Don’t search for subtext in Zoe Boekbinder’s “Possibilities.” Its message is right in front of you.
“The meaning is not hidden at all,” Boekbinder said. “It is so clearly and apparently about privilege.”
“Possibilities” explores the subtle ways privilege informs how people approach the world and understand their place in it. It’s a reminder that the belief that you can do whatever you set out to do is a product of privilege, a truth that privileged people are more comfortable when they forget.
Boekbinder waited a long time to perform the song after writing it.
“Performing this song is like putting two incredibly vulnerable and intimidating activities together into one even more terrifying event,” they said. “Singing and confronting my own and others privilege in such a blunt way is scary every single time. Writing songs like this is what brought me back to caring about music so I push through the fear.”
When Boekbinder finally debuted the song, the reaction surprised them. “I’m always surprised at how people react to this song,” they said. “After one show, a man came up to me and said ‘that song made me hate myself. Thank you for that.’ He was being completely sincere.”
Boekbinder began their music career by forming the band Vermillion Lies with their sister Kim Boekbinder in 2005. Over the five years that they played together they released two albums. Zoe released their first solo album, Artichoke Perfume, in 2009.
From May 2010 to December 2014, Zoe volunteered as a performer and teacher at New Folsom Prison. They’re now working with producer Ani DiFranco on an album of songs performed by songwriters, poets, and rappers who were incarcerated at New Folsom. The profits of the album will benefit prisoners’ rights groups.
“After working in prison, I started to doubt that the songs I wrote were important to the world,” they said. “During this break I discovered a bravery, that I hadn’t had before, to write songs about issues outside of myself.
Boekbinder’s work with prisoners influenced her 2018 album Shadow. “I wrote about feminism/violence against women, privilege and prison abolition,” they said. “I wrote about my best friend who committed suicide. My songs started to feel important.”