What If I Fuck It Up Like I Always Do
an examination of a pitch perfect finale (and also a term from French viniculture)
Title: What If It Doesn’t End Well
Artist: Chloe Moriondo
Album: Blood Bunny
The French term terroir is vastly underutilized. The idea of terroir is that indirect factors like climate, soil, topography, and local flora can influence a wine’s flavor profile.1 It’s astonishing to me that a word like this—a word describing the phenomenon of external factors indirectly but materially impacting the development and end product of something extraneous—isn’t applied to essentially everything, all the time.
The way you have a weird affinity for a small, seemingly random selection of the stuff that your parents love because those things meshed with other elements of your life/personality? Terroir. Half your country is at risk of contracting a deadly disease despite access to a highly effective vaccine because they refuse to get vaccinated after a lifetime of hearing that intellectualism is bad, the state is out to get you, and personal freedom means never giving a shit about anyone else? Terroir.2 Ugh, you know what, that one left me feeling gross, so we’re not doing a third in this list. Moving on.
“What If It Doesn’t End Well” is an incredible song on its own but the richness of its quality is vastly improved by the terroir created by the songs that surround it. “I Eat Boys” is a functionally perfect pop song about chafing against the world around you. Ostensibly, the song focuses on douchebags ogling girls on the street, with a violent cannibalism metaphor borrowed from horror flick Jennifer’s Body. Of course, as I keep saying, the author—like the boys in this track—is very, very dead and part of the reason that “I Eat Boys” is brilliant is that it works as intended, but it also works as the exact opposite: as a song about being infatuated with someone and just being super fucking weird about it. None of which even considers that the song wastes absolutely none of its listeners’ time, leaving them wanting more while featuring three distinct melodies—bridge, chorus, and verse—that are each satisfying to a degree that most albums are lucky to achieve even once across their playtime.
Two tracks later, “GIRL ON TV” is both an unparalleled banger—if you listen to this song and don’t want to sing along to the chorus then you’re lying to yourself and, dammit, I expect more from you, Kevin3—and also a further entry in Blood Bunny’s impressive catalog of songs primarily concerned with the hyper-relatable sentiment of “I’m so fucking uncomfortable in my own skin.” On this album, Moriondo is in a class of her own when it comes to describing social anxiety in a way that feels personally tailored to any single listener while also applying to, uh, probably everybody,4 as I’ve come to believe that nearly everyone feels socially maladroit for at least part of their lives.5 I mean, if lyrics like “maybe I was born with something wrong with me / made without a heart and social skills” don’t resonate with you—or past-you—then what are you even doing here because I’m sure the yacht club has a social event tonight.
We’re still on terroir, by the way. Two more songs, then I promise I’ll move on. Okay, maybe three. But I’ll pick up the pace.
Moriondo’s imminently relatable social confusion continues on “Bodybag,” a song concisely summarized by the first half of its chorus: “Don’t know if I hate you or if I wanna date you / put you in a bodybag instead of my bed.”6 I haven’t been 18 in a (frightfully) long time but that’s the most brilliant description of a certain type of early-adult, certifiably dysfunctional romance that I’ve ever heard, with a hook to match. That’s not the only way for early-adult relationships to be dysfunctional, though, and “Favorite Band” hits another which Moriondo hilariously states, point-blank, with a spoken word line at the song’s conclusion: “I just don’t really like your music taste and it’s putting me off / it’s making me feel weird / that’s what this song is about.” For a certain type of person,7 this is crucially important and Moriondo nails it. To wit: Every time I rewatch New Girl8 and Jess is willing to look past Sam loving Creed, I think, Come on, Jess. Get out of here with that shit.
Okay, okay, okay, we’re almost at the end of this terroir bit. One last song, then I’ll get to the point.9
So far, all I—and Moriondo, by extension—have described is social and romantic dysfunction. But to fully appreciate the potency of “What If It Doesn’t End Well,” you also need to absorb the undeniably adorable, purposefully saccharine “Samantha,” which Moriondo wrote about her longtime girlfriend. The song starts with a straightforward pop-rock vibe before melting into an acoustic ballad best defined by these lines:
there aren’t any words to describe / the way I feel about your eyes / and everything I write sounds cliche but / I can’t help that I think about you every day / and every night / and every morning / and afternoon / and all the time … Samantha, I’m in love with you / and I’ll sing it again and again
How sweet is that? If you answered, “so sweet,” that’s correct. If you followed that up with, “too sweet?” then thank you for still reading me after all these years. We have finally reached the emotional gut-punch.
“What If It Doesn’t End Well,” the song I’ve been working towards this whole time, tracks Moriondo’s fears that her emotional baggage will derail her relationship with Samantha.10 Everything about the song achieves what it sets out to do. The chord progression feels simultaneously new and like something you’ve known your entire life. Careful instrumental deployment in the arrangement11 means that the song swells and cascades in perfect synchronicity with its lyrics. And Moriondo’s vocal performance is almost mythic in its perfectly heartwrenching grandiosity.
