Nearly a year since the release of his debut album, Kid Krow, Conan Gray is back and ready to risk it all for a pandemic-induced romance.
Out now, the 22-year-old artist's new single "Overdrive" is a pure pop joy ride centered in escapism and the freedom of existing without the existential worries of today. It tells the tale of instant and unexpected love, letting go of all hesitation and labels to live for the moment. A message we can all relate to now one year into COVID, "Overdrive" is bound to be the song you're listening to on repeat this spring.
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Ahead of the music video release — created in isolation by Gray, videographer Dillon Matthew and co-star Sara Fernandez — PAPER spoke with Gray about the inspiration behind "Overdrive," letting go of expectations and how the pandemic has altered his view on love.
What's the inspiration behind "Overdrive"?
The whole past year, I've just been absolutely miserable, as everyone has been. And after singing my song "Heather" — it's very depressing — about 10 million times, I really wanted to create something that made me want to dance around and feel good and give off some serotonin. I wanted to tell this the story of excitement and rebellion.
You have a knack for writing hit songs within minutes. How long did "Overdrive" take?
We wrote it super, super fast. It's funny, because I distinctly remember sitting there and basically singing the whole song in one line. He was playing the baseline, and all of these lyrics — all the same words that are on the final version of the song — came out. It was freaky. Like, what just possessed me? I think I really just needed something fun, and so my brain, the universe, just handed "Overdrive" to me.
"I still fantasize about being a barista in a cafe, working in a bookstore, or wondering what I would be like if I was in school right now, who would I be dating?"
The theme of the song really points to how desperate we all are for love and affection right now, and how we're ready to risk it all just for the potential of feeling anything but pain and sadness. Was that your intention?
That is the realest thing in the world. Honestly, I feel like I've gotten to a point in my life where I am willing to go through some horrible, detrimental heartbreak over just feeling nothing. It's been a lot of staying indoors and not really being able to do much to grow as a person and at this point, risk it all just to feel an ounce of something, which sounds so melodramatic, but you know, I think we all just want to feel human and real again.
"Overdrive" feels like a virtual manifestation of this complex fantasy you've been crafting in your head for years now. Which is something I find myself doing time and time again. What was it like to make that fantasy a reality for your fans to enjoy?
Wow, you're looking through me right now, which is a little painful. But yeah, that's exactly true. I've always been just an ultra romantic guy. I always dream about all these alternate lives I could have lived if I wasn't doing this. It's wild that this is my reality, but I still fantasize about being a barista in a cafe, working in a bookstore, or wondering what I would be like if I was in school right now, who would I be dating? I think the pandemic has definitely caused us to spend a little bit too much time maladaptive daydreaming about other worlds we could have right now.
And that comes across so clearly in the music video for "Overdrive" as well.
I wanted to make this video feel like a form of escapism. I see this person from across the tracks of a train and have this whole entire daydream about the life that we could live together. Reality right now is very scary and painful and confusing. And with this song and video, I want to let people escape from reality for a little.
Your debut album, "Kid Krow," feels centered in a deep longing for love and romance, whereas "Overdrive" has a more lustful, passionate attraction to it. Has the pandemic altered your viewpoint on love?
I think it absolutely shifted my perspective of love. Prior to the pandemic, I was so afraid of making mistakes, or meeting the wrong person and it ruining my life. But now I've come to accept the idea of making mistakes for the sake of growing as a person. And I think "Overdrive" is all about that. Sure, maybe this thing that I'm about to do is reckless and a little stupid, but the memories are going to be great.
"Blaring music and driving together is honestly a religious experience, so as far as I'm concerned, that is what reaching God is."
At one point in the video, you wear a sweater that has the phrase "Love is…" embroidered across it. To you, what is love?
Love is so much larger than romance. Love is the reason to be alive: To spread love, to learn about love, to explore love. I've learned a lot about the beauty of friendship and companionship and the idea of soulmates. Love is so much more than what we see portrayed in the media. It's the love that you show to your friends; it's the love that you show to your family; it's the love that you give to strangers and choosing to choose love over hate.
Speaking of, your fashion throughout the video is legendary. I personally love the Harry Styles-esqe blouse and corset moment, but the fishnets and Euphoria-inspired makeup take a close second for me. How does that style reflect who you are as both an artist and human?
I wanted to kind of portray this version of myself that I would be if I wasn't scared of what everyone thinks of me all the time. I've come to realize that people are going to hate me regardless of what I do, so I might as well just do whatever the fuck I want. When it comes to fashion, it's all about expressing a version of yourself that feels real to who you are, and these days, I've become a lot more to terms with who I am. I am no longer so afraid of wanting to seem normal.
The first time I heard "Overdrive," I was driving the highway, windows down, volume on high, and the vibes were immaculate. And you're doing the same thing in the song's music video. What is it about a good highway singing session that's so spectacular?
I feel like having a car and driving is such a sacred thing. I remember when I first got my license, it changed my entire world. It was when I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted. Blaring music and driving together is honestly a religious experience, so as far as I'm concerned, that is what reaching God is. And I will always find it to be the best way to consume this type of music. I want "Overdrive" to be the kind of song that you blast in the car. I want it to be unapologetic and loud and crazy. There's something about your body just hurling through the air at 70 miles an hour that gives off this feeling of escape.
What in particular has been keeping you sane through the pandemic?
My friends. This is a little silly to admit, but we play Fortnite together almost every single night. It's really what's keeping me sane.
I feel that big time. I've gotten back into playing SMASH with my brothers, which I haven't done since I was in middle school.
You can always still murder on SMASH even if you haven't played in like 10 years. I always play as Kirby because I just like to eat people.
"I wanted to tell this the story of excitement and rebellion."
Totally. I play as Lucas because I feel like he embodies who I am: Short, chubby, annoying, but full of passion and power.
Who you play in SMASH definitely says a lot about you as a person.
100 percent. So finally, what can fans expect from you through 2021?
I've spent the past year making music, and I'm at a point now where I feel like I can start sharing it with people, so they can expect a lot to come.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Photos courtesy of Conan Gray