By this time last year, Gracie Abrams had rarely performed on stage. Despite millions of streaming listeners and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, the singer-songwriter wondered if anyone would even show up to see her perform. The thought kept him awake at night. “I had dreaded acting, really, my whole life,” she says.
But when Abrams played her first in-person show last September in Santa Ana, Calif., the Los Angeles native felt immediately supported by a packed house of friendly faces who clapped wildly, even for new songs that they hadn’t heard yet.
After that initial show, Abrams completed two sold-out headlining tours and spent most of that month opening for one of today’s biggest pop stars, Olivia. Rodrigo. These recent shows served as immersion therapy for Abrams’ lingering stage fright.
With her two EPs, Gracie Abrams is part of a recent wave of young singer-songwriters whose heartbreaking pop songs are resonating with fans. Rodrigo said Abrams’ tearful 2020 EP, Minor, served as the inspiration for Rodrigo’s viral 2021 anthem “Driver’s License.” While on the road with Rodrigo and preparing to perform in Europe this spring, she is finishing her first album, working with one of Taylor Swift’s most trusted producers.
Before fans watched Abrams perform on stage, they got to know his bedroom. In high school, the avid journalist started posting videos on Instagram as if it were her diary. She shared half-finished songs on guitar, ukulele and piano, leaving mistakes for her growing fan base to hear.
When Abrams’ first live shows were canceled due to the pandemic, she took a virtual Zoom ‘tour’ from her bedroom, going live even when she left undone laundry piled in the corner of the frame. .
In April 2020, she released an iMovie-edited music video for “I Miss You I’m Sorry”, a dark breakup track that later appeared on Minor. The video is as DIY as it gets, with clips of Abrams in his bedroom, under his covers, staring at his phone, or playing with the cords on his hoodie. She is surrounded by a messy desk and posters on her walls. She rocks back and forth as she sings the climactic bridge, “I don’t wanna go, I think I’ll make it worse / All I know comes down to us.” It became Abrams’ most-watched video to date, with over 23 million views on YouTube.
Abrams began keeping a diary at age 8 and wrote his first song that year. She grew up in Los Angeles around the entertainment industry. Her father is filmmaker JJ Abrams and her mother is producer and executive Katie McGrath. Although she never wanted to enter the film industry, Abrams said her parents’ creative impact on her was inevitable. “Knowing that working in storytelling was a possibility was just an inspiring thing as a kid,” says Abrams. “It definitely fueled my love for writing, knowing adults can do it too.”
Abrams says his most formative musical influence was Joni Mitchell, with Mazzy Star, Elliott Smith and the Killers. She first heard the music of Los Angeles native Phoebe Bridgers while in college and says she later connected with the musician through a mutual friend. Abrams says Bridgers’ detailed writing reminded her of Mitchell in a way she didn’t know was possible today. “When I listened to Joni, I felt like I missed that era of that kind of writing. It was distant and unreachable,” she says. “Phoebe burst into my world and completely changed my way of thinking about a career as an artist.”
Since last summer, Abrams has been working with Aaron Dessner of The National, who co-produced songs on four of Taylor Swift’s albums. Abrams and Dessner worked on several songs for That’s what it doesas well as Abrams’ upcoming album and latest single, “Block Me Out,” at Dessner’s studio in Long Pond, upstate New York’s Hudson Valley.
Dessner says his method of working with Abrams was new to him: he planned songs and recorded instruments while Abrams listened and wrote the lyrics. During Abrams’ three visits to Long Pond, the duo recorded a song or two a day and played football games with Dessner’s 7-year-old son. “It felt very natural and almost effortless at times,” Dessner says.
For now, Abrams is finding new comforts on the road. Every morning, she gets on her yoga mat and does at least 10 minutes of stretching. She says she and Rodrigo recently bought matching Razor scooters to ride around backstage. She’s mostly relieved to finally be able to connect with her fans in person and hear her lyrics sung to her. “It’s this beautiful clarity that I feel knowing that other people have gone through the same thing,” she says.
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