I have long thought that non-lyrical vocal affectation was wasteful—in any given song, there are so few syllables available to express emotion that wasting any on filler vocalization seemed like a failure of songwriting. “What If It Doesn’t End Well” stands as the single best argument against that line of thinking, as Moriondo’s “mmm”s are essential, necessary stage-building pieces while the final, climactic chorus of wordless “oh”s is the single most emotionally impactful vocal that’s been released this year so far. Intellectually, that last point still seems impossible to me, and yet every time I listen to “What If It Doesn’t End Well”—and I have done that a lot of times—I’m blown away by the utter anguish in Moriondo’s performance, particularly in that final chorus. It’s unmatched.
Here’s what you hear when words aren’t enough: An excruciating mixture of fear, hope, and doubt. As outlined in a few songs on Blood Bunny, Moriondo’s central romantic relationship began as a Platonic friendship and that transition, from friends to romantic partners, is so much more emotionally fraught than the songwriting standard of stranger-to-lover. There’s just so much more risk. The stakes of a typical love song are that you could be happily in love or that you could be miserably alone, but the stakes of “What If It Doesn’t End Well” are that you could be happily in love or that you could be miserably alone, having completely and irrevocably alienated your best friend in the process.
I’ve been married for seven years. I am, mercifully, no longer facing the types of choices that Moriondo rightly agonizes over. And that stability made me forget how turbulent an experience romantic choice can be, how extremely its outcomes can differ. It takes tremendous courage to look at a decision where Option A will continue the status quo while Option B will give you either bliss or misery-plus-the incineration of your dearest support network, and say, “I have to choose Option B.” Moriondo is so impressive here because she displays, through both her lyrics and her music, not only that courage but also the vulnerability of someone who fully understands the risk they’re taking. I spent my adolescence understanding those risks but lacking that courage and so Moriondo’s performance and writing, her understanding and her anguish, are absolutely piercing.
The first time I heard “What If It Doesn’t End Well,” I thought the song didn’t fit on this album. It’s darker and more melancholy than even the other ballads on Blood Bunny; it’s sharp and pointed but not melodramatic. Sonically and lyrically, it didn’t seem to fit. But it does. On its own, “What If It Doesn’t End Well” is a fantastic song, but that journey, the terroir developed over the album’s first dozen tracks, makes the finale so much richer. By exploring her social anxieties, Moriondo makes herself relatable; by professing her love for Samantha, she makes herself vulnerable; and by exposing the precariousness of her circumstances—that her best friend since elementary school, the central hub of her much-needed support network, is now her romantic partner—she declares the severity of her emotional stakes. The first twelve tracks of Blood Bunny explore who Moriondo is as well as what she desires. And “What If It Doesn’t End Well” isn’t really about either of those things, not really. It’s about the space between them. It’s about fear. It’s about the possibility that who Moriondo is is not enough to maintain her grasp on what she desires. It’s about the agony of self-doubt, of looking in the mirror and fearing what you might do, despite your best efforts, of wondering, “what if I fuck it up like I always do?”
I do not envy the experiences that Moriondo describes—I have no desire to be a gawky teenager again—but I admire her willingness to share them and her unique ability to do so in such a transcendent way. Great music has a way of touching something hidden in us, something that is deeply personal and profoundly universal. “What If It Doesn’t End Well” does that for me, in part because of its terroir, because of the conditions of its growth. The entirety of Blood Bunny, particularly that electric finale, portrays someone that I can see complexly, someone who I recognize more than just a little bit. I’m grateful that I’ll never be 18 and painfully, fearfully, hopefully in love again, but I’m equally grateful that I have Blood Bunny and “What If It Doesn’t End Well” with their terroir of love, friendship, and the tension between them. Listening to this album and this song, I am reminded of how the winds and rains of my youth flavored the soil into which I sank my roots, soil that still nourishes me, even as it’s now buried deep, deep beneath my feet.
I give “What If It Doesn’t End Well” five out of five stars.
This is that rare instance where a typo—terror, namely—works equally well.
Sorry, KD, the joke required calling someone out.
Her breathy ‘h’ when she states “I wanna be happy” along with the self-loathing derision in her “goddamn, I’m a freak” are just [chef’s kiss].
I was going to write “all of their lives” but, hey, I believe in you.
Moriondo’s sultry, arpeggiated delivery of “my bed” is also [chef’s kiss].
Why is everyone looking at me?
Do you like New Girl? Of course you like New Girl. Great show.
I mean, kind of. When you opened this email, you knew what you were getting into.
The song was co-written by Steph Jones and David Pramik, professional songwriters who also, jointly or severally, co-wrote most of the other great songs on Blood Bunny. I have heard the argument that this means I shouldn’t be praising Moriondo throughout this post and that this means that I’ve been manipulated by professionals into having an emotional response to these songs, just like any consumer of particularly effective ad copy. But I don’t believe that. The response I’ve had to Blood Bunny and “What If It Doesn’t End Well” is real and true and mine, and if I’ve faltered in my praise, it’s not that Moriondo isn’t deserving—because she is—but rather that others, like Jones and Pramik, deserve additional praise as well.
Those snaps with the reverb are just [chef’s kiss]. That was a list I was happy to take to three installments.