On March 30 at 8 p.m., the Fillmore is brimming with teens wearing glitter and flannel. Save for a handful of parents, the bar is empty—this crowd is too young to drink. But even without the steady flow of alcohol, the space is full of energy and excitement. When the star of the night, Conan Gray, walks up on stage, the crowd roars the type of roar only the young and unjaded can muster. This is a safe, intimate space.
Shyly leaning into the mic like a new student on the first day of class, he says,
“Hi, my name’s Conan Gray, and I’m gonna sing some songs for you.”
The crowd roars louder, and Conan Gray smiles.
Gray, at only 20 years old, is already leading the guard of emergent indie talent. A small town YouTuber turned bedroom–pop star, he shares a particular intimacy with his audience: he is one of them. He giggles his way through the show, coyly thumbing at his guitar as if he’s performing at an open mic night for a handful of friends. His all–girl band plays behind him, strumming in perfect unison, uniformed in thrifted clothing. From the ambient lighting to the way he jumps and flips his hair onstage, everything about him screams attainable–teen–dream. And yet, nothing about it feels disingenuous. His fans feel like they know him, because he actually lets them. They’ve watched him grow up on his YouTube channel right alongside them. Gray holds nothing back: He sings love songs to his small town, he makes videos about his college acceptance hardships, and he openly admits that he hasn’t had his first kiss.
Many of his fans did, in fact, find him through YouTube, which allowed them to feel closer to him as he ascended into more mainstream fame. This is probably because both his music and his videos feel immensely personal. The singer–songwriter bares it all on tape with the sort of misty–eyed melodic pop only fit for dreamers and lovesick kids. He has a sort of overall dreaminess: a far–away look, a nostalgic presence.
Halfway through the show, he asks his band to leave the stage; he wants to take the next song alone. He is endearingly awkward and sheepish. Raising his hands in the air, he proclaims:
“Let’s get a cheer for loneliness!”
When the music for his unreleased single, “Comfort Crowd,” starts, his fans seem to know all the words. Conan, surprised, says, “Hey! You aren’t supposed to know this yet!” And that’s really a testament to the time we live in: superfans will always find a way to devour everything an artist releases. And everyone here in this audience is a superfan. The room is filled with love and it's all for Conan. They laugh when he jokes, smile when he speaks. They alternate between swaying in awe and screaming in unison each time his unfiltered voice echoes throughout the room.
Perhaps most comparable to a Gen–Z Taylor Swift, Gray and his music are all wrapped up in suburban angst and bliss. It feels honest and true. He’s all synth–pop and hair one minute, all longing and wistful croons the next. His songs “Idle Town” and “Generation Why” both decry small–town restlessness, but carry a sense of empowerment, too. He is very much a teenager—mixed emotions, anxieties, and all. And, like early Swift, Gray sings for the outcasts and misunderstood—the young. He’s got all the makings of an indie king or pop heartthrob. Still, he doesn't quite feel like anyone else in pop music today.
The singer ends the set with a energetic rendition of "Crush Culture" that bemoans the pettiness of high school crushes. The crowd fills with uproarious screams during the bridge: "and no one cares if you two made out, i'm sick of the kissing cult". The energy is at an all time high—even the parents seem to know the words to this one.
Then, in under an hour, the show is over. After all, Gray’s long–awaited EP only contains five songs. And yet, no one seems to mind. One girl’s mother even tells me that this was all her daughter wanted for her birthday. So, of course, they came. Many of the audience members leave the show a little dazed, starstruck from the events. Teen girls walk out side by side, clad in matching red "CONAN GRAY" t–shirts. In concert, you feel like Conan’s friend, as if he’s letting you in on a secret or a hobby he’s just picked up. Like much of his music, the concert isn’t about fanfare or showmanship. It’s about the music, which is really just Gray’s way of speaking to listeners. So when the show’s over and it’s time to go home, no one’s bothered at all. They just got to speak with their favorite star.