Since amassing nearly 2 million subscribers and more than 100 million views on YouTube, vlogger-turned-indie-pop star Conan Gray released his debut LP, Kid Krow, on Friday. Gray, a UCLA alumnus, started with his first single, “Generation Why,” in 2018 and has gained popularity ever since. On his new album, Gray tackles the struggles of growing up — from heartbreak to angsty frustration — and strives to become the voice of the unheard teenager.
On Kid Krow, we see a much lighter color palette. Taking inspiration from coming-of-age records such as Lorde’s Pure Heroine, Gray trades gloomy pessimism for cheeky, lighthearted tunes that don’t delve quite as deep into one specific perspective. Instead of an unduly sober take on heartbreak and loneliness, Gray finds the bright side in expressing these feelings in a way which makes you grin, particularly on songs like “Comfort Crowd” and “Maniac.”
On “Maniac,” which dropped just before Halloween, Gray plays with the idea of life as a horror flick. “Tell all of your friends that I’m crazy and drive you mad/ That I’m such a stalker, a watcher, a psychopath,” he sings. A nostalgic throwback to ’90s slasher films, “Maniac” is a fun, comedic take on a relationship gone sour, showcasing Gray’s intrigue as a young artist indulging in his music.
Unfortunately, the album becomes muddled after its enjoyable introduction. Songs such as “Checkmate” and “Fight or Flight” bring little to the record and feel more like space fillers than tracklist-worthy cuts. Sonically, the tracks veer toward an indie-rock instrumental that feels inauthentic to Gray at this stage, offering nothing lyrically to separate them from the slew of other wannabe-rocker tracks on Kid Krow.
The interludes, “(Online Love)” and “(Can We Be Friends?),” while interesting, feel similarly out of place. Fixed as the album’s fourth and ninth tracks, these two interludes don’t mark any major shifts, as a good interlude should, but rather feel thrown haphazardly into place with little care for the album’s continuity.
That being said, the album’s conclusion regains the spark and potential that had been teased since the opening track. Here, Gray’s command as a lyricist shines brighter than at any other point on the album; on these final tracks, he takes control of a record that, at times, seems out of his hands. On “Heather,” Gray welcomes a slower change of pace. His emotion can be felt unquestionably, beaming through the song’s soft guitar strums and elongated syllables, traversing lyrics which convey Gray’s meaning with clarity. An undeniable standout, “Heather” is a ballad done right, exuding melancholy without melodrama.
On Kid Krow’s final two tracks, a reformation of the album’s perspective makes for a gut-wrenching conclusion. On “Little League,” the tempo picks back up only slightly, yet it still maintains the substantial lyrical content that was missing in much of the album’s center. While it may not be the most original concept, “Little League” achieves its purpose by connecting with a young audience that feels reminiscent and disillusioned.
On the final track, Gray is at his absolute apex. “The Story” is the embodiment of everything Kid Krow attempts to be, surpassing the many mild tracks which precede it. On “The Story,” Gray explores sexuality, loss and friendship with a perspective and craft that feels unusually mature and careful. Here, he broadens his perspective and sees the world holistically, introducing a shift that should have been present throughout the record’s entirety. This track, released in anticipation of the full-length album, teased at a record that ended up not reflecting this single after all.
Taking every song into account, Kid Krow has its moments of insight and genius which encapsulate everything Gray has to offer. As he sings in “The Story” during the album’s final moments, “Just wait and see/ It’s not the end of the story.” Kid Krow marks the beginning of a young artist’s journey, and where Gray goes next with his career will likely be a story that the world is eager to hear.