Conan Gray, a YouTube sweetheart turned overnight indie pop star, has made waves with his smash hits and sold-out world tours. Breaking out of a tiny town in Texas, Conan has been using music as a means of storytelling, escape and healing. That process of using music to both honor and slip out of suburbia, which he’s been doing since his time on YouTube (but especially his hit “Idle Town”), comes to a fruition on his highly anticipated debut album.
While Conan’s past works have focused on the romanticized aspects of his suburban teen experience, Kid Krow is the transition into LA and the reflection on his time in Texas with a certain person. Kid Krow is the culmination of childhood pain and late teen angst, with songs documenting relationships and feelings that simply have not had enough time to heal or fade.
Here’s a track-by-track review of Conan’s debut album, everything you’d want from a first album and more.
On the first track on Kid Krow, Conan honors his longtime best friend, Ashley. She’s well known among Conan’s fans for not only her humor but also her ability to keep Conan afloat as he escapes his small town.
I LOVE YOU BEST FRIEND I WRITE ALL OF MY SONGS FOR YOUUU https://t.co/nuNZ3Xdc1F
— conan gray (@conangray) September 5, 2019
Conan’s tribute to his best friend is slow and plunking in some parts and fast and poppy in others. “Comfort Crowd” is uniquely Conan Gray and the perfect song to open his album.
Wish You Were Sober
The final single released, “Wish You Were Sober” introduces the romantic subject of Kid Krow and Conan’s life. This romantic lead of sorts has filled Conan’s songs, videos and head, honestly, for years. On “Wish You Were Sober,” Conan grows annoyed with the indecisiveness and the alcohol, drawing on years of distaste for the party scene. Deeply pop and utterly electrifying, “Wish You Were Sober” is the song that plays in a coming of age film after the main character completely claims their identity.
“Maniac” is undeniably the breakout single of Kid Krow. It garnered massive attention on TikTok and brought in over 90 million streams on Spotify alone. Earning countless live performances and serious radio play, “Maniac” helped to pull Conan further into the limelight.
Angry, electric and totally 80’s, Conan feeds on frustration with being treated like a joke. Backed by blaring synth, Conan sings, “Tell all of your friends that I’m crazy and drive you mad/That I’m such a stalker, a watcher, a psychopath/And tell ’em you hate me and dated me just for laughs/So, why do you call me and tell me you want me back?/You maniac!”
A 37-second interlude between many of the album’s singles and the rest of the tracks, “Online Love” is a quick and acoustic interjection. The track begins with a phone dialing, connecting to the long distance meaning of the song. The song moves quickly with coffee shop ambiance, filled with clinking plates and chatter, behind him.
Conan sings, “As I stare at my screen, shining blue and green/All alone in a coffee shop I can’t help but imagine what maybe could’ve happened/If you weren’t just an online love.” The song playfully ends with Conan talking with friends saying, “I think he’s just–I think he’s just going through something,” before there is the sound of tapes and a robotic voice saying, “Delete.”
“Checkmate” was the first single to be released from this album, introducing the album’s blend of happy sounds and dark meanings. Conan’s self-directed music video for the song was shocking, with kidnapping and killer visuals. Conan sings, “’Cause I’ve gotten tired of the games that you play/When you tell me you love me then you throw me away/So cry me a river ’til you drown in the lake/’Cause you may think you’re winning, but checkmate.”
The Cut That Always Bleeds
Beautiful music and gory lyrics (a common theme on Kid Krow, evidently) come together on “The Cut That Always Bleeds.” Conan shared on Twitter that his entire album was inspired by an unrequited crush — and it becomes crystal clear on this track, which Conan has revealed to be “the most emo” song on the album.
nah probably the cut that always bleeds
— conan gray (@conangray) February 7, 2020
’90s-eque guitar and percussion, as well as purposeful tinges of single piano keys, help build up the instrumentals behind the lyrics on this track. Conan pleads, “I need you like the air I breathe/I need, I need you more than the/I need you more than anything.” The song cuts out at the end, emphasizing the breaking of painful patterns. “The Cut That Always Bleeds” is sobbing in the dark and exhaustion. It’s grappling with the reality that the person you so desperately want is simply not interested.
