In mythology and throughout history, a crow traditionally represents destiny, magic, and eventual rebirth. Clear parallels may be drawn between this mystical creature and Conan Gray. Stuck in a claustrophobic small town under the weight of every odd imaginable, he took flight on his wits, talent, and creativity, breaking out of this rural suburban cage, reaching unparalleled heights, and ultimately finding his voice on his own.
After a year of sold out shows, nearly half-a-billion streams, new names like “gen-z’s ascendant king of sad boy pop”, and adoration he never planned for, Conan finally says everything he wanted to say on his 2020 full-length debut the aptly titled, Kid Krow [Republic Records].
“I’m not the coolest person on earth; I don’t think I could ever convince anybody I am,” he exclaims. “Kid Krow is me accepting the fact I’m weird, and I’ll always be weird. I was on the phone with my best friend, and she said I was a crow. I laughed, but it totally made sense. I’ll never be like other people. For the first time, I don’t necessarily feel the need to. I want the album to be for everyone else. When they listen to it, I want them to think, ‘I’m not crazy for feeling this way’. I never spoke much as a kid. I hated talking. Writing and singing was the way for me to speak my emotions. I’m finally saying a lot of things I never really had the guts to say out loud. I write about love, lack of love, pain, and how to deal with pain.”
The story begins long before Conan first found international success. It starts in Georgetown, TX. Describing his upbringing, he doesn’t mince words and cuts right to the chase, “I had a really shitty childhood.” At 12-years-old, hope came in the form of songwriting. His first compositions concerned recipes or shampoo ingredients cataloged on his sister’s flip phone. Finding inspiration, he went from Adele to obsessing over his two favorite records: Lorde’s Pure Heroine and Taylor Swift’s 1989. Cooked up with a cheap mic on Garage Band, his first upload “Idle Town” took off in 2018.
With its direct lyrics and delivery, the song organically fostered a connection and cultivated an audience. He took it one step further though. Conan engaged with listeners through consistent contact and content on YouTube and social media as they watched him further hone his talents as a writer, performer, musician, and artist on social media.
YouTube especially offered a window into his world. He posted everything from drawings and photographs to personal moments. Along the way, he honed his craft, sharing the music discovery process with viewers too. At just 12-years-old, he shot, edited, and uploaded every video by himself. Clips spanned everything from playing guitar to sketching out anime characters and even chowing down on marshmallows. As the crowd grew, so did his fearlessness as he opened up more in the Vlogs and the songs, paving the way for a lasting connection. A musical artist uniquely broadcasting his personal development in this fashion, endearing him to millions as they watched him blossom.
As the audience embraced his music, they elevated him to a phenomenon online as he unwittingly stepped into the role of Generation Z’s seminal voice from the outside. While this went down, he landed a deal with Republic. After saving and plotting to leave Georgetown forever, he did.
Conan quietly climbed to the forefront of pop on the back of his debut EP, Sunset Season, and a string of successful singles. He garnered acclaim from Vogue, VMAN, Teen Vogue, Paper, The FADER, MTV, i-D, Billboard, Seventeen, and OnesToWatch, to name a few, made his television debut on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and transformed peers such as Billie Eilish, BTS, The 1975, Brendon Urie, Troye Sivan, Lewis Capaldi, and Noah Cyrus into ardent and vocal fans. He sold out three North American headline tours and a European headline tour in addition to supporting Panic! At The Disco and performing at Lollapalooza and Coachella 2020. Along the way, he crafted Kid Krow.
“The opportunity to heal scars by writing songs and then going on tour and singing those songs to thousands of fans is a form of escapism,” he admits. “Work is how I’ve handled my trauma. The album touches on everything I’ve gone through and what my life is like these days. It also discusses the past year since Sunset Season. It’s about my friends and people I’ve met on tour. However, it’s also Conan Gray.”
Throughout the year, he assembled the album alongside frequent collaborator and producer Daniel Nigro. He teased out the project with fan favorites “Maniac,” “Comfort Crowd,” and “Checkmate” before sharing the single and finale “The Story” in January 2020. Delicately plucked acoustic guitar underscores his confessions about suburban high school turmoil, tackling suicide, depression, sexual repression, and absolution with plainspoken lyrics and succinct storytelling.
“Instead of acting like the trials and tribulations didn’t happen, I faced them,” he states. “It’s the best example of me discussing things I don’t like to. There was a point in my childhood where I was really suicidal and didn’t want to live anymore. ‘The Story’ is super graphic, but it’s true. As I got older, I slowly got stronger. Life got better and better. Looking back, I wish somebody would’ve looked at me and said, ‘It’s not the end of the story. There’s still so much left for you. You’re going to write about it, and it’s going to be a beautiful part of your life’. I’m trying to share that with another kid.”
In the end, Conan Gray may not think he’s cool, but Kid Krow proves he’s a lot more than that.
“I’m just a kid who has been through way too much,” he leaves off. “I had to figure out how to deal with it; writing was my answer. I want the music to be a conversation of youth. I very much feel like I’m still a kid. I’m just this little person in a gigantic world, but it feels right. At the end of the day, I just hope someone makes a connection and relates.”