80s-inspired synth pop filtered through Emo’s, with rising star Conan Gray and bedroom pop opener Girl In Red creating music for Millennials and Generation Z.
Story by Savannah Olson
If you were a random passerby near Emo’s the afternoon of March 20, you could take a wild guess as to who was performing that night based on the crowd lined up around the building. Groups of teenagers wearing chunky sneakers, bright Crayola colors and carrying tiny backpacks over their shoulders had descended onto the parking lot, with a parent to every five teenagers. Generation Y and Z had made base at Emo’s for the rest of the night, with Conan Gray as their de facto leader.
Opening the show was Girl In Red, with lead singer Marie Ulven staying on brand in her oversized red sweatshirt. Born out of her small bedroom in Norway, Ulven’s style of bedroom pop focuses on her experiences as a queer woman in a mix of upbeat and melancholy songs. Riffing hard on her guitar for the opening of “4am,” Ulven sets the mood of night with the bite-sized song that encapsulates a common experience for young people – the never-ending thoughts that keep us up all through the night.
Pushing past the sore throat that almost cancelled her performance, Girl In Red ensnared the audience with songs like “Summer Depression” and “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend.” As a kick drum rhythm began, the crowd instantly recognized Girl In Red’s ode to her sexuality, “Girls.” The song is a blend of two stories: Ulven’s story of coming to terms with her queer identity and the tiny details that she adores in girls. By the end of the song, the crowd started singing the lyrics of “Girls” along with Ulven. The energy of the venue feels bursting with pure love, as everyone there carves their own safe-space to dance and enjoy a night of music.
30 minutes had passed since Girl In Red’s performance when the chants of “Conan! Conan!” began and continued to escalate the closer to nine. Like an angel appearing to his believers, Conan Gray jumped on stage as the opening harmonies of “Generation Why” echoed through the speakers. “Cause we are the helpless, selfish, one of a kind Millennium kids, that all wanna die,” sang Gray, hopping non-stop from one end of the stage to the other. One part generational ballad and another part tongue-in-cheek riff on the stereotypes thrown at every millennial, “Generation Why” riles the crowd into a frenzy for the start of the show.
“This is pretty weird for me because I would have been in that crowd with you,” reminisced Gray in between songs “The Other Side” and “Lookalike.” A native of nearby Georgetown, Gray began his music career by playing acoustic covers of indie hits on his Youtube channel. After posting some of his own original songs, one dedicated to growing up in his small-town blew up with 12 million views: “Idle Town.” Through his dedicated use of the internet, Gray has utilized the tool that almost every Millennial and Generation Z person has access to and crafted a music career from it.
Before going into the nostalgic “Idle Town,” Gray settled into his Texan roots and asked to wear one of the many cowboy hats that littered the crowd. Plopping a velvet blue number on his floppy, black hair, Gray striked a pose and gave a knowing smirk. “Elvis Presley, eat your heart out,” he shouted, just right before a chant of “Yeehaw!” thunders from the concert-goers.
The show went by quickly and ultimately ended on Gray’s anti-romance tune, “Crush Culture.” Even as his voice was losing momentum, the energy from the warring bubbly beat kept the audience on their feet and a chorus of voices sang along with Gray’s utter revulsion of sappy antics. “Crush Culture” ended the night on a titular millennial motif that Gray and Girl In Red share in their music. Wave goodbye to the traditional and heteronormative ways of love and life that were etched into our parent’s generations, and welcome a new wave of artists spinning on nostalgia for a diverse audience.Gray and Girl In Red’s performances encouraged the audience to wave goodbye to traditional, heteronormative ways of love and life and accept the fluidity of the changing world.