Conan Gray believes that if he were an animal he’d be a crow. It’s been an inside joke between him and his friends because of his chaotic, sarcastic, and slightly dark personality. Now, he’s sharing who he is and plenty more with his debut album Kid Krow, out Friday, March 20.
“This is my whole entire life; this is all of the things that have gone right and wrong. I say a lot of things that I really haven’t told anyone ever except for my closest friends in the world,” he tells Teen Vogue. “I always joke that people who listen to my album from top to bottom, by the time they’ve listened to the last song, you know just as many secrets about me as my best friends back home would know, which qualifies you to be my best friend.”
Those who have been listening to Conan’s music for a while now know his journey from viral YouTube sensation to one of the most up-and-coming musicians of today. Originally from Georgetown, Texas, he started making music from his bedroom using a mic taped to a broken lamp and GarageBand. The dreamy doldrums of his song “Idle Town” drew in drones of young people that felt smothered by their hometowns. “Idle Town” catalyzed his career, leading to his 2018 EP Sunset Season and nabbed him monikers such as the pop prince of sad internet teens.
The 21-year-old explains that he made Sunset Season in a bubble, an encapsulation of his senior year of high school. With Kid Krow, Conan’s ready to formally introduce himself to the world. To give them the “truest life story of Conan Gray.” There’s songs about falling in love for the first time, and all those confusing feelings that can be all-consuming during that transition from angsty teen to burgeoning young adult.
Kid Krow ranges from smooth, pensive tracks such as “Comfort Crowd” and “(Online Love)” that lean into an acoustic sound to the upbeat, animated “Maniac” and “Checkmate” that are perfect for a late-night dance party or dramatic strut down the street. The album shows off Conan’s sonic versatility, the through line being his thoughtful, vulnerable lyrics. He contends with his own imperfections, as demonstrated with “Heather,” a track that he’s been a bit nervous about people finally listening to.
“I was really, really in love with one person and they didn’t love me, they loved Heather, and because of that I hated Heather. I had no bounds to hate Heather because Heather was a perfectly nice girl,” he admits. “It’s just, I did, and it’s a thing that I think is embarrassing and it’s not a good thing to feel like that. But it’s true. I felt like I needed to say it.”
There are plenty of other love songs on the album. Conan describes himself as someone who falls hard when he catches feelings, so he’s fully aware that he writes dramatic, sad pop songs about affairs of the heart.
“Yeah, just about every single one of them,” he says when asked if any old romantic flings have reached out to him since he’s been catapulted into the spotlight. “I don’t really take it personally. I think my way of processing emotions that I deal with when my heart gets broken is writing songs. By the time I’ve written the song and it’s out there, I’m already over it.”
Along with “Heather,” he felt a similar sense of nervousness with his concluding track “The Story,” a solemn ballad that reveals a bit about his and a friend’s childhood, that brightens up both lyrically and sonically before the close. When talking about his track “Affluenza,” he shares that he grew up fairly poor; some nights he and his sister didn’t know if they were going to be able to eat. So it was culture shock arriving in Los Angeles for college and being introduced to a world of extremely wealthy classmates and then learning that no amount of money could make them invincible to having problems.
Understandably, it’s scary to put yourself out there. But as Conan’s devoted fans exemplify, that honesty is what makes him an artist that so many people connect to.
“I think that life is just hilariously bad most of the time. I had a dark childhood, but in my later years, I just kind of laugh at the way that life goes,” he says. “I learned really, really quickly as a kid that a great way to deal with pain is to laugh at it. I was made fun of a lot as a kid and I still do get made fun of all the time on the internet. I’m the biggest spokesperson for making fun of yourself first so that they can’t make fun of you because you’ve already made the joke. Life changes so much and life is so long that anything you think is bad in the moment, it’s going to pass. There’s just so much you haven’t experienced yet.”
That sense of humor is also clearly evident on Twitter and Instagram, where Conan is downright hilarious. He’s always retweeting memes or sharing ramblings like, “yes i do fully plan on finding the love of my life through my instagram explore page in the comfort of my own bed and nobody can convince me otherwise.” One standout moment was after he was photographed for Wonderland and joked, “@dualipa for @wonderland” due to the unintended twinning.
“Miss Dula Peep did not respond,” he says with a laugh when asked about the situation, also using a meme nickname the internet often uses for the Future Nostalgia singer. “People always told me that I look like Dua Lipa and my contact photo on my phone is just the photo of Dua Lipa wearing bunny ears where I really think she looks like me. Obviously she’s Dua Lipa, she’s f*cking stunning. Dua Lipa, sweetie, I’m so sorry that you’re getting compared to me.”
The internet has also helped Conan in ways beyond molding his sense of humor. He’s half Japanese and half white, and went to a high school that had very few Asian people but faced a number of racist kids from the middle of Texas. Being online made him realize that he didn’t have to fit into a group or box and that there were plenty more people like him outside of his small hometown. On top of that, he’s loved seeing K-pop dominate the entire world right now.
“Having V from BTS reach out and show me his love was so heartwarming and makes me so happy to see Asians finally being represented in the media,” he says. “The second I can go to Korea, I want so badly to make a song with him and they’re just wonderful. I mean they’re just the best in the world.”
As for downtime, Conan still spends his time off writing songs because that’s simply what he loves to do. He often FaceTimes his friends back home in Texas, especially when he’s on the road.
“I really like keeping up with them because they keep me super grounded. They’re the first ones to tell me if I’m being like a brat, if I’m being ungrateful,’ he says. “It hasn’t been that long that all of this crazy stuff has been happening for me so I still feel like the same person that I was before. I think anyone can relate. Anytime you go hang out with a friend, it’s like you just forget that anything [else] is happening.”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue