Conan Gray, a 21-year-old YouTuber-turned-singer-songwriter known for his moody, punchy melodies (and Twitter antics), recently dropped “The Story,” the first official single off his upcoming freshman album, on January 10.
During Gray’s stop in Atlanta during his 2019 Sunset Tours, he spoke about his inspiration behind the (then unreleased) single before giving the crowd an acoustic preview performance.
“This song is about a bunch of different stories in my life that happened to me and my friends that I could never really forget,” Gray said in the video. “Things that stuck with me forever. The things you never really should forget.”
Through its lyrics, “The Story” creates the melancholic experience of opening a memory capsule on a particularly gloomy day. During the song’s verses, Gray’s airy voice sometimes switches into a conversational whisper against the background of simple guitar chords. His lyrics are reminiscent of entries from tear-soaked diary pages. (In a tweet promoting the lyric video for the single, the Texan songwriter said he wrote the song in his notebook while crying.)
Gray’s talent for vulnerable songwriting is most evident when he sings about memories of bullying (“They were just sixteen when the people were mean. So they didn’t love themselves and now they’re gone”), homophobia (“Cause they loved another, but never discovered, ‘Cause they were too afraid of what they'd say”) and teenage hopelessness.
However, Gray’s voice grows louder and unconsciously hopeful during the second chorus and is accompanied by a crescendo in rhythmic piano. He stands up to the fragments of darkness of his past (“It ain’t funny, it ain’t pretty, it ain’t sweet”) and feels the urge to take control of his narrative (“But I think that it could work for you and me. Just wait and see, it’s not the end of the story”). Like the soundtrack to the climax in a coming-of-age film, the bridge is an explosion of harmonies as Gray seems to make peace with the whirring movie of memories in his mind and wish the best for his childhood friends (“And I hope that they all get their happy end”).
At the end of the four-minute ballad, Gray’s voice quiets after he repeats the chorus with a lighter tone. The song gives the lonely listener, and all of Gray’s loyal followers, a shoulder to lean on, just as they have done for him.
“Somewhere around 12 or 13, y’all came into the picture and completely changed everything for me,” Gray said during his Atlanta show, referring to the start of his YouTube channel and internet presence. “I felt so alone, but all of a sudden I realized that I wasn’t the only one on earth who felt the way that I did.”