Staff writer Ying Xi Claire Tai reviews Maisie Peters’s album, ‘The Good Witch,’ which weaves together feminine rage, heartbreak, and insecurity in her life.
Fresh off her 2022 US tour, Peters immediately returned to songwriting, crafting her eventual fifteen-track sophomore album released on June 23rd, 2023. Having gained traction in indie-pop circles by age 16 and topping UK charts not long after, the Sussex-born singer’s career has skyrocketed. Despite reaching one career milestone after another, including opening for Ed Sheeran’s 2022 tour, Peters’s journey has been full of twists and turns. In her album, she quickly shows that her innermost thoughts revolve around the aftermath of a romantic relationship. Still, between the spirited drums and flowing synths, Peters unveils an admirable maturity and intimacy at only 23. As Peters retells her story of heartbreak, she also shares another story, one of growing beyond the ceilings and curses of being a woman.
‘The Good Witch’ begins with its namesake song and soft piano. Already, Peters hints at the messy path ahead, singing, “Still don’t play the black keys,” followed by a jumble of sharps and flats, cleverly embracing contradiction. Like most good hooks, the song then crescendos as choir vocals build, leaving listeners wondering how it will resolve. In this sense, the first track is reminiscent of a movie trailer, literally piecing together moments in her life by overlapping voice recordings of her friends and family. In under three minutes, the song effectively synthesizes her experiences and corresponding lessons: “When all I do is think about the past / Make it a universe that you can live in.” Now Peters wields the pen, rewriting the heartbreak narrative that almost left her broken.
Skipping forward to “Watch,” the song tackles Peters’s self-doubt in the digital age of constant comparison. Rather than the simplistic, consoling adage that she is better off without him, Peters questions, “And everybody pretends that they’re great / But what if you actually might be?” Abandoning pretense, she admits to overplaying happiness in the face of not being chosen. This doubt transitions neatly into the next tune, “Body Better,” which dives even deeper into her insecurity, not just towards her former partner but, more nefariously, towards other women. Despite the upbeat tune, Peters is despondent and “can’t help thinking that she’s got a better body.” However, in contrast to the song’s premise of competition, Peters demonstrates the objectifying lens through which society views women. Describing her past self as “obedient” and singling out the other woman’s clothes and twisted bed sheets, she suggests both women have something in common. They were chosen for reasons in line with superficial, sexist tradition.
As Peters gains independence from her relationship, the album similarly reaches a turning point with the aptly titled “You’re Just A Boy (And I’m Kinda The Man).” Slowly leaning away from personal anecdotes, she enables herself to criticize the idolization of romance in “Wendy.” Alluding to the story of Peter Pan, she turns a fairytale into a fable. Amid a quiet tinkling sound reminiscent of Neverland’s twinkling star, Peters poses a moral inquiry: “And what about my wings? What about Wendy?” Aside from situating the song in literal fantasy, Peters augments her fear of clipped wings and wasted potential by comparing herself to the song’s titular character. Reliant on magic to fly, Wendy represents Peters forever weighed down by a so-called romance, a far cry from her ambition to “take over the world.”
“Run” is evocative of conversations with one’s friends about their unsavoury dating experiences, speedily listing behaviours to beware of. Despite the song’s repetitive pop sound, it may just be the album’s most self-critical song, depending on the level of credit one attributes to Peters. On the one hand, “if he makes you smile, he’s blocked” reveals a close-mindedness antithetical to growing up. On the other hand, it is paired with “So I know that you did bad / But if one more person says it I might go mad” in “Want You Back,” the original song may be intentionally ironic, not entirely representative of her experience. At worst, she is unresolved and, at best, willing to question herself. While the song articulates a common, though admittedly absolutist mindset, sceptics could follow in Peters’s footsteps and acknowledge complexities, reevaluating which character in Peters’s narrative they attribute sympathy to.
Of course, the album does have weaker moments. The first few lyrics in “Coming of Age” seem unnaturally monotone and reliant on maximalist production, resulting in a somewhat jarring introduction. For the thirteenth song in a fifteen-track album, “Therapy” seems like a narrative step backwards, with Peters placing the blame solely on her former partner. Though such moments separate the album from generation-defining records like Lorde’s ‘Melodrama’ that Peters herself draws inspiration from, its stronger moments merit its number-one spot on the Official Albums Chart. “The Band and I” is distinctive for its story of friendship over romance, opening with a stripped-back guitar line before incorporating electric piano and drums that parallel her band’s journey from obscurity to success. Softer, ballad-style “Two Weeks Ago” balances the otherwise high-energy album, giving the album a fuller sound and allowing Peters to capture true emotional depth.
Coming full circle, ‘The Good Witch’ ends with a grand, almost cinematic sound filled with echoing bass drums and pitched-down horns, signalling the album’s finale. In “History of Man,” Peters artfully intertwines her relationship with age-old stories, retelling biblical allegory and Roman myth. The story of Samson and Delilah shows Delilah manipulating Samson into revealing his source of strength before selling him out, framing her as immoral. Yet, combining Samson’s preexisting arrogance with her own desire for vindication, Peters rages that she “would’ve made him weaker too.” Not long after, Peters adds, “The men start wars yet Troy hates Helen.” In doing so, Peters recharacterizes Helen, often known for her beauty and reckless opportunism, as unfairly held responsible for the violent Trojan War. Merging her restlessness and resentment of being toyed with in love and life, Peters pleads with her audience to question whether masculine tradition is sometimes to blame.
At its heart, ‘The Good Witch’ is Peters’s narrative, travelling across the UK and US and growing from 21 to 22 years old. Like many young women, she is learning to walk the line between great ambition and occasionally crushing reality. However, about to step behind the microphone again, Peters may yet rewrite his history into hers.