Maggie Rogers Is Nobody's Creation
Running about 10 minutes late, Maggie Rogers barrels into the Moroccan restaurant in Brooklyn where we’re set to meet. She fully introduces herself to a woman at the next table before she realizes her mistake. Now that she’s charmed the stranger–turned–new fan, the 25-year-old musician plops down at our two-top and starts testing the sound on my recording device, either as a courtesy or a not-so-subtle reminder that she studied journalism in college. Rogers says she has no qualms calling out reporters who ask her to describe her sound: “It’s like, ‘Dog, that’s your job!’ ”
The freckled, baby-faced performer with the feathery voice has spent much of her nascent career subverting other people’s expectations. But her no-B.S. attitude and unrelenting pride in her work allow her to take command of whatever room she’s in, be it this restaurant or a jam-packed music hall. She expresses particular excitement about her ability to take charge in business meetings with men more than twice her age. “I think there’s a lot of pressure as an artist to boil yourself down, because it makes you more marketable,” she says. “Pitch yourself in five words. It’s an exercise, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing [but it’s not me]. Everything in my life is about duality. I won’t write a song for a month and a half, and then it will come to me in 10 minutes. I get super nerdy about engineering and production and really, really adore the recording process. And I love glitter eye shadow. It’s all of it.”
Rogers has readily admitted her first brush with stardom felt a tad premature. In 2016, while attending the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University, she became an Internet sensation overnight after songwriter, producer, and artist-in-residence Pharrell Williams critiqued her class. His visibly impressed reaction to a rough demo of her song “Alaska” was recorded and went viral on YouTube. “More than three years later people are still like, ‘I love that song Pharrell made for you,’” Rogers says, shaking her head. The track reappeared on her début album, Heard It in a Past Life, which has topped album charts with 600,000 copies sold, streamed a combined 650 million times, and sparked a sold-out North American tour. “My biggest fear is that people will think I am some label creation, or that someone made my shit for me. Because I’m a woman in pop, there is this assumption that a bunch of men cooked me up in a room.”
Rogers grew up in Maryland, but she wrote her first song while attending a girls’ summer camp in Maine. Then 13, she played piano and harp and was learning guitar, but it was when she was making up tunes for fun that she found her voice. “No one in my normal life knew I could sing. In other cultures, sound and music are just expressions of joy. But in our society, it’s a weird cry for attention — or at least that’s how I’ve always perceived it — and I didn’t want to attract any extra attention to myself.” But at camp something just clicked, and she kept writing and singing.
In high school Rogers never got airtime alongside her musical peers, mostly men who played guitar, which is why she decided to take up the banjo. “I realized that if I played the banjo, I would always get to play,” she says of the instrument that grew to influence her signature folk-pop sound. “Getting into production had a lot to do with being a woman too,” she says. Rogers taught herself how to program drums and bass and synth on her computer and then sprinkled them with field recordings — a birdsong, a falling tree, a clap against her jeans. “It was my way of making electronic music feel more human.”
Anyone who has watched Rogers’s music videos, with their DIY quality and outdoor settings, can tell she is not a run-of-the-mill pop creation. The video for “Alaska” features Rogers walking through a field into a forest, perfecting the moves choreographed for her by Monica Mirabile, and culminates with a moonlit dance party. For “Give a Little,” Rogers — in a white T-shirt, soccer shorts, and white cowboy boots — recruited her best pal from college, Riverdale star Camila Mendes, to be a backup dancer in an empty swimming pool serving as a skate ramp.
Now that her reach is broader than ever before — she has performed barefoot on Saturday Night Live, has shared a stage with Kacey Musgraves as well as some of the remaining members of the Grateful Dead, and will compete for Best New Artist alongside the likes of Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Lil Nas X (of “Old Town Road” fame) at the 2020 Grammy Awards — Rogers says she’s looking forward to recharging in her new home in Los Angeles. (“The idea that I bought a house because of work I did in music is psycho,” she says.) She’s also excited to get back into the studio, her favorite place in the world, to record her sophomore album. “It’s like a puzzle,” Rogers says about the editing process. “I just realized the other day, when I was in the studio with these friends I’ve had forever and ever, that I’m actually really good at it.”
And while she is very much an introvert when it comes to creating new songs, Rogers gets misty-eyed when she speaks about being on tour with her band. “Every night at the end of the show, before the buses and trucks pull out for the next city, everybody would hang out and have a cigarette or coffee or whatever. In that moment I would feel so proud of the work we’re doing, and the space we’re creating, and the people I get to share all this with. It just feels so meaningful and special.”
Her next big project is to get acquainted with her new digs. “I’ve had this rocket-ship couple of years, and I’m settling down for the first time now that the tour’s over,” she says. “I haven’t had a space of my own in three and a half years. I’ve lived with people. My shit from NYU is still in boxes at my parents’ house.”
Photography: Frances Tulk-Hart. Styling: Kathryn Typaldos. Hair: Lizzie Arneson for 13 Market Management. Makeup: Linda Gradin for L’Atelier NYC. Manicure: Elina Ogawa for Bridge Artists. Locations: Rivington Guitars, New York City; Hi-Tech Electronic Service Center, New York City; Caffe Reggio, New York City.
For more stories like this, pick up the March issue of InStyle available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Feb. 14.