The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Review | ‘The Secret of Us’ is a smashing sad girl summer success

Photo Courtesy of Genius
The cover art for “The Secret of Us,” a 13-track, 47-minute album by singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams.

Rating: 7.2/10


Singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams released her second studio album entitled “The Secret of Us” on June 21 as a follow-up to her debut album from last year, “Good Riddance.”

The eye-catching, aesthetic-changing album cover seemingly motioned for a newfound optimistic direction for the artist. It portrays Abrams basking in a yellow-tinted glow compared to the somber, blurred grays from the previous album.

With two hard-hitting singles and 13 total tracks — alongside production by frequent collaborator Aaron Dessner of The National, who also produced “Good Riddance” — the 47-minute album is frankly an emotional whirlwind. It spirals through the ups and downs of relationships within Abrams’ life, explicitly depicting and never shying away from the truth — never keeping “us” a secret.

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The strumming chords of a heavily synthesized banjo reel listeners into the opening track, “Felt Good About You,” with Abrams diving head first into the chorus without a hesitating breath.

The song is easily summed up by its title; Abrams acknowledges she felt good about the relationship between her and her partner until she eventually didn’t. As the song progresses, strings appear in the refrain, followed by a tambourine in the final chorus, alluding to the layout for the following tracks — the production’s building takes its time, slowly intensifying until erupting chaotically in the bridge.

Released a little over a month ago as the album’s first single, the second track, “Risk,” leads with an acoustic guitar as Abrams’ vocals swarm the listener’s ears alongside the background vocals of Audrey Hobert.

Abrams’ vocals effortlessly swell throughout the notably well-written bridge as she anxiously and breathlessly pleads for an ever-flourishing romance.

“I’m gonna bend ‘til I break/ And you’ll be my favorite mistake/ I wish you could hold me, here shakin’/ You’re the risk, I’m gonna take it,” Abrams sings.

The guitar strings continuously build upon each other into “Blowing Smoke” with a heavier influence as Abrams reflects on what her past lover is doing with this new girl, yet assessing that the newly developed relationship is entirely superficially constructed.

The balancing act of deliberately undemanding verses with quick-paced guitar strumming choruses is heard throughout the album numerous times — somewhat redundant but overall effective.

However, the choruses’ production throughout the third track feels intentionally muted — the created expanse is seemingly minuscule where it was supposed to be unequivocally soul-gripping.

Track four, “I Love You, I’m Sorry,” is a possible parallel to “I miss you, I’m sorry,” a song from Abrams’ 2020 debut EP, “minor.” 

The guitar is the chosen instrument for this track again — and is nearly the chosen instrument for every other track on the album — with Abrams admitting her tendency to be the barrier in relationships, pushing people away rather than valuing the frighteningly intoxicating proximity.

Throughout each chorus, the beginning and ending lines remain the same, whereas the lines in between differ, possibly representing how relationship experiences may vary, but the results remain unchanged.

“That’s just the way life goes/ I like to slam doors closed/ Trust me, I know it’s always about me/ I love you, I’m sorry,” Abrams sings in the first chorus.

Abrams has much to say, and that’s no secret — the heart-wrenching yet honest guttural truth carries through to “us.” The fifth track is the only feature on the album, with Abrams singing alongside singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, where they are incessantly questioning whether their exes miss the relationship as much as they do.

A plucked mandolin and soft vocals by both artists bleed seamlessly together, eventually causing a chaotic uproar throughout the bridge backed by Dessner and record producer Jack Antonoff’s production.

“Let It Happen” introduces itself with laughter and a muddled guitar, delving into Abrams’ attempt to not become a barrier in this relationship yet fighting against vulnerability and loss of control. 

Around the two-and-a-half-minute mark, Abrams amplifies her vocals throughout the bridge, encapsulating the loss of control she’s already experienced but letting it happen solely for that person.

Track seven, “Tough Love,” diverges from the previous tracks, steadily constructing itself with a synthesizer behind Abrams’ fast-flowing lyrics throughout the verse. 

