There’s a good chance you already know who Conan Gray is, even if you’re not familiar with his name. Rising to popularity with covers on YouTube, supporting Panic! at the Disco on its most recent tour, selling out his own tours, and most recently exploding on Tis Tok with his hit “Maniac,” Gray has become quite visible in a short three-year span. On his full-length debut, Kid Krow, the young singer-songwriter bares his soul for his growing fan base and displays maturity not always found among his peers.
While Gray seems to march to the beat of his own drum in terms of what stories he chooses to tell, his ability to craft a catchy track has certainly helped with his rise.
“Maniac,” about an on-again-off-again obsessive relationship boasts heavy ’80s vibes with a strong backbeat and synthesizers, as well as an energetic sing-along chorus. Album opener “Comfort Crowd” also uses Gray’s airy vocals and acoustic guitars to target more of a bedroom pop feel and while it inhabits a slower-paced pop, but it’s no less catchy and digestible. Post-breakup tune “Checkmate” vacillates between slower verses with fewer instrumentation to an upbeat and emphatic rock chorus with lively percussion, electric guitars and more.
Gray addresses his songs with raw honesty and authenticity. Album closer “The Story,” a slow piano ballad with light acoustics, discusses the nature of growing up and feeling alone. Not only does Gray bring up suicide, living in the closet as an LGBTQ+ youth, and abuse, but he provides a hopeful note to listeners. While he argues “It ain’t pretty, it ain’t funny, it ain’t sweet,” he later reminds us that “It’s not the end of the story,” as a way to acknowledge the difficulties as well as the bright side.
Another powerful track is “Heather,” largely an acoustic-guitar-driven song about a boy, is in love with another boy, who’s in love with the aforementioned Heather. While you’ve heard plenty of stories of unrequited love told through a heterosexual lens, there are fewer effective examples like this. Gray’s fearlessness when addressing sensitive subjects such as these on his debut album show a bravery that someone so young (he turned 21 in December) does not always show so early in his career.
Gray also still pulls heavily from the nostalgic elements of his childhood to inspire the music he is producing.
On “Wish You Were Sober,” his AutoTuned vocals deal with the mistakes of his teenage years: making out in the back of cars, partying and wishing away youth by acting older than his age. The song also acknowledges that the moments from young adult life aren’t always remembered (thanks, alcohol).
On “Little League,” Gray wishes to go back to the simpler days. “Why did we ever have to leave little league?” he sings over light instrumentation about the joy of childhood and the lack of ability to appreciate all of those things as they were happening.
The mood of these songs is a balanced melancholy; while there is sadness in considering the passage of time, the happiness of the memories will always exist for Gray, especially when he’s able to create a song to express those feelings.
Conan Gray has only just broken on to the scene over the course of the last few years, but he doesn’t exhibit the tell-tale signs of an inexperienced songwriter. Tackling subjects that others wouldn’t touch while balancing personal testimonials, Gray displays a mental serenity within his songs that project a bright future.
Follow writer Piper Westrom at Twitter.com/plwestrom.