“I’m a professional overthinker,” says nineteen-year-old Conan Gray. “As a songwriter, I’m always thinking all the time.”
Growing up in the small-town retirement community of Georgetown, Texas, Conan Gray had a lot of time on his hands to think. So, at age twelve, he began writing songs to kill some time. “I think every small-town kid is just really bored,” says Conan. “And I was just a lonely, bored kid.”
Influenced by artists like The Dixie Chicks, Adele, and Lorde, Conan began cultivating what would later become his unique style of dreamy alternative pop. Bedroom pop tinged with raw, high school nostalgia - songs about kids grappling with regular life.
“Hearing the Lorde album was a cataclysmic experience for me,” says Conan. “It was the first time I’d heard pop music that was about normal suburban life.”
As Conan navigated middle school and high school with little money and a rocky home life, he poured his energy into his songwriting and cultivated an online community along the way. No matter how hard things were, he always found that the internet was an outlet for his creative expression, and a place where he could find larger community and support.
Conan’s senior year got especially hard when he was kicked out of his parents’ house. but it was also at that time that he caught the attention of LA based managers, Colette Patnaude and Eddie Wintle (Expand Entertainment), who reached out after watching his videos and hearing his original music on YouTube. In spring of his senior year, while living on friends’ couches, he wrote a song called “Idle Town” as an ode to his small town. Recorded in his bedroom on a cheap mic taped to a lamp, and produced on garageband, Conan shot the music video on a tripod while driving through the streets of the local retirement community. Almost immediately, “Idle Town” began to gain traction on Youtube, racking up over 10 million views and over 13 million streams on Spotify. Later that year, Conan was accepted into UCLA, moved to Los Angeles, and signed a record label deal with Republic Records. ‘“Idle Town” is a love song for my hometown and for my friends,” says Conan. “And turned out to be my ticket out.”
In the midst of the whirlwind, Conan linked up with producer Dan Nigro (Carly Rae Jepsen, Sky Ferreira, Kylie Minogue) to add some final touches to the songs he had self-written and recorded demos of back in Texas. The result was his debut EP, released in November, 2018, which received widespread critical acclaim from The Fader, Billboard, Ones to Watch, and landed him a debut performance on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
His lead single off the EP, “Generation Why”, is the perfect introduction to Conan Gray and his raw, genuine approach to songwriting - the song is a commentary on the way older generations and media have unfairly depicted his peers as being chronically selfish, sad, and lazy. With a sarcastic tone, a common theme throughout the EP, Conan juxtaposes the negativity projected by those older generations with a light-hearted approach as a way of shedding light on his generation’s resilience and positivity.
Whether he’s singing about the intensity of teenage emotion in upbeat songs like “Crush Culture” or in sad ones like “Lookalike,” Conan is fiercely honest, and offers a refreshing perspective.
“I want it to feel like a big bedroom dance party,” says Conan. “Like a high school prom - familiar, nostalgic.”
His secret genius is his undeniable knack for writing relatable music. Yes, for his generation, but also well beyond. Even if it’s been 30 years since high school, his lyrics ring timelessly true for anyone who listens. Everything Conan does - on social media, in conversation, or through songwriting - carries this exact air of sentimental value.
Even a song like “Greek God,” written about the popular mean kids, glistens in its ability to comment on a more serious topic like bullying, while maintaining its positive undertones.
“There are people who seem larger than life, who are so mean because they can get away with it. They hurt people because they are hurting” says Conan. “But once you’re older and wiser, they fade into nothing and just become stories from high school, just folklore.”
Conan’s journey hasn’t been an easy one, but through it all he remains a force for optimism for his “Generation Why” - a generation that isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions, to stick up for one another, and to build relationships outside the norm. His followers, fans, online friends, hometown friends - he speaks of them all as family.
And if there’s one thing Conan hopes to achieve for that family, it’s is to give kids who are struggling or hurting the hope that t there are people who care, and that things are going to be ok.
“I didn’t have a home or money, but I knew that I was going to be ok,” says Conan. “I want people to know that kids from small towns can do great things.”