I feel like I’ve been hearing Chappell Roan‘s name for years now (partially because our editor Kristin has been pushing the Chappell agenda for ages now), but for some reason that I will never understand I was always skeptical about becoming too into her. Maybe I just wasn’t ready, because she quickly became one of my favorite artists in the past year.
Initially, I was a little disappointed that The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess only had five new songs and everything else had been previously released, but in hindsight, I think it makes sense. Chappell, whose legal name is Kayleigh Rose Amstutz, has been polishing her sound, aesthetic, and whole artist persona for years now, and the compilation of songs that make up her debut album are the perfect way to narrate her musical and personal journey.
There is an exact moment in the 25-year-old’s discography where you can tell Amstutz fully became Chappell Roan. “California,” the oldest song included on the album, is about her arriving in Los Angeles and being hit with the hard truth. At one of the lowest points in her career, she had to reinvent herself and learn how to keep going, and to choose to stay there to make her dreams come true. She’s been very open about how moving to California also allowed her to become her full queer self, something that’s often frowned upon in her home state of Missouri.
From that point on, her songs became a lot more racy and upbeat. “Naked in Manhattan” focuses on her crush on a girl, in a way that isn’t reserved or shy, bluntly singing about lust and sex. “Pink Pony Club,” is a little bit of an apology to those she left behind while pursuing her dreams, but also a confirmation that she knew she didn’t belong there, and belonged where she was headed. “My Kink is Karma” is a perfect song about spite and heartbreak with a sexual metaphor laced in there, too. All these songs showed us how liberated Chappell was finally allowed to feel, how many of these things she had been meaning to say and write about, but couldn’t until now.
The same way her aesthetic was visibly changing, so did the colors in her music, her voice, and her lyrics. Her early work sounds so mellow and kind of opaque in comparison to this album (which she called the “exact opposite” of her first EP), even slower songs like “Coffee” and “Kaleidoscope” feel warmer and more intimate just from the way she sings the words. Undeniably, Dan Nigro’s (Olivia Rodrigo, Conan Gray) production skills play a relevant role in this too, but the fact that we know so much about Chappell’s background and are allowed to contrast it with where she is now, makes everything feel deeply personal and, for the lack of a better and more intellectual word, real.
One of my favorite songs from the album is still “Femininomenon,” because it’s fun and relatable and I listen to it every time I get ghosted. Another one that was already out and is also a favorite of mine is “Red Wine Supernova.” I included it one of of our “best songs of the month” lists earlier this year, and mentioned how remembered hearing it for the first time back in March when I saw her on tour in Chicago and loving it so much that I was frustrated I wasn’t going to be able to listen to it again until it was officially released. Once it came out, I just knew the song was perfect. If I could remember it pretty decently after hearing it one time, there has to be something intangibly great about it.
A newer one that had my head spinning is “After Midnight,” an upbeat, partly disco-inspired track that just makes me want to go out and dance all night (and I hate going out)! I feel like this would’ve been a great promotional single and has a lot of radio hit potential, and it’s definitely my favorite one out of the few new songs. Now, have you ever seen that one video of Rachel Senott in her apartment saying “It’s LA!” over and over again? That is what “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl” sounds and feels like, and I love it so much. (If this is too niche of a reference I am begging you to watch it and listen to the song and I PROMISE you will see the vision).
Overall, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess takes us through exactly that, Chappell Roan’s birth, reinvention and culmination as an artist. It’s so much fun at times, but also feels like it comes straight from her personal diary of thoughts, dreams, and desires. With strokes of different past decades throughout the album, Roan’s debut brings with it a little bit of nostalgia, while it also stays inventive and original, perfectly crafted to represent what Chappell Roan is, where she comes from and where she strives to go.
The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess is out now.