The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess is flashy, over the top and in your face — in all the best ways. After being dropped by Atlantic Records when her 2020 single “Pink Pony Club” didn’t perform on the charts as the label had intended, Chappell Roan is back and better than ever. A drastic shift from her former self-described “dark pop” style, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess sees Roan embracing her identity and newfound sexuality through cinematic, glamorous dance pop.
Musical experimentation is what keeps an artist interesting, but it takes a musician with rare vision to successfully make these types of transitions. A sharp about-face from one end of the musical spectrum to the other is often messy, discombobulated and, worst of all, leaves the artist in a worse place than they started in. Roan, on the other hand, has made the switch from haunting, Pure Heroine-esque vocals to avant-garde pop (reminiscent of all the best parts of the early 2010s) flawlessly.
Chappell Roan doesn’t need a man — or a woman, for that matter. She makes that perfectly clear throughout the album, instead singing about the sublime, chaotic messiness of Gen Z situationships over the entrancing thrum of synths. Roan doesn’t take herself, or her love life, too seriously. Instead of spending the entire record mourning lost loves (fear not, sad girls — the album isn’t lacking in at least a few ballads), she keeps things light and witty, wholeheartedly embracing sexual innuendos and playful adlibs.
Roan doesn’t shy away from the ostentatious. The record’s first track, “Femininomenon,” begins with a misleading backtrack of piano keys and Roan’s soulful voice before she interrupts herself, uttering, “Um, can you play a song with a fucking beat?” as the sound of motorcycle revs and house beats fill the soundscape. Calling out a flaky online relationship and preaching a female revolution whilst referencing Papa John — yes, the pizza franchise — seems like it’d be gaudy, but the pulsing dance beat and her charming intonation smooths away any wrinkles of being “too much.” The track is playful and full of wisecracks, with the instrumentals falling away at one point as Roan screams “Did you hear me? Play the fucking beat!”
One of the best parts of Roan’s lyricism is her blunt honesty — she doesn’t tiptoe around the taboo, boldly singing of casual sex and experimentation with the ease of speaking about the weather. Roan doesn’t frame sex as a hushed-up topic, nor as something so otherworldly that it can only be found in an adult film. On “Red Wine Supernova” she sings, “Well, back at my house/ I’ve got a California king/ Okay, maybe it’s a twin bed/ And some roommates (Don’t worry, we’re cool)”— a line that’ll probably hit close to home for anyone who has ever lived almost shoulder to shoulder with their roommate in a shoebox-sized room. In “Naked in Manhattan,” Roan details her first crush on a girl. She makes music that embraces her queerness, though not without understanding that “it’s really hard to rid yourself of internalized homophobia.” Roan is utterly unabashed, and she puts it best herself: “Not overdramatic/ I know what I want.”
Despite all her frivolity, Roan isn’t afraid to get serious. Though they definitely aren’t the record’s centerpiece, “Coffee”, “Kaleidoscope” and “Picture You” serve as the perfect counterbalance to the rest of the tracklist’s high-energy pulse. They aren’t emboldened with the same sense of sonic passion as her faster tracks, but these ballads still hold well enough on their own — despite their place out of the limelight.
Roan is no stranger to the music industry, but The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess sees her coming into her own. It’s an album that is simultaneously vulnerable and resolute, a debut project that blends the personal subject matter of her older work with the liveliness of prismatic synth-pop. Despite the record’s title, Roan’s finesse never falters. Pop fans, get ready for the ascent of this midwest princess.