Phoebe and Kesha showdown: One weekend, two concerts, two blondes

Phoebe Bridgers performed at Surly Brewing Company on Saturday, Sept. 11; the next night, Kesha took the stage at The Armory. Here’s what I learned from attending both.

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James Schaak

Both Phoebe Bridgers and Kesha performed in Minneapolis on the same weekend and provided Twin Cities music fans with an opportunity to observe the juxtaposition of their differing career paths.

James Schaak

In 2020, Phoebe Bridgers shot to indie — and to some extent, mainstream — stardom following the release of her critically acclaimed album, “Punisher.” Meanwhile, Kesha, known for her raunchy early ‘10s hits, also released an album: “High Road.”

This fall, both artists have returned to the concert stage to tour their new albums, coincidentally visiting Minneapolis on the same weekend and providing Twin Cities music fans with an opportunity to observe the juxtaposition of their differing career paths. Phoebe Bridgers easily displayed the talent that has garnered her such universal praise while Kesha relied on showmanship and nostalgia in her effort to churn out a night of messy fun.

Tonally, Phoebe Bridgers and Kesha could have easily switched nights. Kesha gave the crowd a Saturday night type of debauchery. Within minutes of arriving on stage, she yelled, “Let’s forget the world is a f–cking dumpster fire and just dance our f–cking asses off!” as muscular men in mesh shirts gyrated behind her.

As exciting as it is to take part in Kesha’s unapologetic sleaziness, there is something to be said about watching an artist perform their craft at the top of their game. Everything about Phoebe Bridgers was thought out and executed almost flawlessly. She was backed by a five person band, including a trumpeter and pianist, and the storybook-inspired background visuals corresponded well with her songs’ deft lyrical content. The Phoebe Bridgers crowd was there to watch Phoebe Bridgers play her songs, not to party and get high off of nostalgia, among other things.

Phoebe Bridgers performed a cover of Bo Burnham’s “Funny Feeling,” a song that details how our daily life has become increasingly apocalyptic as post-capitalism and global warming rage on. Phoebe Bridgers’ own lyrics were also full with the types of melancholy observations that take place on Sunday nights, as one dreads the week ahead.

Yet the Phoebe Bridgers concert was not necessarily all doom and gloom. As with nearly every concert, fans were ecstatic to see their favorite performer, perhaps more now than ever. Both performers mentioned how thankful they were to be back on stage and many in the audience at the shows excitedly chatted about how this was their first show since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Most differences between the two are surface level. One could summarize them as an “up-and-coming indie darling” and a “popstar in her flop era”, but those descriptions would do neither justice. As Phoebe Bridgers and her crew walked onto stage, “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas blared on the speakers —the 2009 hit single co-written and performed by Will.i.am, a Kesha collaborator. The song choice speaks to how small the gap between these two music scenes have become. As streaming services have taken the place of 99 cent iTunes songs and CDs, it has become easier and cheaper than ever before to casually explore genres. This technological shift has affected the way artists consume and produce music as well. They too are exposing themselves to larger varieties of music and can become more genre-adverse without risking part of their fanbase. This is part of the reason why similarities between Phoebe Bridgers and Kesha are easy to spot, despite their vastly different careers.

Both women have released songs about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of well-known men in the music industry and both shows were adamantly queer-friendly spaces. For all their stylistic differences, it is not hard to imagine the two artists being fans of each other’s work. After all, Phoebe Bridgers has declared her love for the empowering raunch of Megan Thee Stallion, and Kesha has worked with indie folk rocker Sturgill Simpson. While in line for Kesha, I spotted a fellow fan wearing a Phoebe Bridgers shirt from the night before. It was rather unsurprising.