Before Conan Gray took the stage at Los Angeles’ Grammy Museum on Wednesday night (Sept. 7), the singer took some time to wander through the space’s carpeted hallways. You could hear “oohs” and “ahhs” as he passed the illustrious garbs of Dolly Parton and music stars from far before his time. Gray himself was dressed to impress, sporting a lacy, black Moschino suit.
And although you wouldn’t expect it by looking at him, the 23-year-old spent the rest of that night candidly spouting self-deprecating jokes that made the event feel more like an intimate hang-out with a best friend than an industry Q&A.
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During the conversation with Billboard editor Lyndsey Havens, Gray was his usual relatable self, but also revealed vulnerability discussing physical abuse, emotional wounds and dreams of love, all themes present on his sophomore album “Superache.”
“[With ‘Superache’] every single word felt like I was dragging myself across a bed of nails,” Gray said. “But it gave space to talk about the things that were too painful to talk about otherwise. I came to terms with parts of my life that are still hard to think about.”
Gray added, “The beauty in pop music and the beauty in writing music is being able to help people understand, understand what I’m saying and what I want people to be able to relate to what I’m writing about — that’s the whole reason I started writing music in the first place.”
Throughout the night, Gray routinely dissected the eighth track of his album, the melancholic “Family Line” which is directly inspired by “childhood and generational trauma.” The track took Gray over two years to write and almost didn’t make it onto the official tracklist had it not been for Gray’s best friend who urged him to complete it. Before he performed an acoustic version of the track for the Grammy Museum audience — some of whom had been waiting outside since the early hours of the morning — he summarized the track’s overall contribution to the album’s theme.
“I don’t need to run from my past because my past doesn’t define me,” said Gray. “I really can be who I want to be and all of the things that happened to me, led to this point. … Some people think it’s too taboo to talk about trauma but everyone has baggage that they carry with them everywhere they go. My family line made me who I am today, in all of the bad ways and all of the good ways.”
Helping Gray make sense of his painfully honest lyrics was long-time friend and producer Dan Nigro, with whom he’s worked consistently since his 2018 debut EP “Sunset Season.” Nigro has become somewhat of a celebrity in the Gen-Z music landscape, having co-written and produced Olivia Rodrigo’s acclaimed debut album, “Sour” — and sharing in one Grammy win this year.
Musing on their collaboration, Gray shared: “You spend so many years kind of creating this sound [together] and learning about each other and figuring out what we like and what we don’t like and at this point, we’re able to read each other’s mind. It’s so important to make music with someone you’re comfortable around so you’re free to make mistakes.”
On the theme of collaboration, Gray was asked if there was a BTS collaboration in the works — seeing as one of the band’s members specifically named Conan Gray as an inspiration in a recent Rolling Stone interview. He gushed along with the audience who couldn’t help but let out a string of screeches at the thought, but ultimately, he said he was intimidated by the proposal.
Gray also spilled that he had just visited South Korea, where he realized “the music industry there is so different. … I got to tour their offices and it was just wild. They have sets inside of office buildings that look like houses — it looks like a normal house but it’s in an office — anyways, you’ll get it later.”
Before the live performance part of the night, Gray briefly paused the event to make sure every squirrely teen in the room had grabbed a “candid” shot of him for their BeReal (the app that sends a notification a day to all its subscribers who then have two minutes to take and post a photo). Then, accompanied by Renny Go on piano, he started his set with “Memories” before jumping into “Heather,” one of the standout tracks from his 2020 debut, “Kid Krow.” Gray then appeared solo on stage with a guitar in lap for a stripped-back rendition of “Family Line,” and with each reverberating strum, the sniffles of teary-eyed fans filled the room.
Gray will be touring for the remainder of the year, heading out to New Zealand and Australia in the fall. No doubt he hopes to be back in L.A. in for the Grammy Awards, which will be held next door to the museum at the Crypto.com Arena (formerly Staples Center) on Feb. 5, 2023.
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