Home Music Music Features

Someone Broke Conan Gray’s Heart. He Says It Was Worth It

The singer opens up about his first breakup and his Eighties-inspired third album, ‘Found Heaven’

Conan Gray

Muriel Knudson*

Conan Gray tried that whole “falling in love” thing for the first time last year. He got his heart shattered, and he’s still in the process of healing. But if you ask him, it was worth it — so much that he recommends doing it.

“I was expecting to be really bitter about it all,” he admits. “But now looking back at it, I’m just really happy that I got to experience any emotions at all. You come out the other side a completely different person, but also more yourself than you ever were.”

That first experience with heartbreak — real heartbreak, not the hypothetical one he used to sing about — became the center of his experimental, synth-drenched album, Found Heaven, out Friday. The LP is his third, and it’s a bold, left-field turn for the melancholic songwriter who has described himself as an “observer of life.” Now, he’s living life and singing about it as it happens.

“With [my last album] Superache, I got used to reminiscing and making up stories, whereas this album was a lot more present,” he says. “I’m just singing about exactly what was happening at the moment or what had happened this year. This whole album is letting myself feel all of my emotions and letting them hit me like a wave rather than running away from them.”

Sonically, he decided to go against what was expected of him (like the “Heather”-style balladry that made him a household name) and make music that really pushed him out of his comfort zone. He experimented with the more upbeat sounds and Eighties-style power ballads alongside super producers Max Martin and Ilya. He cites A-Ha, Cutting Crew, and David Bowie and a playlist he made of songs from 1984 as inspiration.

From his apartment in Los Angeles, Gray broke down five songs from Found Heaven:

“Forever With Me” is about reminiscing about something that came and went. It’s me saying, “I have all these emotions about you. I really hated you for a while. I feel really angry. But at the end of the day, you’ll forever be a part of my life. You’ll forever be a part of my story. I learned how to love because of you. I learned how to hate because of you. With all the emotions aside, you’ll forever be with me. I’m not sorry that everything happened. I’m grateful that it all happened because we both learned so much and it just kind of is what it is.” You’ll always love an ex. You’ll always love who they were and what you learned from them. It’s a very interesting feeling because I think when you love someone, even if you break up, there’s always going to be love for them.

“Bourgeoisieses” is definitely the weirdest song on the album, and you can see that just from the title alone. I grew up in a bunch of different houses and was super poor at times and had just enough money to get by at other times. I always thought in my mind, “Wow, money is such a crazy thing and it can change people’s lives so completely.” I’ve always found it to be such a ridiculous conversation. And the name “Bourgeoisieses” is an intentionally misspelled plural of the bourgeoisie. I wanted to make a song that was jokingly saying I want to be part of the bourgeoisie, but not knowing anything about that so that’s why it’s misspelled. It’s a song poking fun at rich people and how ridiculous rich people can be and how ridiculous that world is and how futile and useless of a show of luxury it all is. It’s like “Oh, fuck you, rich people,” but from a previous version of me as a little kid that wanted to understand. The whole song is a massive joke. I don’t want anyone to take it seriously. We were laughing our asses off in the studio making that song.

“Alley Rose” is my favorite on Found Heaven. It was the very last song that I wrote on the album. I think the last song on my albums always ends up encapsulating the whole album, which I find to be a huge relief. I went through a breakup last year. It was my first real breakup, and it was really, really eye-opening and interesting and formative and painful and all of these incredible huge emotions that I wasn’t expecting. I’d always turned off my emotions when experiencing pain, whereas this, I just let it hit me like a truck. I’d been dumped and I was in London. I was supposed to be there with this person that I was seeing and then I wasn’t. And all of a sudden I was like, “OK, I’m on Abbey Road right now and you’re not here with me. Where did you go? Why did things end up so bad?” When I was writing it, I was like, “OK, I should probably not name the song Abbey Road, the most famous album of all time.” So I decided to come up with a name that kind of sounded like Abbey Road. I wanted you to think of somebody when you listen to the song.

“Fainted Love” is about accepting love that is not as great as you deserve. I think there’s been so many times in life that I’ve accepted lesser forms of love just for the sake of knowing that somebody loved me at all in some way. It’s a super damaging thing. You should not do that, but let’s be fucking real. We’re human beings. We do it all the time. You see people who are in five-year relationships with people they should not be dating, but sometimes it’s better than no love. I wanted to write a song that encapsulated that feeling of driving to go see this person who never treats you right, but you still go back to them over and over because you know that you’d rather somebody than be alone. It’s not a play on “Tainted Love.” I’d originally written “Faded Love,” but then I was singing it and I was like, “This sounds weird. I don’t know why.” And so I changed it to Fainted Love because it sounded like “fated.” But that’s not what I’m singing about!

“Boys & Girls” is a song about how embarrassing it can be to have a crush on someone hot. Do you know this feeling? I’ve never heard this talked about in a song where it is so excruciatingly embarrassing to be in love with someone that everyone loves because you’re like, “Damn, I’m just like every other bitch. Your charms are working on me just like they work on everyone else and I feel so stupid because I know you’re just playing all of us, but I can’t help it. I do want you to love me even though I know everyone’s obsessed with you and you’re also possibly a terrible human being.”

From Rolling Stone US