Best of 2021: On Saturday February 6, a clip of a young rockstar smashing their guitar on live TV went viral for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t old footage of Kurt Cobain or Pete Townshend or Jimi Hendrix, but a young woman called Phoebe Bridgers, who a lot of commenters had not heard of but were furious with for being so insolent.
26-year-old Bridgers, who recently released her critically acclaimed second album Punisher, closed out her first Saturday Night Live performance by giving a monitor speaker a beating with her guitar.
Now, obviously, this act of violence was premeditated. Sparks flew from the floor monitor that conspiracists were quick to recognize as “fake”, but still, some kind-hearted commenters were deeply concerned about the equipment and the sound guy’s feelings.
There are a few things going on here. Firstly, the performance was great. Bridgers rules. She’s incredibly talented and she’s come a long way very quickly, which explains why so few SNL viewers have heard of her yet.
The song she was performing, I Know the End, is a sprawling, dystopian track that ends with screaming, destruction and chaos even on the record. The guitar-smash, honestly, was pretty measured comparatively.
The furore kicked off when a Twitter user going by the name of BrooklynDad_Defiant! (opens in new tab) tweeted: “Why did this woman, Phoebe Bridgers, destroy her guitar on SNL? I mean, I didn't care much for the song either, but that seemed extra.”
Why did this woman, Phoebe Bridgers, destroy her guitar on SNL?I mean, I didn't care much for the song either, but that seemed extra. pic.twitter.com/ayXgFXtex4February 7, 2021
Extra, honestly, is what most people are going for when they perform on TV in head-to-toe pearl-draped Gucci flanked by musicians in skeleton onesies. Every aspect of Bridgers’ appearance was extra.
A lot of the replies rightly mocked the Defiant Brooklyn Dad (opens in new tab) for being so uptight, but many of them were just as appalled at this Young Lady’s Bad Behavior. There were some disappointed Susans (opens in new tab) who wanted to send Ms Bridgers to bed without any supper, but there were also a lot of people who, for the most part, don’t take issue with guitar-smashing as a general rule.
As some people pointed out, Bright Eyes, who regularly work with Bridgers (in fact, Nate Walcott plays the horns in I Know the End, and was onstage with Bridgers on Saturday) once pulled the same stunt on The Late Late Show, finishing out Road to Joy by stamping on an innocent guitar.
One hero, Danny (opens in new tab), made a valid point in saying: “Hot damn, I’m 71 and not only know who she is but love her music. Only time I smashed my guitar was when I was so fucked up I tripped and fell on it. But I’m a guy so it’s ok.”
He’s not wrong: whether you’re quick to admit it or not, while some commenters invoke wastefulness as the reason why they’re so angry about Bridgers, what they’re thinly veiling is the fact that they’re just pissed off because she’s a woman. Not only that, but she’s a young one who’s only been around for a few years.
Maybe there’s some misinformed idea that the Clashes and the Hendrixs and the Townshends of this world have earned their right to smash guitars, whereas Phoebe Bridgers, who they have not heard of, has not.
To that, I would say that there isn’t actually some kind of Rock Points Accrued system whereby a musician must reach a certain level before destroying their instruments.
What’s most wild, maybe, about this whole exchange, is that Bridgers didn’t actually destroy her guitar at all - but she did try. The guitar, a Danelectro Dano ‘56 baritone, emerged pretty unscathed, and she checked with the manufacturer for permission first: “I told Danelectro I was going to do it and they wished me luck and told me they’re hard to break,” she tweeted (opens in new tab).
Which is another issue rock fans had with her performance: that it was premeditated. Of course, most performances on late night talk shows are premeditated! Quite a lot of work goes into planning them, actually, unless someone goes really rogue like Sinead O’Connor tearing up that photo of the pope on SNL (opens in new tab).
It’s worth remembering too that most of your heroes did things that were less than spontaneous in the name of rock and roll - even Pete Townshend used to glue his guitars back together so he could smash them over and over without wasting them.
He also once joined up with Annie Leibovitz and Rolling Stone to teach the youth step-by-step how to properly smash their instruments (opens in new tab). Some of the greatest acts of rock chaos were pre-planned, which doesn’t actually take away from the theatrics – and honestly, as long as it’s pissing someone off, you’re doing something right.
The outrage comes from a few different places, not all of it gendered. Some comes from people who are just getting older and wouldn’t love if a hip young male artist did the same thing without earning his Rock Points, either.
It happens – instead of acknowledging that something isn’t for them or trying to understand why fans love it, some choose instead to assume an entire generation is wrong.
However, the interrogation of Bridgers’ authenticity really comes from a place of basic misogyny. It’s the same impulse that made so many people leap on TikTok star Zaria for wearing a Metallica T-shirt recently. Fortunately, Zaria could hold her own, and immediately proved herself by shredding eye-watering renditions of Metallica songs.
Phoebe Bridgers is not losing one single night of sleep over the opinions of Susans on Twitter or Rock Dads angry about either her SNL performance or the perceived inauthenticity of it.
Far from apologizing, she posted a photo of the moment in question on Instagram (opens in new tab) with the caption, “got some really great feedback from my performance! Next time I’ll just burn it and it will be more expensive,” because, well, when you’re a female musician, sometimes you’ve just gotta have a sense of humor.
And when you’re a female musician with two critically acclaimed records under your belt, the respect of your heroes, four Grammy nominations and countless magazine covers... how many fucks can you possibly give? There is nothing less rock and roll than giving too many fucks, after all.