may i pitch you on chappell roan real quick?
photo credit: Jason Martin

may i pitch you on chappell roan real quick?

A healthy society needs an abbondanza of female pop stars to help shape the culture. And right now we're at a weird point, pop girl wise.

The old guard (yr Beyoncés, yr Taylors Swift) has shored up their resources, becoming bigger and more mythical than ever. Alt pop stars like Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepsen continue to toil in the pop mines, searching for new singles and angles. Doja Cat flirted with traditional pop stardom, then seemed to reject it outright. A new generation (Z) of superstars–Billie Eilish in 2019, Olivia Rodrigo in 2021—has started to establish a foothold. Ariana Grande is playing a witch in a movie that's coming out soon.

It feels like we're on the precipice of something new, though. The past couple of years have brought us a fresh class of would-be pop superstars. Sabrina Carpenter's filthy "Nonsense" outros were a viral highlight of her run on the Eras tour. You can't throw a rock at a North American 2024 festival lineup without hitting Renee Rapp. There's a young lady from Canada named Tate McRae with a massive hit called "Greedy", and boy, can she dance.

But there's another standout contender to me, and I'd like to pitch you to her on the blog today. Her name is Chappell Roan, and she is wondering if you can play a song with a fucking beat??

I first became aware of Chappell Roan with the release of her Mazzy Star-ish track "Casual" at the end of 2022. She continued to do press leading up to the release of her debut album, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, and I enjoyed all of it. Her Brittany Spanos-written Rolling Stone profile positioned her as a "thrift store pop star," which I thought was a clever self-branding in this age of Goodwill freaks; I was also incredibly impressed that she took shrooms at NYC Pride for a Pitchfork profile, as I could not imagine doing psychedelics in the presence of any journalist besides...myself, really. (Never forget Ke$ha was rolling for an interview with Cat Marnell at Lollapalooza '09...we must protect our party girls at all costs.)

What I noticed about Chappell at this initial point was her backstory, which already fit a classic pop girl mold: musical failure, dreams on hold. She was signed to Atlantic at only 17 years old, and summarily dropped when her (amazing) 2020 single "Pink Pony Club" didn't make enough of a splash. That already puts her in the big leagues with fellow label-booted pop stars like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Crucially, she also started working with Olivia Rodrigo's signature producer Dan Nigro in 2020 (he produced "Pink Pony Club"), only to see his availability limited in the wake of the massive success of Rodrigo's "Drivers' License."

I cannot imagine what it's like to get signed as a teenage dream and then spend year after year waiting for your big break. She's never said anything about it on the record that I've seen, but it couldn't have been easy to link with a collaborator like Nigro, then watch all that momentum stall at the inception of Sour. The line between "hotly anticipated pop star" and "where's the album, Normani?" is as thin as a Listerine breath strip, and extreme youth is, for better or for worse, a core tenet of female pop stardom after all these years. It's hard to let the kind drop off the wunderkind.

Thankfully all that time in the waiting room seems to have done Chappell nothing but good. Her emergence on the scene with Midwest Princess feels like she's been shot out of a cannon. Not like a Civil War cannon. Like a clown cannon. When I try to describe Chappell Roan to unwitting people, I keep saying things like "she has clown vibes." Her styling takes heavy inspiration from her love of drag queens, with bodacious wigs, extreme Elizabeth I-style makeup, and spangled costumes. It's a fun aesthetic, theatrical and cheeky, poking fun at the concept of pop stardom while still clearly aspiring to it.

from Polyester Zine - photo credit Kirt Barnett

None of this would mean anything if the songs weren't good, but they' good. Chappell Roan has extracted what made 2010s pop so damn fun to begin with—goofy synths! 16 step sequencer dance floor horsepower!— and added zillennial wit and categorical queerness. "You say you like magic? I got a wand and a rabbit" — how the HAIL did no one think of this one yet? Well done, Chappell Roan. Also, if you can't get behind the concept of a lyric like "Get it hot like Papa John," I can't help you. That's off the bubbly "Femininomenon," a track catchy enough to snag the attention of my husband, who I have caught murmuring the word "femininomenon" while doing the dishes several times....ladies....we won.

Chappell also has a great set of pipes. She's a yodel-y soprano with a healthy chest voice. Clear theater kid energy (I just know she would crush the role of Wendla in Spring Awakening) and yet I can tell she's reining it in.


The talent is there, the songs are there, the aesthetic is there. She's currently opening for Olivia Rodrigo on the Guts World Tour. She just did the customary Tiny Desk Concert ("little desk," as I saw someone refer to it on Twitter). I hope that'll continue to build the energy for her. Midwest Princess wasn't quite a charting phenom, and I feel like I ended my 2023 with a why is no one talking about this??? feeling about Chappell (even tho she got her flowers from plenty of music publications on their end-of-year lists) but my hope is this'll be a slower and more sustainable burn, through which she'll carve a path for herself in the random-ass arena of 2020s pop music. I am a believer. I would prefer a song with a fucking beat.

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