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Chappell Roan: Queer Pop’s Newest It Girl, by Abby Adamson

When you think of queer pop, I’m sure you think of the greats, like Hayley Kiyoko, girl in red, MUNA or Clairo. This is for good reason — they’ve each mastered the art of danceable, upbeat, feel-good hits that resonate within the LGBTQ+ community for their openly gay lyrics. The newest up-and-coming artist in the queer pop scene, following this same path to success, is quickly gaining traction: Chappell Roan.

I first heard about Chappell Roan in 2021 through a close friend. Having similar tastes, we shared our favorite music whenever we were together, usually playing whatever was stuck in our heads that day for the other. He introduced me to her song Pink Pony Club, and I was immediately hooked.

Roan mixes piano, guitar and synth with her raw yodeling-pop voice (yes, you read that correctly: yodeling) to create a subgenre of pop that’s uniquely her own. I fell madly in love with the peppy beat of “Pink Pony Club” and the unique timbre of her voice after a single listen and dove headfirst into her other music, following each new release with close excitement. Just like that, a fan was born. But Chappell Roan didn’t start here; her roots are far humbler.

Roan started releasing music in 2017 when she debuted a darker pop sound in her EP School Nights. The EP bursts with themes revolving around love, heartbreak and living young, wild and free. Throughout the record, the Missouri native’s vocals sound young and fresh with lyrics and piano instrumentals to match. This early era of her music is categorized by her coming-of-age lyrics and her move to Los Angeles to pursue music, where she began building her career from the ground up.

Between 2018 and 2020, Chappell Roan released several singles within the same genre that didn’t gain much traction. It wasn’t until she released “Pink Pony Club” that she began to make some noise in the music industry, specifically in the gay community.

Taking her music in a new direction both lyrically and stylistically, Roan sang about moving from her Midwest hometown to L.A. to perform at a fictional drag bar called the Pink Pony Club. Through her new pop persona, she tells the story of her mother’s pearl-clutching disapproval of who she turned out to be — a relatable experience for many of today’s young queer people.

In contrast to her earlier music, “Pink Pony Club” experienced wild success, receiving over three times the streams of her other tracks. Roan’s career effectively relaunched after the release of the bubblegum pink pop hit.

Following in the footsteps of “Pink Pony Club,” Roan’s follow-up single, Naked in Manhattan,” centered itself around the excitement of a new queer crush and the uncertainty that comes with her first gay experience. In the pre-chorus, she sings: “Touch me, baby, put your lips on mine / Could go to hell but we'll probably be fine.” This is where she settled into a genre that worked for her: bubbly pop with a strong queer identity.

Throughout 2022 and 2023, Roan continued to release singles that met similar levels of success, eventually performing them this past spring on her sold-out tour, Naked in North America. Her style has evolved into something increasingly bolder and louder, landing itself in a genre that I can only describe as unapologetically Chappell.

She showcases this exaggerated, extravagant sound on her debut album, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess. Announced in August and released in September alongside the quickly sold-out Midwest Princess Tour, the 14-track record is making its rounds in the pop community.

The album is a foray into the world of Chappell Roan, stitching together stories of love, sex, heartbreak and finding herself in a big city. Roan is now bigger than ever before, with around 1.2 million monthly Spotify listeners and over 200,000 Instagram followers.

The album includes a handful of brand-new tracks as well as each of her singles from the past two years. Her three biggest hits, “Pink Pony Club,” Casual and Red Wine Supernova,” also appear on the tracklist. Roan soulfully intertwines her bright, dance-pop tunes with her more somber, heartbreaking ballads about failed relationships and missing the Midwest.

In California,” she calls out to her family: “Come get me out of California / No leaves are brown / I miss the seasons in Missouri / My dying town.”

One of my favorites from The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess is Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl.” It’s one of the campier numbers, which is exactly why I love it. Her powerful voice dominates throughout the song, paired with a runway-worthy beat and synth perfect for a martian. It mirrors a Lady Gaga–esque tone, reminding me of “Born This Way.”

My favorite moment of the song is the chorus’ hook: “Uh huh, I'm through / With all these hyper mega bummer boys like you / Oh yeah, I need / A super graphic ultra modern girl like me.” Lines like these make it a classic hot girl walk song in the making.

On stage, Roan is simply larger than life. She performs each show in outrageous, glittery drag looks that reflect her signature over-the-top, campy sound. She’s theatrical, constantly dancing and jumping around on stage, yet she still serves the audience passionate vocals with ease. Her energy makes it all seem entirely effortless.

Roan supports the gay community not only through her music but through her own personal efforts. At every show, not only is she in drag, but she books several local drag queens to open for her, tagging the queens and their Venmos on her Instagram stories. Additionally, she has partnered with the nonprofit For The Gworls to donate a percentage from each ticket sale to help Black transgender people with rent, gender-affirming surgeries, doctor’s visits and travel assistance.

As she expresses on her website, Roan is genuinely invested in the community that has been instrumental in [her] journey throughout her career, and it’s evident through her activism and charity.

Fan reactions to the world of Chappell Roan are inspiring to witness. Tour-goers follow Roan’s over-the-top themes for each show, arriving in unique, sequin-covered outfits for each song. The niche group that gathers around her as an artist also gathers around each other. Roan creates a safe space for queer people, much like her, in need of community; she cements a spot for herself within LGBTQ+ culture.

Chappell Roan is going to make it big — and soon. This past month, she announced that she would open for Olivia Rodrigo on her GUTS U.S. Tour. My jaw hit the floor when I saw the news. With the success Roan has built within the queer pop subculture, and with her genuine excitement and passion for what she does, I envision this tour catapulting her into mainstream pop and expanding her fanbase to a degree she’s never seen before.

Now quick, before it happens: Put your headphones on and tune in to her new album so you can say you were there from the beginning (and give your ears an absolute treat).

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