Conan Gray recently spoke to Insider about his "revealing" new era of music.
The singer is set to perform at Coachella on the heels of his latest single "Memories," out Friday.
"It felt like scraping my ribs of anything left that I had to say," he said of his sophomore album.
Even with nearly six million followers on Instagram, over 17 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and cosigns from the likes of Elton John and Taylor Swift (who called one of his songs "ethereal" and another "a masterpiece"), Conan Gray still can't believe that his music inspires feverish devotion.
"Even to this day, I'm stunned that anybody cares," the singer-songwriter told Insider, mere days before his prime-time appearance at Coachella, the world's most famous music event.
Even through his denial, however, Gray can sense the importance of this moment.
He will take the stage in Indio, California on the heels of his latest single, "Memories," which was released on Friday. The song precedes his much-anticipated sophomore album "Superache," due in June.
Gray even created a limited-edition piece of merchandise for the festival's first-ever Amex Artist Shop to commemorate his performance: a watermelon-colored crewneck with the words "your sweater" embroidered on the front, a nod to his hit single "Heather."
The tender ballad, which has been whole-heartedly embraced by critics and TikTok teens alike, sees Gray yearning for a high school-era crush who was in love with someone else: "You gave her your sweater, it's just polyester / But you like her better / Wish I were Heather."
Gray spoke with Insider about the song's enduring appeal, the "revealing" nature of his forthcoming album, and why you definitely shouldn't text your ex.
Can you tell me how you came to partner with Amex for this exclusive merch item and what inspired the design?
Absolutely. It's Coachella weekend so I wanted to have a really fun, special experience with the fans and with the song "Heather." Obviously, it's about a sweater, so I wanted to make an exclusive sweater for Coachella weekend. I thought it would be nice.
I'm going to be partnering with Amex to make the first-ever Amex artist shop. And it's going to be really fun for all the card members.
As I understand it, you wrote "Heather" about a significant heartbreak you had in high school. How does it feel to sing it as an adult, knowing how much it means to people, when it was inspired by a painful experience?
It's the kind of song that's relatable to anyone who's ever felt like the second choice, or felt like the one that wasn't chosen and wasn't picked. We all have a Heather in our lives. Doesn't matter who you are, how old you are, or what point in your life you are at. There's that person that you just compare yourself to constantly.
I think that's why Heather means so much to me. Over the years, being able to sing it has helped a lot with healing over those painful feelings.
Do you find that you have to tap into those emotions when you perform emotional songs, or do they take on a different meaning when you're on stage?
They very much take on a different meaning over time. Singing the song every night to all these happy, screaming fans, I think, makes the song feel less like something that I went through alone.
I wrote the song feeling very much like nobody was going to relate. Instead, it ended up being very, very relatable to a lot of people. So it was oddly very comforting, seeing them in Heather sweaters and seeing that I very much wasn't the one who felt that kind of pain in my life.
I saw your first festival performance at Lollapalooza in 2019 and now you've got prime placement on this all-important Coachella poster. Has your attitude about performing live changed since your audience has grown?
No, not at all. Back then I was stunned that anyone cared and even to this day, I'm stunned that anybody cares.
Coachella is going to be a really special moment for the whole fan base and I just hope that being able to have a little sweater to commemorate it will be very cute for all of us.
Speaking of performing, you recently appeared with Olivia Rodrigo during her "Sour" tour to sing Katy Perry's "The One That Got Away." How did that come about and why did you two pick that song?
Vancouver was the only spot on both of our tours that we were overlapping and we both played shows that night in Vancouver.
We were FaceTiming the night before and we were so excited that we were going to see each other that we totally hadn't even thought of performing together. So we just threw together a cover of a song that we sing together all the time, just back when we're home. It was a really special experience and a very special night.
—declan (@idkdeclan) April 8, 2022
Obviously, I have to ask you about your recent album announcement. Can you give me any insight into the title "Superache?"
To me, "Superache" is just a word that I made up because I wanted to capture that feeling of lingering love and the super-emotional feeling that you feel when you're young.
But I also wanted to make it feel almost sarcastic at times and very much show that the pain is almost at your own demise. It's this kind of ache that you can only get over by ranting to your friends, sobbing, writing songs, and being really dramatic about it all.
The album has a lot of super-high and super-low moments. It's sarcastic and fun, but also really vulnerable and painful a lot of the time. I wanted to capture that whole feeling in a word.
I wondered about that, because I felt a bit of irony in the word — just because "super" sounds so youthful, almost like an eye roll. That was intentional?
Yeah. I wanted you to be able to read the title and think like, "Oh, this is a type of ache where you're self-aware that you're being a little dramatic about it."
I also want to ask you about the video teaser, because I noticed on the box, it said "SP+AC." Now knowing the title is "Superache," it plays into that. But I wondered if that had another significance?
None at all. I saw a bunch of theories that were really funny, but not at all. It was just to hopefully leak the title to the fans who could decode it ahead of time.
While I was on tour, I was handing out cups of coffee to all the people lining up before the show, and I was writing the letters of the title on all the cups of coffee. I was giving hints, that's all it was.
So each cup of coffee had one letter so people could put them together?
That reminds me of that "Victorious" episode. Did you ever see that?
Oh my God! Where they wanted to win the Ke$ha concert.
Yes! I remember that. That was amazing.
I know that your fans are very passionate, always looking for clues and hints about new music. Have you ever seen a theory that you're like, "That's insane and makes no sense, but I love it?"
Every single day. I mean, for a long time, the running theory was that the album was going to be named "Sad Prince." That just made me laugh. Every single time I saw it I was like, "Guys, I'm not going to name my album that."
How would you describe this style of music, or the direction you've gone with this album in comparison to your debut?
I think you can feel that I've had a bit of time to think about the past few years and that I'm no longer in high school. I'm no longer a teenager.
Writing "Kid Krow" was just introducing myself and saying hello. And like, "Hi, this is who I am. This is the kind of stuff that I talk about and want to talk about right now. I've been heartbroken once in high school and it was hard."
But with "Superache," it felt like scraping my ribs of anything left that I had to say. I very much had to look in the mirror and think, "What do I want to tell these people? Do I really want to say that?"
In the end, it became a very revealing album and a very vulnerable album. And it felt like all the things that I didn't say in the beginning.
—conan gray (@conangray) April 11, 2022
Can you tell me what inspired your next single?
It's a song called "Memories." It's about that kind of feeling — when you're trying to get over someone and they're making it so much worse by constantly showing up in your life over and over.
When you're really in love with someone, you're always like, "I'll love you forever. Stay in my memories forever." But I wanted to take that phrase and be like, "I actually wish that you would stay in my memories. Stop showing up in real life. Please stay there. I don't want any new memories from you. Don't make this any harder than it already is."
I was at dinner with one of my friends and she was like, "Oh, I'm thinking about texting my ex." And I was like, "Why?" And she was like, "I don't know. I just thought I would. I miss him."
So I'm like, "Yeah, but you broke up with him. So let him rest. Leave him alone. Let him heal over you, let him get over you. That's a mean thing to do." And that's kind of where the inspiration for the song came from.
You're a good friend. People need tough love sometimes.
Sometimes you need to tell your friends to shut up.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Listen to "Memories" and more on Spotify with Insider's rising artist radio.
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