I’m standing in a sea of 5,500 people, eagerly waiting for Gracie Abrams to take the stage at Hordern Pavilion in Sydney, Australia. It’s been nine years since the rising star first made her foray into music through social media, and the cult following she amassed has only grown remarkably since then. An album and a Grammy nomination later, Gracie Abrams has finally made her way down under, and it’s been a long time coming.
Between draping themselves in iconography emblematic of the songstress (white lace, blue converses, and stars) and waiting in queues sprawled towards Moore Park for hours under the searing Australian sun, it is evident that Gracie’s fans are unwaveringly devoted to her. As I look to my left and right, realising that almost everyone in attendance is donned in bows varying in colour and length, most of which are holding up half-up half-down hairdos, I know that I am about to experience both a mourning and celebration of girlhood – an occasion I will remember forever.
The crowd lets out enthusiastic shrieks punctuated by erratic breaths and whispers of “I’m going to cry” as the strobes flash in synchrony with sped-up beats, seamlessly flowing into the introduction of “Where do we go now?”. Gracie emerges from the wisteria haze on stage but remains a silhouette for the first verse and chorus of the song.
“You look hopeful, like we’re supposed to work somehow,”
Gracie coos, giving a small wave to the audience with a cheeky grin when she’s finally cast in the spotlight. With her black hair worn short, she sports a white lace top and a white midi skirt. The crowd erupts in cheers.
Gracie’s debut album, Good Riddance, is just one month short of turning one. She first introduced the album in an Instagram post, admitting that the tunes on the record were weaved together from her “most secret places”.
The soundscapes and lyrics on Good Riddance form hieroglyphics of existential questions and feelings otherwise burrowed in the deepest alcoves of a twentysomething’s mind. Gracie seems to have a pulse on where her peers are in life, and admiringly, she becomes an exemplar by coming face to face with her shortcomings and mental battles intrepidly. She pens songs that shed light on failed relationships (“I know it won’t work” and “This is what the drugs are for”), falling in love (“The blue”), leaving the past behind (“Right now”), and being the one at fault (“Where do we go now?” and “Best”).
Ruminations and emotions that lived undefined and unsaid — once shameful, confusing, and out of reach – are now set free with Good Riddance. With raw lyrics like “Last night, I spiralled alone in the kitchen, making pretend that the furniture listened” and “I know I changed overnight, so I can’t blame you for fighting, and I’d be losing my mind, if you lived in your writing,” Gracie outwardly prompts honesty from all her listeners alike, if not for anyone but themselves.
As the crowd bellows the lyrics of “I should hate you” with Gracie, I now realise that the direct result of Good Riddance is an intimate exchange of vulnerability between Gracie and her audience – what was once a painful soliloquy on her part has now morphed into melodic lullabies that her fans religiously listen and attach personal significance to. There’s a bittersweetness to it all.
Gracie’s shows create the perfect atmosphere for such interactions. With mostly ambient lighting doing the heavy-lifting set design-wise, Gracie’s stage presence and vocals shine through. Sitting on the piano, her beauty illuminated by the light bulbs surrounding her, she looks ethereal. You can only describe her aura as dream-like, and if you had told me that she was of another world, I would’ve believed you.
“I met a girl once, she sort of ripped me open,” Gracie sings while staring intently into the eyes of her audience. “She doesn’t even know it, she doesn’t know my name.”
Before moving on to her next song, Gracie takes a moment to show appreciation to all the parents and plus-ones in the audience. She addresses her fans next, thanking them profusely. “It’s the biggest blessing ever to get to know you,” she gushes while holding a fan-made book passed down to her by the crowd. “Thank you for existing.”
A special moment that sums up Gracie’s character is when she diverts from the pre-planned setlist to play “The blue” mid-show, explaining she had met a group of girls at the airport who implored her to sing that song. I was teetered between tears and smiles. I relate that song to Gracie and my partner, as they had come into my life unexpectedly when I needed them most.
“The blue” is a far cry from “I miss you, I’m sorry” — one of the most gut-wrenching songs in her discography. As Gracie begins to sing it on piano, my stomach churns. In a flash, it’s 2020, and I’m 19 again, crouching over my bed while letting out ugly sobs incessantly as this song blasts out of my phone’s speakers in the background. There I was, thinking my world was about to irreparably end because a boy I loved had cruelly broken my heart.
As I watch thousands of concertgoers mouth the lyrics of the song with their ache on full display, I wished there was a way to share my epiphany with them: one day, they, too, will sing this song without feeling like their entire sense of self is collapsing in on them.
It’s a visceral reminder, as I’m standing here four years later, resonating to the lyrics of “Right Now” instead, that whoever promised it does eventually get better wasn’t lying. “Right Now” is a stand-out song on Good Riddance, with which Gracie closes the show. It deviates from her penchant for sad melodies with desolate descriptions of lost lovers and self-doubt. Instead, it’s about bidding farewell to every past version of yourself, feeling like you’re finally free despite your losses. What more could you gain?
In brief moments between the verses of “Right Now”, which she croons with certitude, Gracie beams proudly. For a girl proclaiming to be an introvert who wrote music to avoid people as a child, Gracie seems to have made the stage her home as she wafts from one end to the other effortlessly. It’s quite the transition from what she’s used to, but she credits the smoothness of it all to her fans – whom she calls family — the “soft landing pad” that calms her nerves while performing.
“I feel in my bones that we’ve grown up together,” Gracie confesses to the crowd towards the end of the show.
Through her music, Gracie Abrams has been there for me at every fork in my path to adulthood. She’s the one artist my age that makes me feel understood in a myriad of ways. As the audience’s mood shifts from sombre to hopeful, I know that merely calling Gracie Abrams a musician becomes inadequate. Songwriting may be her talent, but Gracie is a healer at her core. As a result, her shows feel like a safe bubble, tethered by mutual trust between her and her fans.
A Gracie Abrams show is a confessional environment that prompts self-reflection, so be forewarned that you might spend most of the show unfurling. However, rest assured that Gracie will, without fail, cup your hurt gently in her hands and cushion your heart as you let go.