Finally! Call off the search – there’s a new pop star in town whose music is actually fun. Forget the preoccupations with heartbreak or anxiety that have dominated the genre in recent years and grab your phone, open Spotify and type in the name Chappell Roan (you can thank me later).
The 25-year-old Missourian stormed on stage in London on Thursday night dressed in a corseted mini dress and satin gloves, her curly red hair cascading around her shoulders, looking like some sort of Midwestern Marie Antoinette ready for a night at the circus. Supplementing perfect pop excess with anecdotes about her traditional upbringing – LGBT superclub Heaven’s tiered stage made her feel like she was back at church youth group, delivering sermons to her pious peers, she said – Roan (real name Kayleigh Rose Amstutz) had the crowd eating out of her hand from the outset.
Performing songs from debut album The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess – one that deserves to place among the top 10 in any end of year list (Rolling Stone has it at number 12 – almost...) – Roan gleamed with the confidence of a seasoned artist. The opener Femininomenon starts off as a ballad, before the soft hooks gives way to a pounding electro-beat: the intentionally nonsensical chorus (“Hit it like rom-pom-pom-pom / Get it hot like Papa John”) intended as a call-to-arms for matriarchy.
Then there’s Red Wine Supernova, an Americana-tinged anthem as far-flung from Oasis’s champagne-spray as it’s possible to imagine; HOT TO GO!, complete with coordinating dance routine, could be Gen Z’s very own YMCA; and My Kink is Karma, a deliciously bratty pat-on-the-back for everyone who’s got a secret thrill from the misfortunes of an ex who wronged you (“Wishing you the best in the worst way / Using your distress, as foreplay”). Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl is the best alt-pop song since Grimes’s Kill V. Maim (2015) or even Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance (2009).
Which is apt, given that Roan treated us to a cover of the latter. It’s usually wise to ignore grand comparisons when it comes to pop stars, so when friends (and TikTok) told me Roan had Gaga’s voice, Charli XCX’s sexiness, Lana Del Rey’s allure, I batted them off. The Gaga comparison, in particular, seemed lazy, wrought mostly from the fact Roan is queer and has a sizable gay fanbase.
But watching her perform Kaleidoscope – when the riotous dancing was swapped for her simply sat at a keyboard, singing – the Gaga magic began to shine through. That vocal range; those soaring, pitch-perfect notes, each one shuddering with feeling and a hint that – ssh! – there’s more to her than she’s letting on. It was magical.
This show brought home just how much pop has been missing originality and flair; how boring it is to witness the conveyor belt of disposable TikTok stars, warbling through the same old formulaic songs. Chappell Roan is the real deal – when Gaga makes a return to the live stage soon, here’s hoping she’s got her earmarked for the support slot.
Playing Heaven again tonight; iamchappellroan.com