Phoebe Ryan is a name a lot of indie-pop aficionados know, but it feels like no one really knew her until now. Her debut album How It Used To Feel solidifies her style and vision as an artist.
Phoebe Ryan broke onto the scene with her viral mashups but took a moment to release her debut album, while that seems rare today when projects are released so often, it only makes sense that Ryan took a step back and waited. It's almost a re-introduction. She had to take time to decide who she was as an artist. How It Used To Feel is personal, it's like a candid chat with your friend about someone who broke your heart. It's fun and witty but also honest and painful at points. Each song is strung together with her love for synthy, dreamy pop, and her incredibly unique voice.
Opening with "ICIMY" we get a taste of her bubbly side; the lilting song sets the tone for the project. Her signature sparkling pop is on display. An abbreviation for "In Case I Miss You" it's smart with some bite to it. It's a different spin on a breakup; this isn't your typical sad song of resent. Sometimes it's not about the person but the feeling of someone just being there.
"Talk To Me" shows a hint of country, but with the added guitars and powerful vocals, it's the perfect blend of her sound. In a recent press release, Ryan says, "Communication is something I write about often because I've been in way too many situations where I've experienced just how bad texting has fucked us all up. It's so hard for people to be honest face-to-face." The guy she was dating texted her that he was seeing someone else. For a song about a devastating moment, Ryan spins the song into a positive reminder about why we shouldn't hide behind screens. That's a theme we see throughout this album, Ryan seems to face all of the heartbreak with this ability to spin it into a lesson, even if it's not right away, she works through problems with such grace.
"Ring" is a clear standout, filled with raw vulnerability. When she sings, "don't you dare put a ring on her finger," it feels like any relationship where it ends, but you have to watch them move on and be happy. She sings, "When your life is like a movie, and you're just the extra watching her become the star." It hits a particular chord. What if you're not the protagonist in the story? What if you're the mean ex instead of the leading lady? It's a different perspective, and it's interesting that she goes that route. It's harder to paint yourself as a bystander. Sometimes the happily ever after is for someone else, and that's why it's so painful.
As the album rounds out, it's clear that she is reminiscing on the past in a way to clear her future. "Just Like Me" shows her mirror lover, someone who is just like her but not in a positive way. She sings, "Baby, you're impossible to love, Cause you're just like me", and that line kills. The self-awareness she has in this song really shows her growth.
In her final track, "The Real Wild Ones," Ryan sings about her past lovers in a way the feels like someone at a bar telling you about their mistakes and owning up to them over a somber piano melody. Ryan knows she shouldn't be with these guys, but it's worth it for the story, as long as she gets out before she gest hurt. She solidifies that when she sings, "People think I'm crazy when I think I'm having fun," and it wraps up the album in a sweet way. Not every romance has to be forever, not every guy has to be great, but as long as you're learning and growing, you'll be okay, even if it's not right now.
Ryan graduated from the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU in 2013 then headed to LA, finding work as a songwriter for several artists. Gradually she made it all the way up the ladder to Britney Spears, penning "Man on the Moon," in addition to joining Carly Rae Jepsen on her 2019 Dedicated Tour.