Illustration by Jane Montalto
After seeing Phoebe Bridgers live in concert twice this past summer, I have gained a newfound appreciation for “Moon Song” and the story that it tells. With the stage fully immersed in multicolored lights and heavy with fog, a whirlpool of despair was absolutely in the forecast those two nights. Witnessing her angelic voice echoing, her sweet yet edgy demeanor glowing and her regurgitated lyrics spewing out into the crowd defined what it truly means to be a dedicated “Pharb.” With the whole crowd belting the last verse of “Moon Song,” both the arising anticipation and the cathartic climax made me feel at home. Watching her perform it live transformed the song from a slow-paced, skippable track to a go-to nightly car ride tune — one that deserves a deep sea dive.
“Moon Song” — the seventh track on the critically-acclaimed album Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers — unravels a cherished past relationship that awaits rekindling, all while reminiscing on moments of old love. In this enchanting yet heart-wrenching song, Bridgers uses metaphors to convey themes of longing and loyalty. Melancholic guitar-plucking in unison with Bridgers’ wistful hums and somber lyricism characterize “Moon Song,” classifying it as a top-rated track in her discography.
Owls’ hoots flood the track before the first few lines:
You asked to walk me home
But I had to carry you
After a night of bar hopping and bottomless drinks, the night begins to close when she is offered a walk home. Bridgers knows she can care for herself, but feels obligated to say yes. Though her love interest made an effort to care for her, Bridgers ends up having to carry the dead weight of her blacked out lover in the middle of the night.
And you pushed me in
And now my feet can’t touch the bottom of you
Bridgers compares this dynamic to being pushed into a pool in the darkness. The love interest roped Bridgers into a relationship she was ill-prepared for, which led her to lose control of her footing and awareness of her surroundings. Night swimming relays mystery — drifting in a body of water of unknown depth. This metaphor, indicative of her romance, depicts Bridgers as the one who was carrying the weight of this rocky relationship.
Onto the second verse, Bridgers shares the pivotal point of betrayal:
You couldn’t have
You couldn’t have
Stuck your tongue down the throat of somebody
Who loves you more
The repetition of the phrase “you couldn’t have” suggests a denial of what had occurred — Bridgers’ love interest leaving her for someone else. Bridgers viewed the relationship as uneasy, yet the love she had for her partner was boundless. The thought of her lover admiring another brought her pain — a type of pain that digs deeply into her ribcage and slams her heart against impenetrable concrete.
Bridgers follows with words of hope:
So I will wait for the next time you want me
Like a dog with a bird at your door
Now, Bridgers wants what she cannot have, and she will let time pass until the opportunity to be with this love interest presents itself again. She imagines herself as a dog, a classic symbol of loyalty and pure devotion, while the bird exemplifies a token to win back their relationship. Ending the verse with the sound “mmm” equates to a dog’s whimper, pleading to be greeted and loved by another. This dynamic will be revisited and further investigated in later verses.
In more specific memories, Bridgers and her love interest share similar opinions on the discography of Eric Clapton:
We hate “Tears In Heaven”
But it’s sad that his baby died
Clapton’s song “Tears In Heaven” commemorates the passing of his son. Though it shows vulnerability, the two fail to enjoy the song despite its sorrowful backstory. Their blunt dissatisfaction with the song is the first commonality seen throughout “Moon Song,” and it’s one that evokes love from hatred.
Though Bridgers and her love interest are on the same page about Clapton, disagreements arise when John Lennon is mentioned:
And we fought about John Lennon
Until I cried
And then went to bed upset
The listener remains clueless as to why there is a dispute about Lennon, but Bridgers has mentioned in interviews that Lennon is her favorite Beatle and is a significant hero to her. Succumbing to tears, she went to bed alone. Lennon wrote the song “Beautiful Boy,” about consoling his son, Sean, who was experiencing a nightmare. This bittersweet song exemplifies Lennon’s unconditional love for his son, providing Sean with blanketed security and a wishful goodnight. Overwhelmed by the argument, Bridgers may have hoped to be comforted in the way that Sean was by Lennon, sleeping off the intense tension that her love interest caused.
