Breakout indie star Conan Gray is traveling the world with Saint Laurent, being featured in Vogue videos and continuing to drop smash hit songs. His most recent track, “People Watching,” is the third single from his highly anticipated but unconfirmed sophomore album. The song already has over 16.4 million streams on Spotify alone, exhibiting the indisputable star power of the young artist.
“’People Watching’ is for all my fellow lonely people who wonder what it’s like to be deeply in love. I’ve never dated anyone in my entire life, so I’ve spent so many years of my life watching perfect couples sit in cafes and share coffee, whispering sweet nothings to each other,” Conan shared, “I can’t help but fantasize about what it must be like to feel that emotion. There’s nothing I love more than watching them exist in their little world, where seemingly nobody else exists to them. The song’s lyrics are things I’ve eavesdropped off of times I used to spend people watching at the cafe in college. Studying them living their lives lets me live vicariously through them, in a way.”
Plucking steady guitar opens the track while Conan outlines the small moments of a relationship he’s watching, “That wasn’t funny/But she laughed so hard, she almost cried/They’re countin’ months they’ve been together/Almost forty-nine,” he’s describing the way it feels to look into a couple so awash in their own love, intertwined in the details and histories of each other’s lives, “He’s making fun of how she acted around the holidays…They met in class for metaphysical philosophy/He tells his friends ‘I like her ‘Cause she’s so much smarter than me’…” Even the specific reference to the branch of metaphysical philosophy is a carefully selected detail, as the discipline centers around the semantics of growth and change.
Similar to their connection to the past they share, the couple looks to the future in a way that is enviably secure to Conan, “They’re having talks about their futures until 4AM/And I’m happy for them…” There’s instrumental build up during this period of the track. Conan’s vocals echo and fade, leading to the swell of the chorus.
“But I wanna feel all that love and еmotion,” Conan cries, “Be that attached to the person I’m holdin’/Someday I’ll be falling, without caution/But for now, I’m only people watchin’.” Piano builds and Conan sounds hurt. He’s withheld closeness and comfort with others around him, so he’s come to rely on the experience of learning through observation.
“I’m only looking just to live through you vicariously, I’ve never really been in love, not seriously,” Conan continues. This line breaks from the all-consuming narrative he’s painted over the years — and there is an EP and an album worth of tracks about one person. By singing, “not seriously,” Conan shakes off the emotional baggage he’s carried through these songs, preparing for a new type of album. He continues with his typical habit of making illusions to the suburbs and his upbringing, “I had a dream about a house behind a picket fence,” but the use of the past tense makes it clear his “Idle Town” visions feel more distant and less attainable.
Conan sings about how people feel disposable and like a nuisance, “But I cut people out like tags on my clothing,” meaning he then ends up lonely and struggling. He continues to live an existence regrettably encumbered by a longing for human contact, “[but] I still keep hoping.”
In Conan’s videos from his now distant high school years, he showed himself in cafés and observing the world around him. This quietude and patience is exhibited through this songs. Many of his songs are based around watching others in relationships. Some are more like amalgamations of his visions of what a relationship would really feel like, painting fantasies. Others were more clear about his observation, such as “Crush Culture.” On that track, however, he is a man scorned. This time, on “People Watching,” Conan is looking on with more understanding and desire, showing a sense of personal growth and change within the last three years.
There’s a sense of maturity in Conan’s admission of inexperience. This track is a hopeful sign of what’s to be seen from the next era of Conan Gray. This song leans back into more of his typical sound and songwriting, as “Overdrive” was more electric and poppy.
On “People Watching,” Conan captures the little nuances of relationships he’s watching, like raindrops in a bucket that will be used to water a future garden. “People Watching” is Conan Gray looking in from the outside, longing so desperately to allow himself the concession of vulnerability. “People Watching” is the ache of witnessing emotional intimacy and security that is jarringly unfamiliar.
You can stream “People Watching” and watch its video everywhere now!