Review: The Relatable Meaning Behind “Punisher” by Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher Album Cover. (Wikipedia)

Phoebe Bridgers fills her album Punisher, a Grammy nominee for Best Alternative Music Album that lost to Fiona Apple’s album Fetch the Bolt Cutters, with beautifully emotional and melancholy songs. “Punisher”, the title track for this album, shows this perfectly. 

“Punisher” is a soft, slow, and minimalistic ballad-like song. Composed mostly of piano with strings highlighting certain sections, as well as a subtle, deep, and slow bass line, all components blend together to create an echoey feel that highlights the solitary nature of the lyrics. References to Snow White and other fantastical themes give the song an almost fairytale-like sound.

“Punisher,” as with many of Bridgers’ other songs, addresses different emotions pertaining to self-reflection and the pressures of daily life, including Bridgers’ personal experiences as well. The lyrics describe specific actions such as walking in her neighborhood or having a conversation, painting a clear picture in a narrative fashion—while still leaving room for listeners to find their own meaning. 

Bridgers talks about the meaning of her lyrics as found on Apple Music via Genius. She calls “Punisher” a “tribute song.” It is a tribute to Silver Lake, her neighborhood, but also a tribute to Elliott Smith, a singer/songwriter who Bridgers looks up to. She sings about where she lives and illustrates Silver Lake and LA at night. She talks specifically about Elliot Smith’s house in LA when she sings, “The house where you lived with Snow White.” His house was a cottage-like house in LA and Bridgers discusses imagining that Snow White used to live in the house with Smith. 

More than just a tribute, this song is about the fear of being a “Punisher.” Bridgers defines a punisher as a person who is painful to talk to. When discussing her definition, she talks about situations where she is talking to a fan or a relative and she knows she has to be nice and react in a respectful way, but in reality, she just wants out of the conversation. Bridgers says the song is about “being afraid that I’m a punisher—that when I talk to my heroes [more specifically, Elliot Smith], that their eyes will glaze over.” The final line of her song displays this sentiment as she sings, “Wouldn’t know where to start/ Wouldn’t know when to stop.” She touches on this idea of not knowing what to say, this feeling that you’re talking, but not saying anything of value, something a person needs or wants to hear.

Phoebe Bridgers is an amazingly talented artist with wonderful music, and “Punisher” gracefully displays her style as well as the general vibe of her album, making it a great place for new listeners to start.


Clicke here to listen to the song

Click here to access the Genius page