Conan Gray is so much more than a man in front of a camera. He’s gained roughly 1.82 million subscribers on YouTube by vlogging all about his life, but it can be easy to forget even the most recognizable, well-loved faces experience pain. Gray captivatingly channels all of that into his debut LP, Kid Krow.
Gray endured a taxing childhood, watching his parents divorce when he was very young, moving 12 times and being bullied. He started making YouTube content in 2013, focusing on sharing his art and his life in Georgetown, Texas, where he spent the majority of his teen years.
After releasing his EP Sunset Season in October 2018, Gray opened for Panic! At The Disco on its 2019 Pray for the Wicked Tour. Just months later, Gray released “Maniac,” one of the singles for Kid Krow that worked its way to the mainstream after trending on TikTok. It has tens of millions of streams on Spotify, but there’s bound to be even more praise for Gray after listeners fully digest this gem of an album.
Kid Krow brings sad indie-pop into the limelight, forging a sense of vulnerability that countless listeners can relate and cling to. His vocals hold a mesmerizingly delicate quality like that of Billie Eilish on “Comfort Crowd.” “(Online Love)” and “(Can We Be Friends?),” if they were longer than their respective 37-second and 58-second runtimes, could easily be the best on the album with their sheer beauty. Gray’s voice is as sweet as honey, and no track on the album is bad in any way. Some merely outshine the others.
Here are the best five tracks from Kid Krow:
5. “Wish You Were Sober”
Loads of people aren’t going to appreciate Gray’s voice just because it’s different, but “Wish You Were Sober” has a little something for everyone. Surrounded by subtle synths, an infectious bass line and a lovely electric guitar, all performed by Dan Nigro, Gray imparts how he hates the party scene. Specifically, he’s talking to someone who only says they have feelings for him when they’re drinking, and he wishes that talk would continue without a drink in their hand: “Save me ’til the party is over / Kiss me in the seat of your Rover / Real sweet, but I wish you were sober.”
“Heather” proves Gray’s magnetizing voice was made for ballads. Gray divulges his envy of Heather, the girl lucky enough to be loved by the person he likes. Backed by an angelic acoustic guitar and heavenly strings, Gray lets brutal honesty shine through: “Put your arm ’round her shoulder; now I’m getting colder / But how could I hate her? She’s such an angel / But then again, kinda wish she were dead.” The track only gets more emotional as it continues, and it’s already one of the most heartbreaking of 2020.
With its beaming chorus and relatable message, “Checkmate” should be on the radio in no time. A roaring guitar line and booming drums help emphasize just how angry Gray is at his significant other, who apparently likes to lie and be unfaithful to their relationship. Gray’s fed up, and he uses a chess metaphor to prove he’s not one of their pawns — he’s the king: “Cry me a river ’til you drown in the lake / ’Cause you may think you’re winning, but checkmate.”
2. “The Cut That Always Bleeds”
You can tell by its title that it’s going to be a tearjerker, but “The Cut That Always Bleeds” surpasses any beauty you could’ve expected. Beside a melancholy guitar and impeccable harmonies, Gray discusses how damaged he felt while trying to get over a breakup. It also didn’t help that his significant other kept returning when they were lonely: “Say you love somebody new / Then beat my heart to black and blue / Then they leave, and it’s me you come back to.” The high note at the end of the bridge will inevitably cause goosebumps, too.
1. “The Story”
Closing the album is “The Story,” where Gray talks of his life before fame. Though sonically simple, implementing only an acoustic guitar for most of the runtime, Gray’s blatantly emotional vocals and message carry so much weight. He doesn’t hold back on revealing how bullying can damage entire lives: “They were just 16 when the people were mean, so they didn’t love themselves / And now they’re gone, headstones on a lawn.”
Gray mentions other integral people in his life who couldn’t stick around, including an old friend who didn’t reveal his feelings for him until he moved away. He knows the universe is cruel, but he also believes what’s meant to happen will: “Oh, and I’m afraid that’s just the way the world works / But I think that it could work for you and me / Just wait and see; it’s not the end of the story.” The track is utter perfection, and it’s the best on Kid Krow.