Sunday, July 12, 2020

Weekend Diversion: Conan Gray

A recurring theme of these Weekend Diversion posts is that the videos I share are often from people I’d never have heard of if I hadn’t seen the videos. Today’s artist is an example of exactly that.

Conan Gray is a 21 year old American singer-songwriter who began his a career by uploading videos to YouTube, which made him a "YouTube Personality". The songs in this post are all on his debut album, Kid Krow, which was released March 20 of this year. The album hit Number 26 in Australia, 5 in Canada, 32 in New Zealand, 30 in the UK, and 5 in the USA.

The video up top is the first one of his I’ve seen, and, so far, the only one I’ve seen on TV. The song is “Maniac”. When I saw the video I at first thought it was very superficial, but I saw it several times afterward and I eventually wanted to know more about the artist, someone I’d never heard of.

I ended up watching several of his earlier videos, non-musical ones in particular. In some of them he talked about his songwriting, and how the songs were largely fully formed pretty quickly, and each one has a particular meaning. Many of the songs have pretty complex and interesting structures, which is always a plus in pop music, in my opinion.

The song “Maniac” is mainly a sort of middle finger to “maniac” ex-lovers, in a full-on pop music frame. It works, I think, as did others: The song hit Number 24 in Australia (Platinum), 29 in New Zealand, 25 on the USA’s “Bubbling under the Hot 100” chart (and 38 on Billboard’s “Mainstream Top 40 chart”). It was also certified Gold in Canada and the USA, despite not charting in either country.

Next up is the single before “Maniac”, “Comfort Crowd”:

The song was released on September 5, 2019, but it didn't chart. Gray wrote the song after moving to California, where he was born, to attend university. He has said he was lonely and missed his friends, and the song is about that. He also said that any adolescent would understand the idea that they need to “kill off” several versions of themselves along the way.

Next up, the first single of this year, released in January, “The Story”:

This song, which also didn’t chart, is more melancholy than the others, and is basically about his difficult childhood. He’s talked about that (including in some of his non-musical videos), especially the fact that he was bullied growing up in Texas because of his Japanese ancestry. But, despite the bad things, “it’s not the end of the story”.

Finally, “Wish You Were Sober”, which was released this past March:

The song is a pretty straightforward pop song, about what’s lost from the use of alcohol. He apparently had folks say they loved him only when they were drunk, which is referenced in the lyrics, too. The song hit Number 14 in New Zealand, but otherwise didn’t chart.

And that’s it for yet another artist I hadn’t heard of until I saw his video on TV. I’m sure there will be more.

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