Maggie Rogers Dont Forget Me

Maggie Rogers – Don’t Forget Me (Capitol Records)

Begin typing “Maggie Rogers” on Google or YouTube and among the first three suggestions for search, “Pharrell” will pop up. Read new reviews or features and you also will stumble upon a passage about how she “was ‘discovered'”. Eight years after going viral, Maggie Rogers still fights for a simulacrum called “freedom of a pop star” and this time she is really close to showing the world (and some music writers) that she is not “the girl who got lucky”, but — “the ambitious auteur”.

For an accomplished bona fide star, it’s strange to be defined throughout their story of success or different plot markers from the past. We don’t recall Destiny’s Child‘Halo’, or ‘Single Ladies’ in every Beyoncé review. In the same way, Ryan Gosling doesn’t need to constantly apologize for the old sins like The Mickey Mouse Club or Young Hercules. After a certain level of recognition, an artist equals their modern work, not vivid biography moments from the past. And so it is with Maggie Rogers. The time when it was necessary to mention this story with Pharrell Williams and ‘Alaska’ is almost history because right now she is more than an aspiring singer who needs to be seen through other famous names or funny stories. “Maggie Rogers is more than the musician who made Pharrell freak”, fairly stated Claire Landsbaum in the Cut feature back in 2017. 

However, despite Rogers’ established status as one of folk-pop’s true MVPs, it’s almost impossible to define her current path without appealing to so-called “Pharrell’s patronage” because, besides accidental popularity, it brought her to two mutually exclusive paths: an extremely sudden left turn from her cabin-in-the-woods tunes; and the possibility to play folk music for a wider audience. As every member of her Maggies fandom (yes, I’ve just made it up) knows from her biography, initially Rogers was recording pretty bleak and sharp folk confessionals which are perfectly seen on her first two independent albums, The Echo (2012) and Blood Ballet (2014). She also wanted to give up on music to become a music journalist and even helped her potential future colleague Lizzy Goodman with transcribing and editing dozens of interviews with famous musicians and journalists for her bestselling book Meet Me in the Bathroom about the origins of New York indie rock in the 2000s.

Eventually, she approached that fateful acquaintance with Pharrell Williams with just-overcome writer’s block, which resulted in her break-out Williams-approved hit ‘Alaska’. It went viral in the blink of an eye, and from that point, Rogers began her departure from the initial folksy sound to pop stardom. I would bet some candies that Capitol Records’ big shots considered Sigrid and Girl In Red as role models for her music — they were extremely popular in 2018, while her first major label release was in the works. Would she make such high-energy and upbeat earworms with a touch of electronica without that lucky acquaintance? I’m not sure. However, after almost eight years of pop odyssey, Rogers gradually comes back to organic folk sounds dipped in poppiness. In other words, she gave such a detour to pop across her own roots just to come back to the beginning but with a lush, sleek, and polished production… and a wider audience, of course, that now is ready to be turned into fresh new folk admirers. In this case, Don’t Forget Me sounds like an ideal record of an artist who got out of the whirlpool of the pop industry unscathed. 

To evaluate how much work was done by Rogers from that lucky day, let’s first look at the credits of her first official record, Heard It in a Past Life. Do you see what I see? Greg Kurstin, Doug Schadt, Ricky Reed, Kid Harpoon, Jack Hallenbeck, Lucio Westmoreland, Nick Das, Rostam — instead of Rogers, there were as many as eight producers. Eight! And all of them were male. What a coincidence. It’s a lot for delivering a consistent and individual author’s message. After mixed reviews, marked with expressions like “powerful”, “strong songwriting”, and “pure pop star”… alongside the likes of “predictable”, “indistinct”, and “prosaic”, she drew conclusions from her “overproduced” and keen-to-be stadium-worthy major label debut. Since then, she has begun reducing the number of producers: on Surrender, which, by the way, was a part of her thesis in a graduate program at Harvard Divinity School, their number decreased to three with Kid Harpoon as the main collaborator; and here, on Don’t Forget Me, she had worked only with Ian Fitchuk, mainly producing it by herself.

