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Photo/Video: Conan Gray/Hollywood Insider YouTube Channel
Conan Gray is an American pop star who’s been blowing up like crazy recently! Raised in Texas, the superstar finds ways to incorporate his southern charm into his brand and music. He sings about themes lots of American kids can relate to like growing up in the suburbs, getting exhausted with relationship culture, and being envious of the popular people at school. Although his songs have blown up on TikTok, I found the music genius on YouTube.
Conan Gray Began on YouTube
Just about all of Conan’s old YouTube videos are still up on his channel. One of my favorites from 2016 is his Draw My Life, which he did to commemorate 100,000 subscribers. Draw My Life was a social media trend that creatives participated in where they’d tell their life story in whiteboard illustrations. In the Draw My Life, we learn many things about Conan: besides his incredible visual art skills, we learn that Conan’s life has had huge ups and downs.
In the video, he details his family trauma, his broken home, being bullied, his struggle with members of his family having cancer, his Japanese heritage, and finding deep friendships. “I am not a miraculous human by myself but with [my friends] I’m able to do all the things I never thought I would do”. If you know Conan from YouTube you also know his best friend Ashley. The duo started the incredibly well-received Ash and Cone Cooking Show.
One of the things that make Conan Gray so funny is his sarcastic personality and hilarious sense of irony. In all the cooking shows he has with Ashley, the duo usually pretend they’re a mother and father providing for their children (us the viewer). The Texas backdrop also helps to develop this hilarious relationship as they encounter many figures in the Texas store HEB, wearing Cowboy hats and boots, a direct contrast to the two teenagers who dress like any other teenagers with influence from the internet.
The last aired episode of the Ash and Cone cooking show aired in 2018, and most of his YouTube video uploads would reach a screeching halt as the YouTuber’s life would soon make a drastic change.
Signed Sealed Delivered
After many years of uploading stunning song covers like Lana Del Ray’s Video Games, Frank Ocean’s Thinkin Bout You, and Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, the UCLA student would soon have to put college on hold after being signed with Republic Records. This was a pivotal point for the musician as his release of his EP Sunset Season. The heartfelt reflection on Gen Z love peaked at number two on the Billboard Heatseeker Charts. Conan is credited for writing every song on the EP, and his signature sound shows as every song has flurries of country influence, fused with a touch of melodic pop harmonies and backing vocals.
The song Crush Culture discusses the relatable by-product of our technological age intersecting with teenage love life: a jaded feeling towards displays of affection in person and online. The song Lookalike is a heartbreaking realization that we are sometimes replaceable to the ones we love: “I know in your head you see me instead, cause he looks a lot like I did back then”. What Conan’s music never fails to do is highlight unique perspectives while still maintaining a pop sound.
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In February 2019, Conan released an original song initially released to YouTube in 2016 titled The Other Side. Adjusted for his now pubescent voice, the song discusses the bitter-sweetness of growing up in a small town, the hopes for the future, and dreaming of where our lives will be after high school. The song came out my senior year of high school, the same year the musician wrote the song. Although I’m not the biggest country or pop music fan, I still find myself relating to Conan Gray from his magnificent songwriting alone.
Marvelous Music Making
His song’s The King, and Wish You Were Sober were released in anticipation of his debut album. After many weeks of teasing the name on Twitter, fans were delighted on January 9th when the name of the album was announced, along with a single to hold us over until it’s release. The name of the album is Kid Krow, and the released single and music video (released January sixteenth) was called The Story. The video unearths two things that would soon become essential in Conan’s brand: his high-quality music videos and his emphasis on queer undertones in his storytelling.
In the song, Conan sings “And when I was younger/ I knew a boy and a boy/ Best friends with each other/ But always wished they were more/ ‘Cause they loved one other/ But never discovered/ ‘Cause they were too afraid/Of what they’d say”.
Many queer people, especially those from less accepting communities relate heavily to these lines. Even Conan himself has admitted that he’s experimenting with femininity as seen in his video “I’m a girly boy and I don’t care (kinda)”.
Although Conan has never made an official coming out statement, or statement of any kind, that’s part of his allure; without labeling himself Conan is able to produce content freely without the pressure of social constraints like sexuality or gender expression. Conan is constantly transforming in his artistry and the result is an ability to evoke strong feelings and unearth shared experiences from his listeners and these traits are littered all throughout Kid Krow.
In the music video for the first song on Kid Krow, Conan is seen murdering a doppelganger of himself in a Stranger Things influenced video. The song itself is wonderfully done, with Conan’s quivering vibrato playing tribute to his country music influence, while also beautifully developing the creepy tone he’s established in the video and production of the song. I’ve never heard country music influence operate like this before!
The song Maniac is also one of many Conan songs accompanied by an equally as good music video. The video continues to flesh out a kitschy horror movie, comic book aesthetic that leans into trope and corniness. What’s truly stunning about Conan is his ability to transform. Just as how he killed an alternate version of himself in Comfort Crowd, Conan is reinventing himself just about every year it seems like.
Conan’s most influential song titled Heather took off recently on TikTok. The #heatherchallenge has over 22 million views as creatives from around the world do their own rendition to the song about Heather, who’s a metaphor for homewreckers and popular kids at school. The Texas native’s triumph on the app is one of many new successes the rising star has encountered this year.
He’s had interviews with Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Papermag just to name a few. The rising star ironically has become quite the cool kid over the years. But I still see Conan as the little skinny shy kid making videos in his college dorm room, giving us a tour of his plants and bookbags, singing Lorde covers in his candlelit apartment. His rise to stardom was imminent and far from over, but it’s heartwarming to know that the Conan Gray I fell in love with is still in there somewhere, a small-town boy writing and singing about where his dreams might take him.
By Tyler Bey
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Tyler Isaiah Bey is a writer and actor from Atlanta, Georgia. His emphasis on storytelling through his work guides him through his writing. His theatre background has given him a love for honest performance and a strong appreciation for art. Hollywood Insider’s focus on education, philanthropy, and anti-drama is the perfect platform for Tyler who’s unique and often intersectional perspective gives him a honed edge to the work he creates. He finds joy in discovering powerful crossroads of current events and media and infuses this cultural awareness into his writing. For it’s these intersections that make art so powerful and writing such a pleasure for Tyler.