Chappell Roan was getting ready to perform in London this summer when one of the drag queens she’d picked to open her show told her: “You’re a drag queen. You know that, right?” Those words led to an immediate epiphany for the singer. She realized her stage name, the costumes, the makeup… all of it was her own version of drag. “I was like, ‘Oh my god. That’s what this is,’” she recalls, pointing out her shaved-off eyebrows. “I just happen to perform drag to my own songs. Chappell is a drag-queen version of myself.”
Chappell Roan is the onstage persona of Kayleigh Rose Amstutz, a Missouri-born rising star who’s taken the pop scene by storm over the past year with singles like WeHo-inspired “Pink Pony Club” and the fan favorite “My Kink Is Karma.” On Friday, Roan will release her debut album, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, a project she says has allowed her to finally “come to accept my queerness.”
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“When I started the album, I was in a four-and-a-half-year relationship with a man,” says Roan, 25. “I was writing about girls and the thought of girls. I was like, ‘I’m going to write about the part that I always wanted to feel: just complete freedom and euphoria and sparkles. And I’m going to pretend like this is the only world that it lives in.’”
Midwest Princess serves as a culmination of a healing journey for Roan and the start of something big for her career. As she drops her debut album for an already-devoted group of fans, she’s getting ready to hit the road with Olivia Rodrigo on an arena tour next year. She also joined Rodrigo as a background vocalist on Guts highlight “Lacy.” (Her fans might even tell you that Rodrigo’s “Bad Idea Right?” shows Roan’s influence, too.)
The title of Roan’s album captures her arc so far, from breaking out of the Midwest to find herself, to arriving in L.A. and questioning whether she’s “cut out for Hollywood.” Plus, she already has a tramp-stamp tattoo with the words “Midwest Princess.” Overall, Roan says she’s excited to be a voice for the queer kids back in Missouri through her music.
“I’d love to represent the queer kid in high school that just wanted to be a wife and really proper and ladylike. I feel like I represent the queer kid in the Midwest that broke out and just became a fucking dragon,” she says. “The album is for the girl in high school who was like, ‘It’s a phase. It’s a phase. It’s a phase.’ It’s for my teenage self.”
From her bedroom in Los Angeles, Chapell Roan breaks down her five favorite songs from The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess and talks online relationships, finding closure with exes, and falling in love with her bestie.
“Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl”
I just, hands down, was like, “We need club.” It’s an undeniable gay pop song. I literally was inspired by an Architectural Digest video. I don’t even remember who it was, but this lady was talking about the architecture of this house. And she’s like, “It’s just super graphic and it’s ultra-modern.” I don’t know why, but I was like, “ding.” I wrote it down. It was just sitting in my notes app for months and months. It was so fun. But that song was a bitch to finish because we could not figure it out. I couldn’t tell what we were supposed to do with it. I’m a huge Charli XCX fan. And I was like, “Who does her stuff? Let’s just get them on here.” So we sent it to Mike Wise, who did “Yuck.” I was like, “Please fix this. I don’t know what to do.” And he did, and he slayed. This whole song was just like, “I want a song that drag queens can do fully.” It’s inspired by drag. The whole thing.
I make pop music because it is so fun to perform. There is a part of me that would love to go more weird and indie, but I know that I won’t love performing that all the time. “Guilty Pleasure” is my favorite. It just feels so good at the end. It’s just party. I love the bridge. It just feels like euphoria. I love the second verse, “Feels like pornography watching you try on jeans.” Because it’s so true when you like someone but they don’t know it yet. Especially with girl relationships. It’s like, whatever, we get dressed together in our swimsuits, and it’s OK if we’re naked. But then you’re like, “Oh, fuck.”. “Guilty Pleasure” is about me feeling, “Oh my God, I really like this person so much.” And then it’s like, “But they’re my best friend and this is weird and it’s my guilty pleasure.”
This one I wrote 100 percent myself. I’m really proud of that piece of work. That song was written in three hours by myself because I just had so many feelings. I had told my best friend the night before that I was in love with her. We were dancing on the dancefloor and I started crying and we just started making out. And I was like, “Oh my God, this confirms so much.” I was like, “I’m queer. This is what love feels like.” And the next day she was like, “Can we talk about it?” And while I was waiting for her to get off work, I just wrote the song. I was like, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. Whatever you decide, I will understand.” And it’s true. I understood that she didn’t want to be with me. It just takes time to go back to being friends after you crossed that line. I still love her even though it didn’t work out. And that’s what I mean by “love is a kaleidoscope,” because love is not just one thing. You can love a friend, and then it turns into romantic love, and then it turns into a deeper love whenever you’re not compatible in that way.
Closure is so toxic because closure doesn’t come from the other person, it comes from yourself. But we’ve convinced ourselves that you need the words and the affirmation that this is done and it’s going to be OK. But the reality is, even if they say that to you, that doesn’t mean anything. You have to close it within yourself. So I think that getting coffee was my excuse to talk to an ex, and maybe it’s better that we not get coffee at all. I went to New York and I was dating someone there that I really liked and I was like, “OK, we’re not going to go to a bar, we’re just going to go get coffee or sit in a park during the daytime. If it’s at night or anything, I know what’s going to happen.” And my bitch ass went, got a drink with them and not coffee. What the fuck? And then we went back up to the room. I was like, “I’m a liar.” I didn’t even do what the song told me to do… You know what? I didn’t sleep with them. But I recommend everyone to just get coffee. Listen to the song or don’t — but only get coffee, don’t do anything else.
I was in an online relationship for a few months where all we did was sext. And I wrote that song based on that. Like “Do you picture me like I picture you in my head?” I made up so much. When you’re in an online relationship, you’re just making up stuff all the time. You’re just fantasizing. And so “Picture You” is that fantasy. I wanted a darker, weirder song. It was almost creepy in a way. The strings in it are just Coraline vibes or Tim Burton vibes. And it’s supposed to be sexy, but there’s a dissonance, like, “Oh, this is sexy, but something’s off.” That’s what an online relationship felt like. So I really love that one. And I feel like that song showcases my vocals in a way that no other song does on the record.
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