When it comes to bleeding heart bangers, 23-year-old Conan Gray has positioned himself as a defining new voice of his generation.
With his sophomore album, Superache, out June 24, he expands his storytelling to include tales of heartbreak and trauma, finding universal meaning in the details of his life. Back in 2020, the Texas-raised, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter’s debut album Kid Krow, which came out the same week as widespread COVID lockdowns began, still managed to catapult up the charts. With the release of “Maniac” and “Heather” and their accompanying music videos, the pop star’s debut rose to the top 5 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, going on to achieve gold and platinum sales around the world and over a billion streams to-date. “Heather,” particularly, at over 3 Billion streams across all platforms, became a cultural touchstone and Gray’s most streamed song, recognizable to Gen Z fans worldwide, even earning its own Urban Dictionary definition.
While Gray’s 2020 was epic thanks in large part to his enormous internet-savvy Gen Z following, it was also a year that encouraged artistic evolution for many. As the world shut down, Gray went deeper into his second album, Superache, reflecting on love lost, friendship, family history, and lingering childhood wounds. As he did for his debut, Gray once again teamed with acclaimed producer Dan Nigro to flesh out a body of work that is as stylistically diverse as it is topical. Together, the duo fuses Gray’s acoustic guitar compositions and diaristic lyrics with catchy, emotive pop soundscapes. And once again, Gray’s sense of the world around him is captured vividly in the album’s 12 tracks. After all, Superache is, as Gray says, an album about following his gut, about yearning and processing pain – all while maintaining a sense of humor about all of life’s inevitable ups and downs. ”I felt like I was scraping my rib cage to write this album,” Gray confesses. “It was therapeutic and cathartic in the end, but the process of writing about my pain was a miserable experience.”
“Superache was a word I came up with that felt like a good representation of what the album is,” Conan says of the album’s unique title. “The album very much feels like me because I had a very rough childhood and a rough time my whole life, but I’ve never taken it super seriously. It’s also very overdramatic and histrionic and ridiculous in the way I portray this kind of mourning. It’s about lingering pain and the only way to process it is by being really dramatic and calling your friends and crying and writing songs, so I wanted a title that felt like that. It’s a superache - an ache that’s so bad it’s almost good. Sometimes you want to wallow in that pain in order to get over it. This album is me writing about the last three years and how I processed what I was going through.”
In some cases, Gray looks even further back on his past, coming to terms with his difficult family history. In the first verse of the spare and contemplative “Family Line,” Gray confronts feelings about his parents’ separation; how his father’s anger and how his mother’s tendency to hide molded him. “I say they’re just the ones who gave me life,” he sings. “But I truly am my parents’ child,” before erupting into a powerful chorus exploring Gray’s remaining scars, explaining how as a child, lying was a survival mechanism.
Establishing this raw foundation, on “Disaster,” Gray dives headfirst into the adrenaline rush of speedy relationships, matching intensifying, yet mismatched feelings with fast-paced music. “It’s the critical chapter, where I say ‘I love you’ and you don’t say it after,” he sings.
For “Memories,” Gray drew on inspiration from his exes, who he says he stays connected to. One lyric in particular addresses how difficult it can be to move on when love and ache are both present. “I see your brown eyes at the entrance, you [just] wanna talk, and I can’t turn away a wet dog,” he sings, amid contemplative acoustic guitar and piano, accented by driving percussion.
“Do you know that face that people make when they are desperate for you to love them?” Gray explains. “It always works on me, it’s like a wounded animal. That’s how I feel, too.”
The “Memories” video, which depicts Gray mourning a breakup and caring for a dog that shows up just long enough to help him heal is a metaphor for what it’s like to finally let go.
However, Superache isn’t just an overflow of melancholy emotion. “Best Friend,” with its light and airy beat composed of fingersnaps and guitar strums, is an ode to ride-or-dies everywhere. And while “Yours” is a song about giving your all to the one you love, but ultimately not being chosen, it powerfully taps into his anger and resentment. Gray recounts this frustration, “I felt like I was not enough to this person, but not nothing either. I built up this idea that if I stuck around long enough then maybe they would love me, but it just wasn’t true,” he says. “The song starts off with me begging this person to finally commit and let me be their person, but by the end of the song, I’m just angry, like “What the fuck did I do all this for?’ All of that just for it to end in nothing.”
In addition to working with Dan Nigro, Gray wrote three of Superache’s tracks (album closer “The Exit,” “People Watching,” “Disaster”) with pop’s go-to songwriter for confessional anthems, Julia Michaels. True to the spirit of the album’s recording sessions, Gray’s chemistry with Michaels was rooted in honesty and a willingness to experiment with more specificity in songwriting. “We wrote ‘People Watching’ together and I told her I wanted to write something really upbeat,” he recalls. “She looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think you do.’ And I was like, you’re right, I’m miserable… Julia showed me how to get really into the details… a lot of times people think a song that’s commercially successful is general enough to relate to everyone, but to me, a song that’s really specific and has little quirks connects more, because we all think we’re so different, but we’re all exactly the same in how we feel.”
Regardless of how much pain Gray navigated to make Superache, it represents a natural evolution in his artistry up to this exciting point in his career, as he steps into the fashion space attending the 2022 MET Gala and catching the attention of the “Best Dressed” lists and, of course, touring the world, which he is currently doing in support of his new music.
Most recently, Gray sold almost 200,000 tickets in the first half of 2022 on his sold-out Conan Gray World Tour, including appearances at New York’s iconic Radio City Music Hall, and a mainstage performance at Coachella.
“I want people to listen to this album and think, ‘I’m not insane for feeling this way,’ and to know that they are not alone,” he says. “Sometimes it’s almost fun to be sad and scream about it with your friends. I want people to listen to the album and know that I wrote it from a place of embracing the hilarity of pain and the irony of life in how it plays it out. It’s OK to be a bit dramatic. You’re supposed to laugh, you’re supposed to cry, but that’s how you’re supposed to react to things when you’re young.”