American singer-songwriter Conan Gray may be a Gen Z vlogging sensation for posting candid self-made videos on Youtube seven years ago, but the now 21-year old rising star joins the current landscape of social media personalities breaking into mainstream pop music. With hits such as gold-certified single Maniac and rising indie pop track Heather trending on Tik Tok and more than 12.2 monthly listeners on Spotify alone, the Texan native is rising the ranks in the pop circuit and following in the footsteps of his primary influences Taylor Swift and Lorde.
I feel the pressure to do well. I’ve always been a people pleaser, I’ve always wanted to make people happy and laugh. The difference between being in high school and making music and touring now is pretty dramatic and weird. Everything seems like a dream. It just seems very silly. Why do people care about me? It’s so weird.
Since releasing his self-produced viral track Idle Town on Youtube back in 2017 – an ode to his senior year of high school, Conan has toured in America, Europe and Australia and was slated to perform at Coachella before its eventual cancellation due to the Coronavirus pandemic this year. Since releasing his debut album Kid Krow earlier in March this year, the ‘pop prince of sad internet teens’ as slated by Teen Vogue has taken time off through this lockdown to find little ways to normalise quarantine:
I became a lot more obsessed with coffee during quarantine. My morning coffee is my ritual. I make latte art, that’s a little thing that makes me happy everyday. I feel like someone would feel safe ordering coffee from me. If one day people stop caring about my music, I’m gonna move to some random city and become a barista and make lattes for people. I think that would be really fun.”
i need coffee and a hug pic.twitter.com/EDLgmF61qa
— conan gray (@conangray) April 7, 2020
He reflects on the confusing and apathetic times that people have been forced to live in, “I’ve never been alone for this long in my life, like ever. I think, there were a few months in this past 5 months where I’m like ‘Geez, I haven’t seen anyone in weeks and I don’t even remember how I wake up and do every single thing everyday’. It was kinda mind numbing,” recounts Conan. What initially started as an attempt to do everything and anything eventually dulled down to a time of rest and recuperation.
He has since picked up reading Sally Rooney‘s Normal People and watching its Irish TV adaptation by BBC Three and Hulu, claiming it brought him to tears. Yet through it all, Conan is confident in the adaptability of humans to acclimatise to adversity and is positive that as long as all of humanity sticks together, we can overcome this calamity.
“I think if I had a normal job, I probably would want to work at a cafe or a bookstore. Something quiet, where I can just sit around and clean,” reveals Conan as he ponders on an alternate life where he is not a burgeoning pop star. He shares his love for science and recounts aspiring to be a science teacher as a kid and taking up biology in college. Yet, music seemed to make the most logical sense as he details the boredom he felt when he took up some communications classes in college for a while before dropping out to sign a record deal with Universal Music and pursue music full time.
Since making the big move from Texas to Los Angeles, he reflects on the polar distinction between people from both city states being the spark distinction in pace of life. “It was weird when I first got to LA. People were outside. I grew up in the countryside where there weren’t people walking outside my house. It was a big jump and for the longest time, I couldn’t fall asleep at night because I could hear people walking around,” details Conan.
He also discusses the pressures of keeping up with social media in relation to mental health, acknowledging that consuming online content with moderation is the key to digesting information and keeping up with the noise. “When I was younger it was my whole entire life, and now I’m just like, maybe I’ll just read a book instead,” claims the social media personality.
When asked what he would advice his younger self, Conan advices:
Nobody cares that you exist. No one cares. Do whatever you want, no one’s watching. When I was 16, I thought everyone was judging me all the time. Go to the football game. Do the stupid dances. Do all those things. You don’t need to stay up till 4 in the morning every single day doing homework, working on things and writing songs. Like chill out dude, you’re gonna be fine.”
Conan jumps between a jovial disposition and a reflective state of awareness past his years as a 21-year-old Gen Z icon. For a rising star, one would expect an airiness or a lack of perception, but the ‘Crush Culture‘ singer demonstrates a maturity way past his years. He still keeps to his process of writing songs, just him alone in his bedroom and his guitar. At the heart of this teen pop phenomenon is a young adult hoping to connect with the world and maybe possibly brew coffee for people in the years to come.
If you check in on me in 10 years, I guarantee I will be in Texas. Where is Conan Gray? Who knows? He probably will be a barista somewhere in Texas.
Listen to Conan Gray’s debut album Kid Krow now.