Conan Gray narrates his childhood with ‘Kid Krow’.

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Republic Records

The cover of Conan Gray’s debut studio album, ‘Kid Krow’.

Mason Montano, Music Editor

Over the past two years, American singer-songwriter and former YouTuber Conan Gray has taken the mainstream music scene by storm.

From his humble beginnings on YouTube — He created his channel in January 2013 and began posting vlogs about his life in addition to showcasing his artistic talent through videos of him covering his favorite songs on guitar, drawing, painting, etc. — Gray eventually garnered a large online following, and in March 2017, he self-released his debut single, “Idle Town”.

The track quickly gained over 14 million streams on Spotify and 12 million views on YouTube, catching the attention of Republic Records, who ultimately signed him and released his second single, “Generation Why”, in October 2018 followed by his debut EP, Sunset Season, that November, which reached #2 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums Chart and established him as a rising pop star.

Soon after the EP’s arrival, Gray embarked on his debut concert tour, The Sunset Shows, and after a series of singles, including his viral hit “Maniac”, he released his debut studio album, Kid Krow, in mid-March.

According to an interview with People, the title was inspired by a nickname that his best friend gave to him:

“[I asked my best friend,] ‘Well, who am I?’ She goes, ‘You’re a crow.’ And that makes plenty of sense. I’m very broody and a little mysterious. I don’t really let people in very much. I just don’t take things too seriously.”

In contrast to the predominantly dreamy synth pop sound of Sunset Season, Kid Krow is a darker, moodier indie pop and pop rock-influenced record on which Gray recounts his coming-of-age story as a mixed-race child from a broken home growing up in small-town Texas, and the lyrics cover heavy subject matter from poverty and abuse to loneliness and heartbreak, although the majority of the album focuses on the latter.

The opening track and second single, “Comfort Crowd”, is a smooth jam that was written while Gray was attending UCLA while all of his friends were back in Texas and sees him acknowledging the need for human connection when dealing with loneliness; and the fifth single, “Wish You Were Sober”, is an indie pop banger about someone from his past who would only admit that they liked him when they were drunk, leaving him understandably disappointed.

“Wish You Were Sober” is also a personal favorite of mine due to its throwback style, with a sound reminiscent of indie pop songs from the mid-2010s, specifically American singer-songwriter and actress Melanie Martinez’s 2015 single “Soap”, however, among the heartbreak-centered tracks, “Heather” is the one that stands out the most.

It’s a highly emotional acoustic ballad of a confessional nature that describes an unrequited love that Gray had for someone who was in love with another person named Heather, who he resented for seemingly “stealing” his crush from him, and over the course of the song, he compares himself to Heather and wishes that he could be her so that he could be with his crush.

Although not explicitly stated nor officially confirmed, it is heavily implied that he is singing about a male, heterosexual love interest, thus giving “Heather” strong Queer undertones and making it painfully relatable to his Queer audience, as we’ve all been in Gray’s position, and trust me, it’s not fun.

Moving away from the heartbreak songs, “Affluenza” is a commentary on material wealth and the result of Gray moving to Los Angeles after growing up in tough financial situations, observing how unhappy his wealthy friends were and realizing that money cannot buy happiness, as he likens affluence to that of a disease; and “Little League” is an upbeat, pop rock anthem that sees him reminiscing about the past, before he was famous and when times were simpler, with a sense of nostalgia as he longs to be younger.

Kid Krow closes with the fourth single and most personal track on the album, “The Story” — another acoustic pop ballad on which Gray uses first and third-person storytelling techniques to narrate tragic tales from his childhood; referencing two kids he knew that committed suicide as a result of being bullied, two closeted boys who never got the chance to express their feelings for one another out of fear, and the hardships that he and his friend experienced growing up — Gray’s parents divorced when he was three years old; his father was in the military, so his family moved 12 times throughout his childhood; and he was bullied in elementary school for being mixed-race as well as for writing songs and poems.

Due to the deeply personal nature of “The Story”, he was hesitant to release it, as he really only made it for himself, but upon playing it for his friends, they convinced him to put it on the album, and it’s a good thing they did because it’s this kind of raw vulnerability that not only showcases an artist’s talent, but allows them to connect with their fans who may have gone or be going through situations similar to the ones depicted in the lyrics.

Kid Krow was met with critical acclaim upon its release, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Top 200 and #1 on the US Pop Albums chart in addition to being the biggest new artist debut of 2020 as of March and the top pop solo debut album since 2018. It even got Gray noticed by his long-time idol and songwriting inspiration, American singer-songwriter and actress Taylor Swift, who praised the record as a “masterpiece”.

Conan Gray has grown from a lonely, artistic kid living in a town that couldn’t appreciate his talent into a full-blown star on the mainstream music scene, living out the very dream that he once believed to be impossible.

Kid Krow is available now across all online and streaming platforms.

Stream Kid Krow on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/2CMlkzFI2oDAy5MbyV7OV5?si=qGI-s899ScaIMc3SJvZsRA 

Watch the music video for “The Story”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av4lI6ANeHY

Gray in the music video for “The Story”.