A slower building production throughout “Tough Love” leaves listeners waiting for more, with drums silently building in the background during the choruses, yet barely resonating upon first listen.

“I Knew It, I Know You” — fans may have thought Abrams was directly heading toward a promising upbeat album, but this song squashes those assumptions with another agonizingly heartbreaking ballad.

From the acoustic guitar and chorus alterations to Abrams belting toward the end of the bridge, the storytelling track unfolds into a shatteringly breathtaking expanse with raw, exposing lyricism.

“And we don’t even know each other now/ And I’d blow all my plans if you’d meet me out/ We could talk, we could get it, we could both calm down/ Down (Down, down),” Abrams restlessly pleads throughout the bridge.

After she utters the last line of the bridge, the third verse weakens as Abrams realizes that no matter her apologetic state — or lack thereof, for that matter — the likelihood of reuniting with this person is slim to none.

The synthesizer arises again in track nine, “Gave You I Gave You I.” The song depicts Abrams giving herself over and over again with a willingness to do anything for this person; however, they knowingly recognized they weren’t ready for a relationship, fleeing with no explanation.

Abrams brutally captures the essence of betrayal, ripping apart her self-worth and attempting to move on throughout the track.

“When did you slip through my fingers, did I ever have you?/ Was I just a placeholder to fill the hole inside you?/ I’ve been feeling sick but I should help myself, not call you/ Nothing left to say ‘cause you’re not over her, now, are you?” Abrams sings.

Tracks 10 and 11, “Normal Thing” and “Good Luck Charlie” respectively, are underwhelming and disconnected, engulfed by those surrounding them.

“Normal Thing,” with its synthesizer and quirky kicking beats, outlines Abrams falling in love with a “movie star” but realizing it was all for show and not recommending the “scripted” part for anyone else. “Good Luck Charlie” illustrates a relationship’s end between two of her friends, one being Hobert, whose background vocals are attributed on “Risk.”

The uncorrelatedness between these songs compared to the rest of the album may be due to a blurred relation. The other tracks’ usage of unambiguous depictions — rather than universal storytelling — allows listeners to personally sympathize with Abrams’ romantic liaisons.

Throughout this album, Abrams’ use of explosive bridges showcased the singer’s vocality, and “Free Now” is no exception. The track follows Abrams detailing a failed romance, as her partner had not moved on from their previous relationship.

Despite the heartache, Abrams’ hopefulness simultaneously shines through, relishing in the newfound freedom — regardless of the hollowness within her.

“If you find yourself out, if there is a right time/ Chances are I’ll be here, we could share a lifeline/ If you feel like fallin’, catch me on the way down/ Never been less empty, all I feel is free now,” Abrams sings in the outro. 

The 13th and final track was worth the wait. “Close To You” — the second single that first appeared in 2017 via Instagram and then teased again in 2018 — was not originally supposed to be included on the album, but after fans continuously begged, Abrams decided to add the track.

And it’s a good thing she did. After encountering music for a sad girl summer like no other, “Close To You” is a perfect closer for a nearly perfect album and may be one of the many pop hits of the summer.

Although “The Secret of Us” shares similar vibes with her first record, there’s no doubt that Abrams has demonstrated growth throughout this past year. Illustrious lyricism, astoundingly expansive bridges and two hit singles have set the bar for the singer-songwriter, and it’s no secret to us that it’s set pretty high.

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About the Contributor
Chloe Barbarise
Chloe Barbarise, Senior Copy Editor
My name is Chloe Barbarise, and I am a freshman majoring in journalism. I joined The Daily Illini in Fall 2023 as a copy editor and worked my way up to Senior Copy Editor during the second semester. I am honored to have this opportunity and cannot wait to bring you stories complete with AP Style and DI Style edits. When I am not partaking in editing stories for The DI, I am writing, reading or drinking some sort of coffee. I’m very excited to see what lies ahead of us.
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