The Secret of Us embraces uncertainty with open arms

July 7, 2024

Courtesy of Abby Waisler

Gracie Abrams is older, perhaps wiser, and still brutally honest.

Released on June 21, the singer-songwriter’s sophomore album is a candid journal of all her most clandestine secrets, delivered in addictive melodies and lyrical poetry. Much like the daring sentiment of the record’s lead single, “Risk,” Abrams embraces a new sound on The Secret of Us, while still channeling the familiar heart-aching bluntness that first shot her to fame.

“Risk” comes after a delicate, gentle opening track, immediately picking up the energy and excitement of the record. Anchored by a simple, lively guitar melody, Abrams sings about the giddy elation that comes with the prologue of a new relationship, when one imagines idealistic scenarios with the other right before a first date.

Both musically and mentally, “Risk” signals a shift in Abrams’ outlook on love. Her debut album, Good Riddance (2023) was characterized by melancholic, anxious ballads where Abrams expressed the emptiness of a lost love and reflections on personal faults in the relationship—“‘Cause part of me wants you back, but / I know it won’t work like that,” she sings on “I know it won’t work” from her first album. Meanwhile, “Risk” is the diametric opposition of that angst. The tune is poppier and fast-paced, equal parts a showcase of her creative and technical growth: she delivers verses with a suave flow, unlocking a new level of breath and vocal control, and belts out “You’re the risk, I’m gonna take it” in the chorus with fierce vigor. As the drums crescendo and her repetitive chanting of “Too soon to tell you ‘I love you’” builds momentum in the outro, we’re left feeling like we’re “jumpin’ in the deep end” right there with her.

The thematic thread of embracing uncertainty runs through the fabric of the entire record, and she continually revisits this ethos throughout the album. While “Risk” is Abrams’ decision to take a leap of faith, slower tracks like “Let It Happen” are her plea that even if she made the wrong choice, the tragedy will still have been worth her time.

In many ways, The Secret of Us feels like the hopeful, optimistic, and bolder sister of Good Riddance. While the latter has a blurry, black and white image for cover art, the former is bright and yellow; a lyrical and musical tone shift is mirrored in the vibrance of the new record. 

“Blowing Smoke” carries on the animated, sharp tones of “Risk,” an equally catchy melody infused with the quintessential sound of Abrams’ acoustic guitar, driven by a repeating set of major chords. She ruminates on the satisfaction of being the bigger person, watching from afar as an ex-lover embarrasses themselves by going from new girl to new girl. Her insults are shrouded in artful metaphors, calling them predictable and shallow with class, and ending with the amusement that “I know everything they don’t.”

Abrams hasn’t entirely let go of her ballad roots, however: she revisits them most intentionally on “I Love You, I’m Sorry,” a direct parallel to “I miss you, I’m sorry,” the breakout track off her debut EP, minor (2020). Four years later, Abrams has gone from incapable of moving on to acutely self-aware of her own role in its demise. We’re presented with one of the most gut-wrenching bridges she may have ever written: “As sick as it sounds, I loved you first / I was a dick, it is what it is,” she laments, echoing the second half of every line with harmonies to pack an extra emotional punch.

Many have named Abrams the lyrical daughter of Taylor Swift for her bridge-writing prowess, a craft that Swift has wholly mastered in every genre. And so, to fans’ imploding excitement, “us. (feat. Taylor Swift)” fittingly features the renowned architect herself, which constitutes the album’s only collaboration track and Swift’s first feature since “Gasoline” with HAIM in 2021. “us.” chronicles a tale of regret and longing for what used to be, and while the chorus borders on wailing in a way that some may find too whiny, it is unsurprisingly the bridge where the track truly shines, and Swift’s influence is evident (who else could have penned “Robert Bly on my nightstand” and “hearse or an oracle?”). The duo belts out the aforementioned lines in perfect harmony and resounding emotion, tugging at heartstrings we didn’t know we could feel. 

The Secret of Us may mark the evolution of Abrams’ sound, but the themes she explores remain the same. Crucially, Abrams has embraced music as a way to become comfortable with vulnerability and publicly reflect on her relationship history, but not all of her discography is about romance—a perception that many female artists (including Swift) who auto-biographize their love lives often get unfairly pigeonholed into despite many of their male counterparts doing the same, if not more explicitly and shamelessly.

Just like how “Feels Like” off  This Is What It Feels Like (2021) is an ode to platonic love, “Tough Love” celebrates the beauty of female friendship. She breezes past memories of past dates, knowing that “Not one of them is tougher than all my friends.” For Abrams, the preciousness of girlhood is incomparable in value to what a fling might bring, and it’s an endearing sentiment after multiple songs about failed romance.

We come full circle with “Close To You,” the record’s closing track. Abrams wrote the song in 2018 and initially scrapped it, but dug the track out of the vault seven years later after fans declared their undying love for the demo. While the lyrics embody a similar audaciousness to earlier tracks on the album, there’s a sense of naivete in this last one: Abrams’ willingness to sacrifice everything to be close to a potential lover is a reflection of the age she was when it was first penned.

Abrams has always treated her projects like musical diaries, and The Secret of Us is no different. Each track is a looking glass into how her attitudes and experiences have changed over time, and this sophomore album manages to perfectly capture both Abrams’ transformation as a person and a musical artist. For those of us that have encountered milestones at times that coincide with each Gracie Abrams release, we feel as if we’re growing up with her. Her unfiltered honesty has been what makes every tune painfully relatable, and we can only hope she’ll stick to it, so that we can continue to relive all the good, bad, and messy in-betweens on the next record.

Voice’s choices: “Risk,” “Blowing Smoke,” “Let It Happen”

Eileen Chen
Eileen is the Halftime Leisure Editor and a sophomore in the College studying political economy. She likes dirty chai lattes, pretty flowers, and making playlists for every minor inconvenience.

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