Kid Krow in Quarantine
The release of Conan Gray’s debut album Kid Krow wasn’t planned to coincide with a global pandemic. The week leading up to Friday’s release was supposed to be chock-full of promo, including a performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Instead, with L.A. and seemingly everywhere else on virtual lockdown, Conan promoted his album via the same digital channels upon which he originally built his fan-base.
Honestly, it was kind of perfect for a singer-songwriter who got his start on YouTube.
On Thursday night, as the minutes ticked down to midnight, Conan Gray was on his bed with his guitar, having a very public freak-out on Instagram Live. With some 17,000 fans cheering him on, he sang a few songs, chatted about the album, and reminisced about the road that had gotten him to this moment.
As it turned out, Thursday was the three-year anniversary of the release of the YouTube video that would change his life: the self-made music video for his song “Idle Town” that would go viral and ultimately lead to a record deal. He pulled up the video and provided commentary (“you guys, that was our high school football field!”) while his fans filled the screen with hearts and crying emojis.
Some of them even remember when the video was uploaded. For them, Conan’s success feels incredibly personal. Many of the comments flying by were some variation on “we’re so proud of you!!!” Meanwhile, Conan was visibly shaking and repeating, “guys, I’m so nervous!”
This is part of Conan Gray’s appeal, and how he has formed such deep connections to his fans: he isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. In his public persona as well as in his music, he expresses insecurities and weaknesses that are incredibly relatable. Even as his star has climbed, he hasn’t embraced the remote, cooler-than-you attitude that many ascendant artists adopt. He’s remained the adorably dorky, exceptionally talented kid who can’t believe his luck. You want to be his friend not because he makes you feel cool but because he makes you feel seen.
I’ve been listening to Conan Gray since his EP, Sunset Season, was released in 2018, thanks to my teenage daughter, who’s one of those kids who remembers the “Idle Town” video being uploaded. This is how I ended up at a Conan Gray concert last fall in the company of four teenage girls.
From the first few minutes of watching him on stage, I was utterly charmed — and thoroughly convinced that here was an artist on his way to superstar success. I remember seeing other parents at the show — parents who had bought tickets! who were inside the venue! — sitting in the lobby, scrolling through their phones. I wanted to shake them. You’re missing it! Not just the mesmerizing performance on stage, but the looks on their kids’ faces. It was like watching group therapy — so many hugs, so many cleansing tears. For the fans who had been watching Conan grow up on YouTube before their eyes, seeing him living out his dreams on stage was an ecstatic thing. “That was the best concert I’ve ever experienced,” said my daughter breathlessly on our way out of the venue. “That was the best anything I’ve ever experienced,” countered her friend.
After the concert, I added every single Conan Gray had released so far to my heavy-rotation playlist. And when the date of Kid Krow, his full-length debut, was announced, I added it to the family calendar in our kitchen. MARCH 20: KID KROW! As the date approached, as we all adjusted our expectations in the face of a global pandemic, event after event for that week was crossed out. No school for the kids, no anime club or play practice, no Billie Eilish concert, even the teenager’s appointment to get her braces off was canceled. By the time Thursday evening arrived, Kid Krow had become a kind of beacon — something to look forward to in the midst of letting go of so many expectations and plans for the future. Which is why I was sitting up, grinning into my phone and watching Conan clutch his guitar to his chest as the clock ticked closer to midnight.
“Fucking thank you. Like literally thank you. I don’t even know what to say. You’ve literally changed my life, forever.” His voice trembled. “Before this happened, I just didn’t know how I was going to have a future, and now y’all are my future, so thank you. Fuck. Jesus Christ.” And suddenly it was midnight. Before I closed Instagram to go listen to the entirety of the album, I felt tears pricking the corners of my eyes, watching Conan dance around his room to “Wish You Were Sober” (truly, it’s a bop) and then blow kisses at the screen: “I love y’all, thank you, FUCK!” Why was I crying? It was a curious mix of maternal pride — at 21, he’s right between the ages of my two daughters — and the singular joy of watching someone’s dreams come true. At the end of a week when none of our plans worked out, it was truly a gift to be able to share in this moment of joy and celebration.
In the days since, I’ve listened to Kid Krow approximately 147 times, and it’s been everything I needed, in the midst of all this social distancing and general uncertainty. At turns sad and sarcastic, contemplative and elated, the album is a tour of human emotion. For Conan Gray, the timing of his album’s release, in the midst of world chaos, was surely a disappointment.
But for his fans? It was just the comfort we needed.