One year ago, he stood at the doors of ever-growing success with the release of his debut album Kid Krow. Now, he’s briefly stepping away from the earlier pessimistic but very much real-life experience of the modern generation he wrote about to give us a sense of optimistic escapism through his new song, Overdrive. Genuine and vulnerable as always, but now with a longing for adventure, let’s find out more about Conan Gray.
CONAN GRAY’S MUSIC: FROM PERSONAL TO A REFLECTION OF MODERN YOUTH
Hailed as the new “Prince of Pop”, Conan Gray’s music resonates with his young audience because it sounds so real. But to accurately represent the emotions and the hurt of a generation, you need to have lived through it yourself. With his dad in the military, Conan spent his childhood constantly on the move. Due to his mum’s nationality, he even lived in Hiroshima for a couple of years, before eventually settling in Texas. Gray had to not only deal with the divorce of his parents, but also with unstable financial situations and bullying. As a result, it’s no wonder he manages to translate such experiences into hard-hitting songs like “Generation Why” or “The Story“.
The American-Japanese singer and songwriter’s talent and passion for music were there from very early on in his life. It is the way in which he expressed this talent, however, that helped create his now charismatic but approachable image. Conan began writing songs as young as 12, but he also began posting videos on YouTube very young. He used the platform to share his music and covers, as well as his life through vlogs.
PRE- ‘OVERDRIVE’: CONAN GRAY’S SUCCESS
By the time he released his debut single “Idle Town” in 2018, Conan Gray had already gathered an Internet following that was invested in both him and his work. The young singer-songwriter then went on to release the EP Sunset Season, and toured North America and Europe. His 2020 debut album, Kid Krow, came out on March 20 with Republic Records. It achieved #1 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, scoring “The Top New Artist Debut of 2020”. Beautifully vulnerable single “Heather” became a sleeper hit and got praise from critics, fans and celebrities alike.
Some of these celebrities include Taylor Swift and Lorde, which the upcoming singer has cited as huge inspirations. Meanwhile, Billboard crowned him “Best New Artist”, and PAPER Magazine called him a “Pop Powerhouse”, among many more album praises.
FROM ‘KID KROW’ TO ‘OVERDRIVE’
A sort of coming-of-age album, Kid Krow’s ability to depict modern heartbreak and loneliness is striking to say the least. Conan Gray is able to musically dissect the teenage experience in a devastatingly accurate way. “Heather” and “Comfort Crowd” are brave in their heart-breaking genuineness. In a different tone, “Maniac” and “Wish You Were Sober” depict the intensity of young emotions.
While Kid Krow looks at reality in the eye and travels through all the layers of sincere feeling, Gray’s latest song, “Overdrive”, released on February 19th, takes a slightly different route:
“I wrote ‘Overdrive’ to escape reality. I’ve spent the entire past year moping around alone in my house. I wanted to make something to get me to dance around my house. Something to belt into the showerhead and lose your worries to. Every time I turned it on to tweak production or change lyrics, I’d always just end up singing along and forgetting why I was so stressed— which is exactly what I hope this song is for the people who listen. Just a moment of reckless abandon and catharsis in a world filled with inhibition.”
Instead of tackling reality, the 22-year-old now goes back to the very mechanism that started his career on the Internet: escapism from a harsh reality.
OVERDRIVE: A (LITERALLY) FANTASTIC MUSIC VIDEO
“All or nothing, / Let’s just trust the night”. With this message, Conan prepares us for the chorus, catchy and made to scream out while driving around at night. The music video, which dropped on February 22, visually encapsulates the song’s energy. Gray personally wrote, directed, shot, and edited it with frequent collaborator Dillon Matthew, and it stars him alongside Sara Fernández. The singer’s fanbase, notoriously close-knit, accompanied him in the release through a livestream.
In the music video, the singer imagines a perfect night of freedom and adventure with a stranger. The pair dance, have fun, sneak into a kitchen and a pool, and play around with accessories. In the end, it is revealed to be the fantasy of a romantic mind tired of monotony, but the song lets both Conan and us as viewers indulge in the thought of an impossible “what if”.
As explained on Instagram by the singer-songwriter himself:
“Wanted to start the year off with a song to escape from reality for a little bit with. Something to scream into the shower head and fantasize about secret lovers and alternate reckless lives we could’ve lived.”
Worth noting are not only the dreamy visuals of the video, but also Gray’s looks and outfits. Conan sings “don’t give a fuck about labels” while running around in smudged eyeliner, Harry Styles-esque blouses, crop tops, and glittery eye shadow. While such kinds of make-up and fashion are by no means new in the music industry, it is always nice to see how the voice of the new generation comes with both direct and indirect messages of self-acceptance and personal expression.
Even if just in the form of fantasy, Conan Gray’s songs never fail to illustrate both modern and universal experiences. We wish for more optimistic songs to come so that the world they reflect looks a little brighter. Or, well, vice versa.
Text: Erola Puigsech Autonell
Pictures: © Universal Music