Chappell Roan: The Rise of a Queer Pop Princess

image: ryan clemens

Every review and article about Chappell Roan calls her the “next big thing” – so who is this budding popstar and why should she be on your radar?

Chappell Roan is the queer icon you don’t know about yet, bringing a mix of fun, camp and queerness to pop music. Fresh off supporting Olivia Rodrigo on her US Guts tour, Chappell Roan is finally getting some well-deserved recognition for her debut album, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess. She is due to perform at Coachella this summer and continue with her own tour in the US and Europe, coming to the UK this September.

Chappell Roan, born Kayleigh Rose Amstutz, is an up-and-coming queer performer bringing a fresh new energy to the pop music scene. After being dropped by Atlantic Records in 2020, she has slowly been biding her time, releasing music independently and building a dedicated fanbase. She went on to earn a publishing deal with Sony and eventually signed to Island Records, releasing her new album in September 2023 to critical acclaim. 

This period as an independent artist and having complete creative control is very apparent in her more recent music. It’s bursting with personality and, whilst flamboyant, dramatic and even cinematic at times, it feels authentic. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Chappell’s music style is; from 80s synth-pop to piano ballads and a subtle country influence, her music spans multiple genres yet consistently remains true to her unique persona. Although she has stated that the new album is for “the girls, gays and theys”, it seems like she makes music for herself first, and has a lot of fun doing it.

The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess is a stark change from her previous EP, School Nights, as she began to interject a sense of whimsy and camp into her songs. She has embraced more light-hearted themes and puts hyper-femininity and queerness at the forefront of her art. It’s full of character, cheeky lyrics and a thorough knowledge of pop culture and queer history. This is particularly apparent in her more outwardly flamboyant tracks like Femininomenon, Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl and Pink Pony Club. Although her most popular tracks are these energetic gay club anthems, she constantly reminds us of her stellar vocal abilities with slower and more emotional songs like Kaleidoscope and Casual.

Chappell Roan particularly stands out for her ability to deliver a strong narrative through her music as well as witty, sex-positive lyrics. She shows her sense of humour with lines like “I heard you like magic, I’ve got a wand and a rabbit” in Red Wine Supernova, which she describes as “a campy gay girl song that captured the magic of having feelings for another girl”. Committing and leaning into the sillier side of things has undoubtedly contributed to her recent success. 

These songs that delve into her exploring and celebrating her sexuality are another contributing factor to her recent popularity, as she presents as unapologetically queer after her conservative upbringing in Missouri where she was taught that it was a sin. For example, her recently released single, Good Luck Babe, explores the consequences of compulsory heterosexuality, as she wishes good luck to a lover who is presumably in denial about their queerness. This openness has led to a sense of community and belonging for her queer fans and adds another level of authenticity to her stage persona.

She also perfectly encapsulates what “camp” really is through her drag-inspired aesthetic. She harkens back to old-school drag looks that embrace imperfection. She fully embodies this in her look for her Tiny Desk Concert performance in which she dons her usual signature doll-like makeup, intentionally adding lipstick to her teeth – it’s refreshing to see a modern performer who isn’t afraid to be messy. The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess is ultimately a love letter to the queer community, and she demonstrates her support and allyship during concerts as she always features local drag acts at the beginning of her shows. 

It’s rare for a fanbase to be so passionate early in a singer’s career, but Chappell Roan’s fans have always been enthusiastic, with her devoted online following as well as her consistently sold-out shows. Going to a Chappell Roan performance fully embodies the “slumber party pop” style that the artist describes, as she tries to “capture that feeling of youth, pure bliss and exploring sexuality”. She cleverly capitalises on the culture of dressing up for concerts (take Harry Styles and Taylor Swift shows, for example). However, she takes it to another level by actively encouraging it, setting themes for each show, often inspired by her songs. For example, pink cowgirls for Pink Pony Club and space for Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl. Concert-goers are also taught choreography for songs like HOT TO GO!, enhancing the already unique, interactive experience.

Chappell Roan is offering something new and different whilst paying her respects to pop idols and queer culture that came before her. It’s exciting to watch a singer’s career just before it takes off, and it’s great to see a talented artist from humble beginnings find success. She is definitely one to watch.

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