The colorful tale of Maggie Rogers
The tricky thing about going viral is that you have little control after the fact to calibrate your image. Lucky for Maggie Rogers, the New York University grad student turned YouTube sensation, when her brush with fame happened, she was ready for her close-up.
The clip, of Rogers playing a recording of her song “Alaska,” is from an NYU Clive Davis Institute Masterclass with Grammy winner Pharrell Williams. It has now been viewed about 2.4 million times.
It catches Williams as his eyes widen and he shakes his head in happy disbelief as the song, a dreamlike blend of electropop and earthy neo-soul, fills the classroom. Rogers, in vintage cuffed denim, wooly socks, a knit sweater, and an artfully punctured animal bone, casually bobs her head alongside.
Williams’s priceless sound bite after listening to her song (“I’ve never heard anything that sounds like that. That’s a drug for me.”) skyrocketed “Alaska” into heavy rotation, leading Rogers to a North American tour behind her Capitol EP, “Now That the Light Is Fading.” Her April 10 show at the Sinclair in Cambridge is sold out.
Her quirky cool style only adds to her charm.
“I feel like I have two styles of dress,” the 22-year-old tells us from Toronto. “I have the dress that’s me when I’m making my world — sweaters, jeans, and boots. And then I have the version of me that’s presenting my work, which tends to be a lot more western-inspired, with fringe and glitter and late ’90s, early 2000’s pop music.
“A really strong mix of the Spice Girls and Emmylou Harris.”
For the tour, Rogers wears a custom white denim jumpsuit created for the video, decorated with colorful geometric cutouts and bright yellow fringe by costume designer Christian Joy (who also crafts Karen O’s art-chic looks for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). The all-white look echoes the simple white T-shirt she sports while gyrating through the forest for “Alaska” and the white Elvis jumpsuit she dons for leading a Fosse-esque duo in “On + Off.”
“In meditation, white holds high vibration and I think when you’re wearing white, because it’s a paletteless color it allows the music to create the color,” Rogers explains. “It’s less distraction in what you’re wearing and allows the music to do the rest.”
Rogers’s unique relationship with music partially stems from her synesthesia, a rare neurological ability in which senses are intertwined. Rogers’s allows her to perceive and experience music as sound and color. (Kanye West, Lorde, Billy Joel, and yes, even Pharrell Williams have all spoken of similar abilities.) For her EP, the young artist created a mood board to dissect the album’s colors before she laid down the tracks.
“It was helpful because this was the first time I co-produced, and it was helpful in making sure no matter what, the vision stayed true to what I planned for,” she says. “It ended up being exactly what I wanted it to be. ‘Alaska’ is light and dark blue, ‘Dog Years’ is a really, really beautiful, new grass green, ‘On + Off’ is orange and red and yellow like fire, and ‘Better’ is a hazy, beautiful, light pink and purple. I think it reflects the palette of the title, ‘Now That the Light is Fading,’ as the sun goes down.”
Rogers spent time in Boston when she was 17, living in the city for a Berklee summer program before her senior year of high school.
“It was inevitably where I decided to make music for the rest of my life,” she says. “It was where I first felt like I was part of a community of artists and focused educationally on art as a through-line. It made me.”
She continues to return to New England for creation inspiration and refuge. As an avid hiker, Rogers recommends taking a climb up the White Mountains in New Hampshire, where she spent time last fall. Likewise, she recommends a transformative trip to Alaska — because, “well, obviously,” she laughs.
On tour, Rogers does her best to remain active, but she says her best workout is onstage.
“I think people are afraid to dance because they don’t want to look stupid, but they’re missing out on feeling the experience fully,” muses Rogers. “I think, in my experience, with going to shows, the performer gives the audience permission to move. I get onstage and try to be grounded and be myself and have a fun time.”
How are her moves? “I don’t have any moves; I just go for it,” she admits with a laugh. “And now I have all this really long hair so my go-to move is to throw it around and hope it looks cool.”