After emerging in 2016 with “Alaska,” a folksy electronica song that went viral after impressing Pharrell Williams, Maggie Rogers started checking off the boxes to become a pop star: a debut SNL performance, a Best New Artist Grammy nomination, sets at every festival under the sun. When the pandemic began, she decamped to her family’s home de ella in Maine, where she reconnected with nature and wrote a collection of songs called Surrender—which is also the name of her 2022 Harvard Divinity School thesis. Oh yeah: While working on the follow-up to her 2019 debut Heard It in a Past Life, Rogers was enrolled in a year-long masters program focused on the presence of religion in public life. For the 28-year-old singer-scholar that meant considering questions like: Does an artist hold a responsibility to their audience for her? And how can performance be a conduct for a transcendental experience?
If it sounds a little Ivy League Hannah Montana—finals by day, Met Gala by night—Rogers’ return to academia served her well. On Surrender, she sounds renewed, submitting to the pull of her heart without apology. She plays hooky from adulthood on the upbeat “Be Cool” and gives her carnal instincts into her “Want Want”; she’s turning off the radio and listening to the wind instead of suffering through “that song I’m supposed to know/By some fucking bro,” as she teases on “Anywhere With You.” She’s still processing her whirlwind rise to fame, and learning what to prioritize: “Took me all this long to figure out/It’s not worth it/If I can’t touch the ground,” she sings on the ballad “Horses,” which uses the titular animals as a symbol for the freedom she so badly desires.
The album itself reflects Rogers’ newfound autonomy: She’s trimmed back on her debut’s stable of producers, co-producing Surrender herself alongside Kid Harpoon (Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes). One of the best moments, the escapist fantasy “Anywhere With You,” was co-written with an old friend, Holden Jaffe, who makes music under the name Del Water Gap (Rogers performed in an earlier version of the project while in college) . On the song, Rogers lifts a companion out of their existential malaise before the pair hit the road in search of something bigger than themselves. Like so many road songs, it’s also a declaration of devotion, a commitment to journeying forward together even as their thoughts on forever differ: “You tell me you want everything you want it fast,” Rogers bellows atop a cathartic crescendo that would not sound out of place on an early Arcade Fire record. “But all I’ve ever wanted is to make something/Fucking last.”