Bridgers now recalls her dreamlike state:
But now I am dreaming
And you’re singing at my birthday
And I’ve never seen you smiling so big
Bridgers projects a picture in the listener’s mind: she is surrounded by loved ones, her face dimly lit by the candles on a birthday cake. She notes her love interest and the significance of their presence and smile. Though Bridgers dreams about her birthday celebration, seeing her lover joyful is all she wishes for. She quickly references the theme of her birthday party: “It’s nautical themed.” To an outsider, only the theme of the party is established, but to Bridgers and her love interest, this could signify an inside joke or deeper meaning between them. On Bridgers’ debut album, Stranger in the Alps, “Funeral” also recalls a dream about her loved ones surrounded by a marine environment:
And I have this dream where I’m screaming underwater
While my friends are waving from the shore
In contrast with the line in “Moon Song,” “Funeral” shows her friends oblivious to Bridgers’ unwarranted drowning — but in “Moon Song,” she feels complete in the classic “Happy Birthday” song. The relationship between the moon and the ocean varies throughout the day, both rising and falling with its gravitational pull. Bridgers can feel this rollercoaster of emotions whenever interacting with her loved ones, as illustrated in her unconscious thoughts.
Wrapped up in the final verse of the song, Bridgers completes her recollection of the dream:
And there’s something I’m supposed to say
But can’t for the life of me
Remember what it is
When remembering the specifics of a dream, details tend to fade away, and in this case, Bridgers cannot recall what more she had to add. At this point in the song, she has completely forgotten about the fight and can only remember the fictional happy moments with her love interest, revealing that she’s living in a fantasy.
After verses of nightly activities and darkened philosophies, the moon has finally made its appearance in the chorus of the song:
And if I could give you the moon
I would give you the moon
The physical act of giving someone the moon is truly impossible, but the proposal of doing so is a pure act of sentiment. However, Vector from Despicable Me fails to fall into this category and only wants to keep the moon for himself. (Side note: Bridgers appears on the soundtrack for the movie Minions: The Rise of Gru, and it is truly a masterpiece.) The name “Phoebe” is derived from the Greek name “Phoibe,” — the name of a Greek Titan who was closely associated with the moon. This in turn suggests that Bridgers would give all of herself for her lover if she could. Though the chorus of “Moon Song” does not repeat, these two lines leave the listener carrying a heavy load.
Bridgers refuses us to take a break after that pitiful chorus and ends the track with an even more emotionally damaging outro, beginning with:
You are sick and you’re married
And you might be dying
Bridgers transports us into the future where her love interest is now married and growing old with another, watching them from the “Sidelines” — another great song in her discography. She wishes to have grown old with her love interest in this fictional future she created, and she continues to hold onto the slim hope of having another chance.
The recurring motif of water throughout “Moon Song” is referenced one last time in the line:
But you’re holding me like water in your hands
Carrying any liquid in your hands requires constant concentration and steadiness, where one wrong move could disrupt its volume. Bridgers implies that she has a sensitive personality, and when the people she heavily trusts betray her, she falls apart.
The metaphor of the dog and the bird returns, bringing the song full circle:
When you saw the dead little bird
You started crying
But you know the killer doesn’t understand
The dog, a representation of Bridgers, captured a bird for its owner. The bird, seen as the winning token to recover their relationship, is the metaphorical “moon.” The owner, seeing the dog with the dead bird in her mouth, sobs at the gruesome sight. The killer — the dog — misunderstands the situation and only views it as an act of love, but the owner sees it as an act of loss. In Bridgers’ case, she could give all of herself to her lover and remain clueless about what went wrong, feeling as if she is not enough for them or that she is completely misunderstood. Similarly, in “Killer” off Stranger in the Alps, she also views herself as the killer in question, oozing out phrases like “being hungry for blood” and “giving all of my love.”
Bridgers would go through unprecedented limits to get just the slimmest amount of attention from her love interest, speaking volumes about how being devoted to one person can make you strive to reach the impossible.