In the same way, in the last five years, Rogers has progressively gotten rid of extra layers of production husk, making her new sound more spacious and elemental. Some music critics have already called it a “sonic reboot” or the “strongest yet”, but attentive listeners remember her two independent albums. Also, they might notice that in Heard It in a Past Life and Surrender she had already practiced some experiments with more guitar-ish and ballad-esque music at the end of the back halves. Just remember ‘Symphony’ or ‘Fallingwater’ (with its Florence Welch-tipped live on SNL) and also a lot of nods to Stevie Nicks, Angel Olsen, and other iconic and modern heroes of American music. However, only a small coterie of fans knows that her best work to date was a compilation of her pre-‘Alaska’ guitar-driven demos, Notes from the Archive. And right now, she does all of the aforementioned openly and fearlessly during the whole 10-track span of Don’t Forget Me.

In that viral video with Williams, she said: “All I want to do is kind of combine that folk imagery and harmony and natural samples that I’ve been picking up while hiking over the last couple years with the sort of backbone and energy of dance music”. Well, here she is. Rogers has made the same old high-octane clapback pop blended with folk and alternative, but this time she has rewound her sonics to about 20-30 years back, when Sheryl Crow, Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette, and Natalie Imbruglia were trendy. To the time of her approximate childhood. This is her own Tuesday Night Music Club, Come On Over, Jagged Little Pill, and Left of the Middle. Adding a bit of pop rhythms from the 2000s girl/boy-bands and some dark shades with lines like, “I was an animal making my way up the hill / And you were going in for the kill” in ‘The Kill’, she managed to organize a little Blast from the Past party here.

If Don’t Forget Me had been released in the middle of the ’90s or, in Rogers’ words, “if now was then”, today we would know the anxious and buoyant ‘Drunk’, seasoned with a small injection of a Him-like gothic guitar line, as a hit on the level of ‘Ironic’ and ‘Torn’ . The same might be said about Fleetwood Mac-indebted ‘So Sick Of Dreaming’ and the ’70s or about ‘On & On & On’ and the ’00s, because of its Dolores O’Riordan-recalling vocals and ‘N Sync-invoking pop motives. It’s really easy to lose yourself sometimes here, forgetting which decade you’re in now. If you accidentally switch, for example, from the blooming and soaring ‘It Was Coming All Along’ to, say, Texas’ ‘Say What You Want’ or ‘If Now Was Then’ — to any song by Avril Lavigne or any other musician from posters in Rogers’ teenage room in Maryland, it’s more likely that you won’t notice the substitution.

Another Williams, Terry Tempest, told the NYT that maybe Rogers is known to her fans as “a rock star”, but he knows her “as a writer” whose “words are lean, staccato, unadorned, visceral” and who “writes through the full range of emotion that she inhabits”. “And though it’s dark out in the distance / It’s looking like there might be a new soul”, she sings in ‘It Was Coming All Along’, proving his words and simultaneously laying a bridge to the next steps of her own oeuvre. Her bolder, clever, sometimes piercing, and delicately penned lyrics are evident from the get-go, from the first verse of the opening track: “Call my mother on the phone / Said there’s talking in the kitchen / Of selling my childhood home”. She can already easily compete with the best contemporaries like Angel Olsen or Sharon Van Etten through her songwriting wisdom, not forgetting to leave some extra space for bitter irony too: “And by the way, the Knicks lost”, we hear in ‘So Sick of Dreaming’, telling the story of a date that failed because a guy went to a Knicks game instead.

By its left turn to pop and back, this story may remind us of Marika Hackman’s path who finally found her signature style thanks to extremely successful and sophisticated experiments with pop tunes on Any Human Friend, which resulted in her cathartic work, Big Sigh. For Rogers, such a step still awaits somewhere in the future. Don’t Forget Me looks more like a middle ground, a transition between the story arc in which she deals with her instant success and that chapter where she embraces her new identity. Considering some gems, we hear a largely safe album’s execution here. Nevertheless, she achieved a more important objective of finally closing a big chapter of her biography where every review of her new album necessarily included that bit of historical diving with which we started this article.

After such a devoted record, Maggie Rogers’ magnum opus is only a matter of time, a very short one, but for now… All she wanna do is have some fun and I got a feelin’ she’s not the only one.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.