Small town girl moves to the big city and finds herself: It’s a tried and true narrative, and one that inexplicably pulls at the LGBTQ+ community’s heart strings – from Coyote Ugly to New York Pride excursions. Still, Chappell Roan’s debut album The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess offers a new entry to the canon. One that’s bold, sparkling, authentic, and addictive.
It’s been a long road to the queer pop star’s first full-length effort, named as a nod to her Missouri roots (and tramp-stamp tattoo). Over the past four years, Roan built a cult following of fervid popsters with a handful of bona fide bops, selling out solo shows, garnering critical acclaim, and captivating every house-party where a gay was entrusted with the aux. And it’s safe to say the record was worth the wait.
The 14-track album trapezes between bombastic pop, synthy throwbacks, and devastating ballads. Engine-revving opener “Femininomenon” serves as Roan’s thesis for the collection: unpredictable sonic peaks, compelling and tongue-in-cheek hooks (“Get it hot like Papa John’s!”), and the theme of unbridled female sexuality.
Serving as a recollection of Chappell’s journey from well-mannered suburban girl to over-the-top queer icon, the album is heavy handed when it comes to danceable party tracks. “Red Wine Supernova” is a horny and country-tinged ode to an irresistible hookup with veiled winks to sex toys. “After Midnight” tries on disco as the witching hour approaches, providing a pre-game staple with lines like “I kind of want to kiss your girlfriend if you don’t mind / I love a little drama.”
That’s not to say charting your superstar reinvention is all fun and games. The one-two emotional sucker punch of “Coffee” and “Casual” is nearly masochistic. The former is a diaristic refutation of an ex’s invite to meet up for closure, featuring breathy delivery over fragile piano chords. On the other hand, “Casual” throbs and hypnotizes, nearly masking the heartbreaking bite of lines like, “Knee deep in the passenger seat / And you’re eating me out / Is it casual now?” Drag us!
“Queer anthems are needed, and are special, and are impactful.”
This week brought us another great crop of releases as artists wind up for summer. Check out the gays’ musical slays on this week’s Queer Music Mixtape!
It’s a testament to Roan’s authenticity and bejeweled thrift-store aesthetic that every swing is not only palatable, but a distinct moment. Who else could drop words like “ritualistic” and “perversions” in a swinging love song (“Picture You”)? Throughout the album, her vocals are both powerful and personal, hitting notes as skillfully as she inflects emotion and sensuality.
Fittingly, the 25-year-old singer (whose real name is Kayleigh Rose Amstutz) admitted her onstage moniker is a bit of a performance in and of itself. It’s on full display in drag-inspired standout “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl,” a psychedelic explosion built for the gay club. Unabashed cheerleader anthem “Hot to Go” provides the perfect partner, coupling ’80s lightning in a bottle with blistering yearning.
Furthermore, the sprawl of producer Dan Nigro (who’s worked with Olivia Rodrigo) and Roan’s sonic aspirations become even more apparent when comparing previous singles like “My Kink is Karma,” “Pink Pony Club,” and “Naked in Manhattan” to new tracks. The drive-your-car-off-a-cliff angst in “Karma” is still a far cry from the WeHo-inspired saloon fairytale unspooled in “Pink Pony Club.” Not only that, but each song takes its time to build. It’s a refreshing contrast to the 2-minutes-or-less TikTok droll that’s become trendy in pop. Anyone else remember how nice it is to have a bridge?!
As a whole, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess focuses its narrative on finding one’s self amongst the comfort of a crowd. And though its queer moments don’t define the album, they’re essential in defining its resonance with fans and Roan’s artistic identity. In a world of love, clubs, and glitter, sexuality is as natural as a crush on Regina George or missing home.
That being said, she needed Chappell Roan (and this LP) to step into her own. As she told Rolling Stone, “I feel like I present the queer kid in the Midwest that broke out and just became a f****** dragon. The album is for the girl in high school who was like, ‘It’s a phase’ … It’s for my teenage self.”♦