For a new artist, a debut appearance on “Saturday Night Live” is a career milestone: an iconic show hedging the bet that you’re ready to go to the next level. What the artist does with that spot ultimately is down to them: Some artists let their artistry do the talking (Adele, 2008), work in an innovative performance (Billie Eilish’s mirror box, 2019), some make a social statement (Megan Thee Stallion, last fall) and some provoke the audience and the show (Elvis Costello, 1977, Sinead O’Connor, 1990).
While fast-rising indie singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers’ music is generally pretty chill, she found a way to make a splash on her “SNL” debut with a chaotic finale to “This Is the End,” the closer from “Punisher,” one of the most critically praised albums of 2020, which is up for four Grammys next month.
While her first song — the album’s first single, “Kyoto” — was delivered solidly, with Bridgers and her band in their familiar Halloween skeleton costumes, for the closer, she pulled out the stops. Wearing a sort of glammed-up take of her skeleton costume — with strings of rhinestones acting as the ribs — she started the song quietly but gradually built in intensity as it went on. As on the album, it climaxed loudly, with horn riffs and roaring crescendos from the band and screaming from Bridgers — but unlike the album, she let loose on her guitar, bashing it against a monitor as it fed back loudly. She didn’t quite smash it, but the point was made.
It’s probably not quite what the viewers at home unfamiliar with this young blonde woman with the pretty voice and songs were expecting, but it’s also a perfectly fitting introduction to this promising artist’s multi-faceted talents. Watch both performances below.