To 'alaska' And Beyond: A Look Back At Maggie Rogers's Defining Moments
In August 2017, right after Maggie Rogers descended the stage following a bubbly Lollapalooza set in Chicago's Grant Park, she described what it felt like to first walk out on stage and take in the rush of the fans around her. "It kind of feels like I got electrocuted but in the best way," she told MTV News, standing in a sparkling red suit adorned with glitter. She was riding the high of her debut EP, Now That the Light Is Fading, which dropped six months before, and the propulsion she felt after a video of Pharrell hearing (and loving) her song "Alaska" went viral. Maggie was already looking forward to what was next.
Now we know what that was. Her first full-length album, Heard It In a Past Life, is out now, and it's filled with heartfelt examinations of self, wrapped around a number of exploratory musical styles and disciplines. All of them are hers, too, a luxury not often afforded to a young artist searching to define her own beginnings. "From a strict business perspective, the Pharrell video gave me enough leverage to say, 'These are the terms, who wants to do the deal?'" Maggie recently told Billboard. "I was a 22-year-old woman who got to walk into a boardroom and be the one in control."
As she unveils Heard It In a Past Life, here's a look back on the career milestones that brought her this far. It all began, of course, in the studio.
March 2016: The Pharrell Video
What It Is: The clip that started it all.
What It Means: As a music student at NYU, Rogers attended a masterclass led by Pharrell and played him her song "Alaska," which she wrote and produced. "I have zero, zero, zero notes for that," he said, "and I'll tell you why: It's because you're doing your own thing." The clip went understandably viral, and even if he didn't actually cry (like so many clicky titles suggested), Pharrell gave Maggie and her warm, naturalistic, folk-inspired pop an explicit co-sign right off the bat. A star was about to be born.
October 2016: "Alaska" Music Video
What It Is: Her first visual artistic statement.
What It Means: If the Pharrell masterclass was an audition, the "Alaska" video that dropped later that year was Maggie's proper unveiling (and on a major label no less). Away from the studio, away from her classmates, and away from civilization, she was free to roam the woods and present the vision she wanted us to see. It's one that mirrors Maggie's own model of creation, rustic and bolstered by a supportive crew who just want her to dance like no one is watching — even though as of this writing, over 11 million have.
February 2017: Now That the Light Is Fading
What It Is: Her debut EP.
What It Means: "Alaska" is just one piece of the puzzle here. The rest of Maggie's debut EP runs the gamut from similarly earthy indie pop ("On + Off") to the deeper, more adventurous grooves on "Dog Years" and "Better." "People heard me speak before they heard my music for the first time," Rogers told the Village Voice as its cover star in April 2017, "so now the only real responsibility that I have is to be myself." It led to profile-boosting spots on The Tonight Show and Late Night and even more anticipation for a proper album.
September 2017: "Split Stones" And The Close Of One Chapter
What It Is: A long exhale taken after a dizzying whirlwind.
What It Means: "My EP told you everything I felt during my last semester of college," she wrote on Instagram when this tender ode to moving on dropped. "It's time for me to tell you the story of everything that's happened since." The song, which she wrote in college had performed for nine months on the road, isn't quite that, but Maggie presented it as a "parting gift" before she took some time off. Its terrestrial lushness complements a larger, more assured chorus, mirroring the growth she endured since "Alaska," something she obliquely nodded to in the note: "Here's to the end of the beginning and the start of everything else."
March 2018: Back In My Body And The Beginning Of A New One
What It Is: The subsequent deep breath in.
What It Means: Shot by her NYU pals Fraser Jones and Brendan Hall, this slice-of-life doc captures a moment of zen for Maggie, who's photographed in her natural element among the snow and onstage in front of hundreds. "I think making space to remember who you are can be one of the most important things for music, or for creation," Maggie says at the start of the doc. That kind of self-reflection is useful for what came next.
November 2018: Saturday Night Live
What It Is: A career milestone, and a redefinition.
What It Means: No longer "the girl from the Pharrell video," but conceivably, "the girl from SNL" (and from tours with Mumford & Sons and Haim), Maggie brought two new sides of herself to the show. The first, "Light On," is an earnest, full-throated examination of her life in the spotlight so far — sample lyrics: "Crying in the bathroom, had to figure it out / With everyone around me saying, 'You must be so happy now.'" She performed the second, "Fallingwater," with trusted collaborator Rostam by her side, showcasing a chunkier dive into bold piano chords. It's a whole new Maggie. And she's only getting started.
December 2018: Covering Taylor Swift
What It Is: A reminder of where she came from.
What It Means: In a bit of a wink to her banjo-filled roots in Maryland, Maggie took on Taylor Swift's breakout 2006 hit "Tim McGraw" for a Spotify Singles collection. Packaged with a stripped-down rendition of "Light On," the cover becomes poignant with nostalgia. It also places her firmly in a particular lineage of experimental, acoustic-based young songwriters writing from the heart about their own experiences. That's why she imbues it with her characteristic electronic-adjacent slickness, a potent symbol of now. "This song is classic songwriting at its finest and has meant so much to me for the last 10 years," she wrote upon its release — shortly after she played two night at Madison Square Garden.
January 2019: Heard It in a Past Life
What It Is: Her debut album, out Friday (January 18).
What It Means: "I've thrown the most vulnerable part of me up into the air," she recently told Billboard about the 12 songs here. "I'm waiting for someone to catch it." With collaborations between Maggie and Greg Kurstin (the elated Haim shuffle-bop "Give a Little") as well as Rostam and Kid Harpoon, Past Life feels somehow like both a greatest hits ("Alaska," "On + Off") and a spring-loaded catapult of bold new statements ready to be unleashed. Past life? Sounds more like future. Listen here.