Fight or Flight
On “Fight or Flight,” Conan conjures a frenzy of fierce, consuming chaos. He discusses his fight or flight instincts being triggered by the thought of having to open up to that certain someone. “Well, fight or flight, I’d rather die/Than have to cry in front of you/Fight or flight, I’d rather lie/Than tell you I’m in love with you,” he croons. In the middle of the song, an electric guitar lick interjects. The key shifts, sounding much darker and completely backed by the heavy electric guitar. The lyrics are reminiscent of Conan’s heartfelt hit, “Lookalike,” from his EP, Sunset Season.
“Affluenza” opens with a sequence of beeps that sound like the beginning of a recording process, as well as the sounds of medical equipment. After the beat begins, the song starts slow and angry. Jaws will drop. “Affluenza” has begun. With light violin and consistent piano, Conan sings, “They say, ‘Money can’t buy you no love’/But a diamond cheers you right up/Give me none of your affluenza/Affluenza, affluenza.” There is a sharp shift to a more electronic sound in the latter half of the song, as Conan sings, “Fat stacks, cold cash!”
The term affluenza is a clever combination of the word “affluent” and “influenza.” It’s also a clear reference to the infamous 2013 case involving wealthy teen Ethan Couch, who killed a family while driving under the influence.
Conan has always shared his experience growing up with not a lot of money but a surplus of pain. Divorce and familial instability rocked his early life, as Conan shared in an interview with Notion that his childhood could be summarized as “debt, foreclosure, angry rich people, angry poor people, eviction, running from the cops, child protection services, and a lot of yelling.” “Affluenza” ultimately explores the implications of wealth, but the underlying problems that impact all.
(Can We Be Friends)
“Can We Be Friends” is another quick interlude, under a minute, on which Conan sings about the beginning of a friendship. The echoing and acoustic style mimics his earlier music, though the lyrics tie into the underlying darkness laced throughout the project. Throughout the song, Conan connects to his childhood detachment and longing for friendship as he implores, “Could you be my best friend?”
i can’t wait for y’all to hear “heather” off of this cuz it makes me want to die and i’m tired of being the only one crying i want y’all to cry with me https://t.co/gRhfCLglD1
— conan gray (@conangray) February 7, 2020
A sharp, echoey chime starts “Heather,” before a friendly acoustic guitar begins as the haunting darkness of the first note dissipates. On “Heather,” Conan sings about longing to be loved by the person he likes, while that person has their eyes trained on someone else. Conan loves Taylor Swift a lot, and it’s evident in this track. If his earlier song “The King” is an intense spin on Taylor Swift’s 2008 classic “You Belong With Me,” then “Heather” is the younger emo sister of Swift’s 2006 “Teardrops On My Guitar.”
Swift’s influence on “Heather” is clear and flawless, with the song’s lyrical storytelling and use of acoustic guitar. The song also has parallels to Little Big Town’s 2014 hit, “Girl Crush,” clearly displaying Conan’s love for country music. “Heather,” however, has that unique Kid Krow grit and the sad tone. It’s a heartbreaking track — you can tell that Conan hates Heather, as much as he doesn’t want to, because he hates the way the person who is in love with her makes him feel.
Piano introduces the final non-single song on Kid Krow, as it grows into building percussion. On “Little League,” Conan reminisces about the joys of childhood. The beat continues to build up, bringing thoughts of feet running down neighborhood sidewalks to mind. A shockingly happy take on the early years, “Little League” is a way for Conan to express the simple happiness of youth, and his longing to return to it. He pleads: “Could I get a rewind?/Get another chance to go back in time/’Cause I don’t know what to do/With everything I’m goin’ through.”
Less happy with his upbringing on this single, Conan delves into childhood trauma, detailing broken bones, hearts, homes and spirits. On his 2019 fall US tour, Conan played “The Story” prior to its official release.
During his DC stop, he shared, “It’s a song that I wrote about my whole entire life. I had a pretty sh*t childhood, to be honest… I think I was just forced to grow up really, really fast. But, when you’re a kid, you know, you feel so small and you feel so out of control… And, there were a lot of times that I was a kid that I just couldn’t imagine surviving my childhood… I thought that it’d be over. It was tough, but somewhere along the line, y’all came into the picture and completely changed everything. So, thank you for caring about what I’ve done.”
This final track proves that while Kid Krow is over, Conan Gray’s story is just getting started.
You can stream Kid Krow everywhere!