“This album is about the birth of my queerness – accepting it, at least. Where I grew up is in me no matter what, however, I want to portray myself as Chappell. I will forever be from Willard, Missouri.”
Budding Los Angeles pop star Chappell Roan is taking a massive step in the right direction with the release of her debut album, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess. After years of rising stardom and critical acclaim earned from her unapologetic inclusion of queer themes and iconography in her music and her live performances, Roan’s debut album reflects her evolution as a musician, a storyteller, and a person. It is evident in her music that Roan is authentic, present, and unafraid to delve into the messier aspects that come from understanding oneself on a deeper level. Where many artists would take this aspect and twist their “sincerity” into a token selling point, Chappell Roan lays all of herself out on the table for the sake of making good music.
Popular for hyper-pop singles “Pink Pony Club,” “Naked In Manhattan,” and “Femininomenon,” Roan’s debut album not only includes her most iconic tracks over the past four years of her artistic discovery but also includes new music that showcases Chappell Roan’s exemplary lyricism. Each song on the album builds to a bigger picture while also acting as a stand-alone piece that represents individual snapshots of Roan’s journey. If The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess tells any story from start to finish, it tells the story of Chappell Roan’s vital self-discovery as a queer woman.
We were lucky enough to attend a press conference with Chappell Roan, hosted by °1824, prior to the release of The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess. When asked about the inclusion of her previously released singles like “Pink Pony Club” in this body of work, Roan referred to the nuanced experiences of discovering one’s own identity and navigating that world:
“I think that there are a lot of heavy topics that go into [telling stories] around queerness. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have trauma connected to their coming out, being queer, or dealing with homophobia in their everyday lives. I think that I simply just write what I feel or what I wish would happen. I think that a lot of people really daydream and wish for things, and I think that, at the end of the day, people just want to feel something that pulls them out of the pits of despair – whether that is a party song or something like ‘Kaleidoscope’ where the vibe is more ‘I am sad – but I am in love’.”
Roan has a reputation among her fans for sharing all of herself in her art. While the depiction of Roan’s self-analysis is evident when listening to her earliest releases, she notes how drastic positive change can be made when one seeks out a better environment and notes how this type of change is reflected in the progression of her storytelling over the years:
“It’s drastically changed over the years. I used to be very dark, kind of piano-ballad-pop, you know? Very Lorde/Lana [del Rey]-esque Tumblr days. But, really, I was just a teenager and really depressed and sad, so it [the music] really just reflected that. What really changed was when I moved to L.A. and my eyes were opened to so many new things and so many fun people and things I started doing that I never thought I would be able to do. I think that the new ‘sound’ just reflected what was genuinely going on in my life.”
“HOT TO GO” – the final single released prior to The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess – is the 80’s synth-pop anthem for any queer girl whose awakening had something to do with But I’m A Cheerleader. Topped off with a spoken outro reminiscent of that one Friends episode where Rachel busts out her high school cheer uniform to impress her crush, “HOT TO GO” and its accompanying video ramped up anticipation for the album up to eleven. When asked about the inspiration behind creating this song, Roan noted her 80’s hyper-pop influences:
“I’m always inspired by synth-pop – I love synth-pop so it’s definitely inspired by the ’80s. That song was just written in, like, a day. It just came out! I was like ‘I want a cheer song! I want something that’s fun!’ So I was inspired by ‘Hey Mickey’ [by Toni Basil] because it is so fun and I was like ‘I have to write a song like that!’ We wrote [the song] with the dance in mind. I actually posted a video recently of me writing the song and I’m literally dancing in the video.”
Queerness is celebrated in every aspect of Roan’s work, and there is no question how integral drag, as an art form, is to her career. It is one of the biggest influences behind Chappell Roan’s work, as the artist has been incredibly open about how the persona of Chappell (the onstage persona of Kayleigh Rose Amstutz) is her personal version of drag. She is no stranger to opening her career up to other queer artists, often including drag queens in her music videos and concerts. When asked about the depth of her love of drag and how the art form influences her work, Roan candidly responds:
“I am very inspired by drag in every aspect. Obviously, I have drag artists open for me – I have three local drag performers for every city that I headline. I think that drag has really inspired this project in the styling, makeup, performance, music videos – really, the energy around the entire show! Campiness is at the forefront of the project and the identity, and I think that is also at the forefront of drag – campiness, over-the-top, [it is] supposed to be fun and dramatic!”
Chappell Roan’s sound and lyricism is something that is so unique to her. While there may be obvious nods or influences behind a song here or there, there is no arguing the fact that being authentically herself (even while putting on a stage persona) is what helped launch her into rising stardom. When asked what the one thing she wants fans to know before listening to The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess is, Chappell Roan said:
“One thing?! I don’t know. I guess, just, prepare to be silly! Don’t take it so seriously. I find myself, with music, especially when I’m listening to something brand new, that I am super hyper-critical of it. Or when I’m seeing a movie that everyone says they love and I walk out going ‘Ugh, see, it wasn’t that good!’ Just give it a chance! It’s gonna feel silly! Expect yourself not to like something immediately, but allow yourself to like something silly and fun. If you like it, great! If you don’t like it, great! Don’t be weird; just allow yourself to have fun.”