By Matthew Ainsley
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As a new Delta variant threatens the relaxation of various Covid restrictions and the number of cases skyrocket, nothing feels better than reminiscing on easier times when things weren’t so hopeless and indoors. Kid Krow, the critically acclaimed bedroom pop LP from Conan Gray, captures the same lust for nostalgia that helps to escape the entrapment of depressive summer isolation.
The album is in every sense a coming-of-age soundtrack as it explores the motions of teenage heartbreak, romance, friendship, and all the melodrama that surrounds them.
Conan Gray first found his audience on YouTube where he uploaded vlogs of his life, broadcasting intimately his experiences growing up with a fanbase of over one million subscribers. He gained popularity for his aesthetic style, often incorporating the rural influences of his tiny hometown into his videos.
From his fondness of flowers and nature, to his emotional vulnerability, Gray cultivated a following that helped him break into the music industry. His debut EP, Sunset Season, explores the intricacies of his rural, more isolated teenage years including his relationships at his local high school and life growing up away from any big city.
Kid Krow was the next step in Gray’s trajectory towards becoming one of pop’s next breakthrough artists. After the success of his EP, Kid Krow explores many of the same issues and experiences as its predecessor. The LP times in at 33 minutes and 33 seconds, made up of ten full-length tracks and two shorter interludes.
Whilst the LP is classed as a pop album, Kid Krow takes inspiration from a variety of genres, old and new, current and outdated, and blends them seamlessly with producer Dan Nigro’s efforts. Due to the album’s multifaceted nature, each track is distinguishable from the last and makes for a refreshing, unexpected listen. This is evident from the album’s singles; the rock-inspired, revenge track Checkmate, the slow-tempo, alt-pop sounding Comfort Crowd, and the rock-pop, radio-friendly anthem Maniac.
The latter of the three, Maniac, was the standout track prior to the album’s release. Blending bass guitar and drums with high-energy production quality, Maniac hits a nerve with Gray’s predominantly teenage fanbase. The song exposes a past-lover who’s since gone psycho and expels all chance at a recoupling; an anti-heartbreak song that conveys more playfulness than sorrow.
Thematically, the song is reminiscent of Olivia Rodrigo’s recent hit, good 4 u as both denounce their exes as maniacs and sociopaths and appear over the foolishness of their past relationship. The music video for Maniac perfectly captures the almost comedic flare the song produces. Gray and Netflix’s End of the F*cking World actress Jessica Barden are seen escaping from the zombified versions of their exes. With a carefree and satirical message, Maniac is the perfect soundtrack to dance and curse and let all the anger and frustration out.
If Maniac shows Gray’s more playful and unsympathetic side, Heather, the sixth single from Kid Krow, reveals Gray’s longing and lovesickness; his inability to forget about his crush that falls for someone equally as perfect, beautiful, and above degradation as the crush themselves. The track is simplistically acoustic, allowing Gray’s signature high-pitched, dreamy vocals to be the focal point – in this sense, Heather draws similarities to Sam Smith’s earlier ballads such as Stay with Me. The appeal of Heather lies in its astounding relativity. Gray painfully lyricises:
“You gave her your sweater,
It’s just polyester, but you like her better,
I wish I were Heather”
Heather subverts the tradition of villainization stereotypically aimed at a crush, or a romantic rival, and instead wallows in the self-pity of not being good enough. For me, Heather pinpoints the feeling of unrequited love, especially during teenage years, and the crushing mentality that accompanied it.
The album’s final track, and one of my personal favourites, is the stripped-back, guitar ballad The Story. Released as the fourth single from the album, The Story is arguably one of the album’s most vulnerable and heart-breaking songs. The Story tells the story of Conan’s childhood; snippets of information that explore suicide, sexuality, bullying, heartbreak, growing up and leaving his hometown behind.
The track is bittersweet; lyrically Gray begins to understand the unfair, and sometimes brutal, way the world works to advantage some and discredit others. Yet, Gray is hopeful despite this and wishes for the successes of those around him. Aptly fitting the title, the track (and album) ends on the lyrics: “It’s not the end of the story.” Through this, Gray reveals his hope for the future and for the listener themselves, encouraging each to carve their own story against the struggles that life may have to offer.
Kid Krow, like The Story, is packed with thought-provoking, evocative, and story-telling lyricism throughout. It realistically captures the essence of what it means to be growing up in the 2010s and 2020s, decoding and rebuilding the main elements of teenage life through a bedroom-pop album and an inclination towards melodrama. Gray showcases his stardom on Kid Krow through his lyricisms and his vocals and gives definite reason for people to anticipate his new releases in the months to come.
Illustration by Adeline Zhao