The criminally underrated 25-year-old Chappell Roan has been releasing music since 2017, but The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, her debut album, was released on September 22nd, 2023. It is clear this masterpiece has been meticulously crafted since then and was well worth the wait. It features a mix of new and old tracks, including her hit song “Pink Pony Club” from 2020, which was named the Song of the Summer by Vulture.
Although she has been establishing herself as a vocalist for years, her image and brand have been blossoming alongside her vocals, transforming her from a small-town Midwestern girl singing primarily ballads to “L.A.’s queer pop superstar in the making”, according to LA Times. I had the pleasure of seeing her live earlier this year during her “Naked in North America Tour”. Each show was opened by local drag queens and had a theme (for example, for the Pink Pony Club theme, picture an entire venue using Barbie’s pink cowgirl outfit as inspo).
Roan is opening 20 shows on the U.S. leg of Olivio Rodrigo’s “Guts World Tour” in 2024, followed by her own “The Midwest Princess Tour”, which has a show in Pittsburgh at Stage AE. You’re not going to want miss seeing her next year, especially after listening to her album. The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess features a mix of catchy pop songs and somber ballads about falling in love with women and chasing your dreams.
Some of my favorite songs on her album consist of harmlessly fun refrains and empowering messages, like “Femininomenon” and “Hot to Go”, the latter of which features a campy hook straight from the cheer squad—“H-O-T-T-O-G-O, snap and clap and touch your toes.” Roan makes music easy to scream-sing and dance to, but some of her tracks are better cried to. The emotional “Coffee” and “Kaleidoscope” portray the nuanced feelings behind breakups, backed by Roan’s powerful vocals and beautiful piano melodies. On her album, Roan wanted to “prove that women are multi-dimensional”, which she has certainly accomplished through her broad range of music and messages (Chappell Roan).
She establishes herself as a sex-positive and relatable role model through various songs; “Casual” encompasses the complexity of situationships and “Naked in Manhattan” captures the “coming-of-age exuberance” of your first queer experience (Kinnaird). In the latter, Roan sings the lyrics “Put your lips on mine, could go to hell but we’ll probably be fine,” a catchy rhyme with a deeper meaning that queer people can identify with. One thing is clear, no two songs are the same on this debut album. Roan showcases her insane vocal prowess in “Red Wine Supernova”, a country-pop track. “Pink Pony Club” combines trademarks of country-pop and dance-pop, composed of synth beats and an electric guitar solo, making it the hit that it has proven to be.
My favorite new release on the album is “After Midnight”, a sensual song that feels like a night out, backed by a dreamy synth and soft vocals. Another new track, “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl” digs into angst and y2k pop-rock undertones, beginning with a spoken interlude and featuring a chorus made of feel-good lyrics like “I’m through with all these hyper mega bummer boys like you.”
Her track “My Kink is Karma” reminds me of a slower, angstier “Cruel Summer.” Another song that reminds me of some of my favorite artists, Lana Del Rey and Mitski, is “Picture You”, which mixes dark moodiness and soulful vocals, encompassing an old-fashioned vibe. Although I can draw comparisons for the sake of complimenting and recommending her to a new audience, Roan establishes herself as her own artist through her range of vocal capabilities, taking on different tones and techniques, depending on the song.
The second to last song, “California”, is a stark contrast from the upbeat catchiness of “Naked in Manhattan”, which precedes it. The track describes the experience of leaving a small town for bigger things, over a nostalgic beat that feels like it belongs on a movie soundtrack. The bittersweet imagery about her hometown in Missouri is perfect for the fall season.
The final track, “Guilty Pleasure” is about feeling ashamed of your own sexuality. The track starts mellow but picks up part way, transforming into a dynamic melody upon which Roan repeats the hook “You give me guilty, guilty pleasure” in her signature yodeling-esque vocals. All the while, the string instruments in the background progressively get louder on top of the simple beat until, finally, the last repetition of the line ends after the music does—Roan’s strong vocals heard briefly in acapella are the perfect ending to her masterpiece of an album.
Although most of the songs on The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess were previously released or performed live while officially unreleased, the pacing of the album was a mystery for fans, and they should not be disappointed. Roan uses her insane vocal capabilities to create artistry that is both fun and meaningful, especially for her queer audience. She is so much more than just a singer, she is a performer and the female queer icon that we all need. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her—more music and hopefully the recognition that she deserves.
Alter, Rebecca. “Sorry but the Song of Summer 2021 Is This Stripper’s Delight from Summer 2020.” Vulture, 27 May 2021, www.vulture.com/article/song-recommendation-chappell-roan-pink-pony-club.html.
Brown, August. “Meet Chappell Roan, L.A.’s Queer Pop Superstar in the Making.” Los Angeles Times, 29 Aug. 2023, www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2023-08-29/chappell-roan-fall-preview-queer-pop-diva-rise-and-fall-of-a-midwest-princess.
“Chappell Roan.” First Avenue, 15 May 2023, first-avenue.com/performer/chappell-roan/.
Kinnaird, Madeline. “Chappell Roan, ‘Naked in Manhattan.’” NPR, NPR, 15 Mar. 2022, www.npr.org/sections/now-playing/2022/03/15/1086512630/chappell-roan-naked-in-manhattan.