On Chappell Roan and Gen Z Pop

I love Chappell Roan so I just wanna talk about her and qualms I have with pop right now.

On Chappell Roan and Gen Z Pop

As is to be expected, I became aware of Chappell Roan from my friend and Endless Scroll co-host, Eric. We discussed it on the podcast back in September when her album, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess came out and, on that podcast, I likened “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl” to a song that would play at a fashion show in an episode of Sex and the City. I think that’s still dead on and I liked the record from first listen, but— as is to be expected— it took me about 6 months to really get into Chappell Roan’s music in any significant way. 

Recently I’ve been putting together a magazine full of great music writing (brag) and mostly that means taking a writer hat off and putting an editor/graphic designer/person who asks the best way to pay you hat on. It also means I’ve been sitting down and listening to the same songs endlessly on repeat so I can get literally anything done. For a while, it was "Waitress" by Hop Along. Then, for a while, it was “Bring Back My Dog” by This Is Lorelei— a song I have listened to 402 times this year— but the past couple weeks I’ve settled into a slightly more broad playlist of mainly This Is Lorelei and Chappell Roan songs. I then added some Sidney Gish after seeing her play with Jeff Rosenstock the other day. It’s been working for me and I am super happy with how the magazine is coming.

I feel like between Chappell Roan’s Tiny Desk performance and today, she’s more present in the cultural consciousness than she ever has been— or at least my two best friends and the people I see online (music pundits on twitter and broadly sapphic people on tiktok) are all talking about her. That, to me, means she’s more popular than ever.

That popularity feels a bit sudden if you haven’t been paying attention— isn’t that always the case?— but it’s not. 

“Pink Pony Club” has been out for a long time and found success. Its place on her album feels a bit random, the perspective of the song is thematically in line but stylistically feels a bit removed. I think it’s a song that sounds like it was released in 2020 on a record of pop songs that sound so deeply like the best of hyper-current pop. Those few years don’t seem like they should be so removed from each other, but they are. 

Her song “Casual” got popular on tiktok— aside from Eric, this is what has kept her front of mind for me the last few months. Some of that TikTok success was in context of the content of the song, some of it was men trying to understand the physiology of performing oral sex “knee deep in the passenger’s seat” but both iterations reflect music that works on tiktok— lyrics evocative and straight forward enough to work as something to react to. 

Her growth can be credited a few other places too. She opened for fellow Dan Nigro collaborator Olivia Rodrigo on the Sour World Tour. It’s impossible to ignore the drag influenced aesthetics of her art— a fact she seems to know as on her own headlining tours in the fall her openers were a series of drag queens local to each show. She’s 26 years old. She’s got a defined aesthetic. She’s got songs spanning several years.

Most artists don’t come from nowhere, not really. 

I think her success has mostly made me think about the reality of the present internet and the pitfalls labels have fallen into when they sign an artist with one good song.

I say that because she was signed to Atlantic in 2017 off the power of a song posted on YouTube and because I feel like if you're on TikTok you probably discovered her music– post 2020–there. She put out an EP after signing to Atlantic called School Nights that, predictably, evokes the sort of dark pop that was big in 2017. You see glimmers of the vocalist and songwriter she’d become, but it’s relatively anonymous— sort of giving more “Stay High” by Tove Lo than the ecstatic, charming, expressly queer pop of her debut. 

She didn’t find much widespread success, Dan Nigro focused on Olivia Rodrigo, she moved back to the Missouri and then eventually put out a series of singles on her own. She found some success with “Pink Pony Club” and she found her way back to Dan Nigro. Her new album was released in part through His Island records imprint, Amusement. 

I think so often about the reality of other singers signed to labels off the back of a single song. Mostly that means TikTok. I don’t consider Chappell Roan a TikTok artist— it wasn’t TikTok that made her or got her signed— but, in the world of pop in 2024, the app looms large. The app has gotten tons of artists signed, but what’s up with them?

What’s going on with Frances Forever? They had a successful, ultra viral song in “Soace Girl” and signed to Mom and Pop and then … nothing happened. Radio silence. No album. A single came out this year, but that's it since an EP in 2021?

What’s going on with Mae Stephens? Her single “If We Ever Broke Up” blew up over a year ago. She’s got two new songs out via Universal but, don’t worry, they’ve released ELEVEN different versions of her first hit. 

What’s going on with Em Beihold? She’s got 20 MILLION monthly listeners on Spotify and an EP in 2022, but no album? 

It is insane that labels sign these artists and then feel no sense of urgency to capitalize on their viral success. There has been a good amount of criticism about the lack of artists development by labels and artists suffering because they’re expected to be fully developed at signing. They’re expected to have already proved they don’t need help with getting an audience. Frankly, it is offensive and an insult to the artists who make this music. It is cowardice and it's embarrassing that the labels are failing these artists. There is some charm in a one hit wonder, but not when it's because the artist has been chopped off at the knees before they're even allowed to flop.

These aren't the former child actors who are being given music careers. These are people who got some success on one song and now it just feels like they are being stifled. Rereleases of songs that went viral for an artist without a single album out are exploitation and I really believe that. I am sad when I see the artist behind Frances Forever hawking the same dance as when their song went viral first. I am sad that these musicians are not being allowed to become more than their viral single. 

When you look at Olivia Rodrigo or Noah Kahan— artists that found huge success initially on TikTok but have transcended the app and the fate of being merely an Influencer— what do you see? 

I’ll tell you. You see albums. My dad likes Noah Kahan and has favorite album cut songs of his. My sisters and I have connected over Olivia Rodrigo— the first artist we’ve all liked since maybe A Day To Remember. Whatever you think of them, they are artists who have become more than their viral song.

I cannot help but think we are so lucky that Chappell Roan continued to release music away from Atlantic. I am thrilled she put out those singles in 2020 and kept going. I love her vision and I love her voice and I think she makes music that is so fun and evocative and beautiful. I’m so thrilled to have an album from her. Even if that album has a bunch of songs that were released over the last few years. Even if her album suffers from the same issue as Olivia Rodrigo’s debut and has a bunch of ballad-esque songs that feel like several worse iterations of the stand out track— “Casual” and “Drivers License” are both perfect songs, but the rest of their respective albums never hit the same height with any other ballad.

I am, more than anything, so thrilled we haven’t just gotten 15 versions of “Casual” or “Pink Pony Club.”

Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, podcaster and law school drop out based in Chicago. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram for more reminiscing on the year: @mirandareinert.  This blog does have a paid option and I would so appreciate any money you would be willing to throw me! You may also send me small bits of money at @miranda-reinert on venmo/on Paypal if you want. As always, thanks for reading!