The Meaning Behind “Bye Bye” by Kim Gordon and How She Short-Circuited a Social Media Platform

Kim Gordon doesn’t consider herself to be a musician. Instead, she’s an artist who happens to make music.

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Gordon moved to New York City in 1980 after graduating from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. There, she discovered the city’s downtown no-wave music scene, which she found nihilistic, noisy, and expressionistic. Through a friend, she met Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, her future bandmates in Sonic Youth.

She was 27 and had never played an instrument. With Moore, whom she’d later marry, and Ranaldo, Gordon formed Sonic Youth. Like The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth was pivotal to the indie and art rock scene.

TikTok

The Collective is her latest solo album and features an intense rap song called “Bye Bye.” At once mechanical, industrial, and angular, it sounds like something heard through blown-out car speakers.

Gordon, 71, famous for her talk-singing styled after The Shangri-Las, runs down a checklist of items to pack before leaving town.

“Bye Bye” was released in January and went viral on TikTok. It soon became the soundtrack to videos of teens packing for a trip. The beat-driven song is as disorienting as deciphering the flood of information on the internet. Gordon said The Collective is her “reacting to things going on in the world.”

In Sonic Youth, Moore and Ranaldo composed vocal melodies, while Gordon wrote more abstractly. They’d jot down random lines on pieces of paper and build vocal arrangements from fragmented phrases. “Bye Bye” utilized a similar approach of half-composed and make-it-up-as-you-go construction.

Packing List

Buy a suitcase, pants to the cleaner
Cigarettes for Keller
Call the vet, call the groomer
Call the dog sitter
Milk thistle, calcium, high-rise, boot cut
Advil, black jeans, blue jeans
Cardigan purse, passport
Pajamas, silk

Hoodie, toothpaste
Brush, foundation
Contact solution
Mascara
Lip mask, eye mask, ear plugs
Travel shampoo, conditioner
Eyeliner, dental floss
Money for the cleaners

Sleeping pills, sneakers, boots
Black dress, white tee, turtleneck
iBook, power cord, medications
Button-down, laptop
Hand cream, body lotion
Bella Freud
YSL, Eckhaus Latta
Eyelash curler, vibrator, teaser
Bye-bye
Bye-bye

Cigarettes for Keller

The opening verse of “Bye Bye” mentions Gordon’s late brother Keller.

After her brother died in 2023, Gordon collected photos, poetry, drawings, and diaries, arranging them into a tribute and biography. In her memoir Girl in a Band, Gordon described her older brother as “the person who more than anyone else in the world shaped who I was and who I turned out to be.”

She also wrote an essay about their childhood and “the double-edged sword of creating and maintaining legends about those we love and admire.”

Here’s an excerpt from Keller courtesy of the Los Angeles Review of Books:

When the man at the crematorium was filling out his death certificate, he asked, “What was his occupation?” and I said he never worked, he was schizophrenic. The man pressed me on it and said my brother had to have an occupation, so I said he was a poet. Next question: “How many years did he do that for?”

‘The Collective’

Jennifer Egan’s novel The Candy House inspired Gordon’s album title. It follows a man who creates an app using stolen research to experience the memories of others. To access other people’s experiences, you must upload your own memories and join the “collective.”

The dystopia feels Orwellian—fitting as George Orwell’s 1984 is 75 this year. “Bye Bye” has an impending doom quality to it. It’s the realization the future is already upon you. Furthermore, the now-future isn’t so bright after all.

Producer Justin Raisen (Charli XCX, Sky Ferreira) encouraged Gordon’s abstract poetry. (Raisen also worked with Gordon on her previous album No Home Record.)

He’d send beats for her to construct guitar parts and vocals. Then he’d edit the pieces, forming them into songs. Building on Raisen’s trap beats, Gordon told NPR she was motivated by rhythm more than melody.

To Pack and Wear

“Bye Bye” recalls Joan Didion’s packing list from The White Album. Didion taped it inside her closet door as she traveled often for reporting assignments.

It’s hard not to hear Gordon’s ear-splitting beat underneath Didion’s list of banal objects. The final items under the header To Carry are the most intriguing:

mohair throw
typewriter
2 legal pads and pens
files
house key

Kim Gordon created a challenging work of stream-of-consciousness writing with distorted, glitchy beats that sound like how your brain feels on TikTok. Short-circuiting the app with broken sounds and a packing list might be Gordon’s finest art installation yet.

Maybe smartphones are the place neurons go to die. Bye-bye.

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Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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