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Gracie Abrams Tells Us All About Her ‘Secret’

The singer on her new album, 'The Secret of Us,' and her new single, 'Risk,' releasing today
Gracie Abrams (Credit: Abby Waisler)
Gracie Abrams (Credit: Abby Waisler)

On her new single “Risk,” 24-year-old pop singer Gracie Abrams sings about a love interest with such tortured yearning—“I wake up in the middle of the night / With the light on / And I feel like I could die / ‘Cause you’re not here”—that you do a double take when she gets to the chorus and reveals, “God, I’m actually invested / Haven’t even met him.” 

It’s the kind of unhinged disclosure—this dramatic, carefully articulated sonic anguish is mostly a daydream—that would make you lovingly side-eye your best friend if she shared it with you until you both burst out laughing.

Equal parts heartfelt and tongue-in-cheek, the song is inspired by “the mania before you actually even know someone, where you get it all sick and twisted in your head and feel like you have a fever and can’t control your body and mind,” Gracie says. As with many songs on her forthcoming second album, it was also implicitly an ode to “the beautiful quality of best friends enabling each other’s insanity.”

“Risk” is the lead single from The Secret of Us—which follows last February’s Good Riddance and EPs from 2020 and 2021—and it marks a new approach to songwriting for Gracie Abrams. She rarely co-writes her music. But just as she started working on the album, she moved in with Audrey Hobert, her childhood best friend, her “favorite person on the planet.” Abrams was touring a lot at the time, opening for Taylor Swift (and, earlier this year, Olivia Rodrigo) and headlining her own shows. When she came home, she and Hobert would have a lot to share, and that segued into writing songs together. 

“We would spill every detail of our lives in the time that we had,” she says. “There was a real urgency to our storytelling, and it very naturally led to us songwriting together. We were like, ‘We know how this night went down, but how do we amplify it or make it so dramatic that people want to scream it when we’re all at a show together?’”

Working in such an exciting but comfortable environment proved to be very fruitful for her. “I always struggled going against the grain of how pop music should be structured and the seriousness with which people approach writing sessions in Los Angeles,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily go into a room with the intention of making a radio hit. I just had these feelings and wanted to put them somewhere. But writing with Audrey, we were just talking shit every day, lighting a joint with tears in our eyes from laughing. We know each other so well. We kept each other honest.” 

There’s a newfound clarity in the production and cohesiveness to the storytelling that reflects their iterative process. Whereas Abrams was often singing through a fog of regret and confusion on Good Riddance, she sounds poised, deliberate, and clear-eyed here. The stories build from tiny details to soaring epiphanies, or masterfully reflect on the entire scope of a relationship with grace, wisdom, and remove. A train ride to Boston becomes a stage set with all the people she has yet to fall in love with. The image of an ex taking off their shoes at a new lover’s house somersaults into a damning portrait of a shallow, pretentious person who chases fleeting romantic escapades. 

Performing during the Chanel dinner to celebrate the Watches & Fine Jewelry Fifth Avenue Flagship Boutique Opening on February 7, 2024 in New York City. (Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)

These songs were meant to excite and engage the kinds of boisterous pop fans Gracie played for on tour. And certainly the music is full of dynamic hooks that shimmer and pirouette. But Abrams wrote the lyrics at a time when silence and introspection was becoming increasingly important to her. Instead of listening to much music while working on The Secret of Us, she read the work of feminist authors like Eve Babitz, Melissa Broder, Rebecca Solnit, and Mary Oliver, and reflected on “how little I know.” Through reading, quieting herself, and learning more about worlds beyond her own, she intentionally created “room to absorb real truths and experiences that are not my own,” which she feels is “the most influential and expansive kind of learning that we can do.”

She is intent on looking beyond herself and taking accountability in her songwriting. She calls herself a walking contradiction, spells out all the ways she self-sabotages. Even the record’s burning desire, sour contempt, and glimmers of bravado are often positioned as melodramatic and outsized, traits of a character building a larger-than-life image of themselves as a defense mechanism when they feel out of control. The album benefits from this self-awareness and willingness to view ego with a sense of humor. “All of the wistfulness of this album, all the pissed off aspects of this album, all the bitter moments, it’s all said while laughing at myself the whole time,” she says.

As a musical guest on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,’ December 14, 2023. (Credit: Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images)

The introspective approach Gracie takes on The Secret of Us aligns with Aaron Dessner’s style too. As a producer for confessionalist songwriters like Taylor Swift to Sharon Van Etten, Dessner excels at pulling back and letting delicate acoustic guitar and vocals arrangements unfurl with understated tranquility. The restrained but gorgeous production on The Secret of Us makes space for Abrams’ lofty, imagined dream worlds and plainly stated regret and anger alike. 

“Aaron Dessner is an expert at letting the narrative carry the story,” Abrams says. “He’s reminding me constantly of the importance of space and room in my life and in music. This is a pop album for sure, but he also really brought sensitivity to it.” 

The Secret of Us is a collection of love songs that reminisce on desire and loss in all its forms, but the titular secret seems to allude to what Abrams’ friendships illuminate — the way an honest conversation pushes her to see herself more clearly, the rush that communal storytelling brings, the beautiful worlds you can build with someone when they see things through your eyes. “I love a crush; I love being in love,” she says. “But in the absence of that, I feel most moved by the women that I’m lucky enough to know.”