ garage, rummaging through books in college libraries, Rogers is emerging from under a long shadow. Her debut album, which she still loves, “made me feel like I was trying to meet the world. Where now I really feel like, ‘This is where I am. Do you want to meet me here? »
Surrender is released July 29.