For Conan Gray, social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the 22-year-old with ample time to mull over the melancholy parts of life. "I just wanted to kind of leave reality for a second," he tells Elite Daily of the day he wrote his latest single, "Overdrive," his first since his 2020 debut album Kid Krow. Although the era was full of success for the former YouTuber, a period of loneliness followed, and his newest track reflects it. Embedded within it is a supercharged sense of longing, an energy that feels like every anthemic verse is a synth-laden bubble about to burst. Conan Gray wrote "Overdrive" to escape the crushing world around him. After the track's Feb. 19 release, he's ready to take his fans along with him.
"I needed to escape from reality, and I think that's why I wrote 'Overdrive' all at once with Tobias," Gray says of writing the track with pop tour-de-force and writer Tobias Jesso Jr. "It was a really special experience." The duo wrote all the way up until the song's chorus in a single stream-of-consciousness session. "Some songs exist to make you very, very sad. Some songs exist to make you feel good, and we needed that in that moment, so that's what came out."
The collaborative songwriting process outside of his home with Jesso Jr. for "Overdrive" was also a form of escape, since most of Gray's most personal tracks are first penned solo at his home. "I have two favorite spots. One of the spots is where I'm calling you from right now, my couch, and I have a ton of blankets I hide under," he says. "The other spot I really like is my bed ... maybe in pajamas, a very baggy T-shirt, and a cup of coffee I have precariously perched on a book or something. That's where I do almost all of my writing."
Compared to 2020's Kid Krow, Gray's first single of 2021 is incredibly optimistic, even if it does represent a sort of dreamlike state of mind. On his debut record, he delved into his deepest insecurities on songs that soared across social media, including several trending tracks on TikTok, like "Heather." It was one of the most emotionally-heavy songs on the album, and it contrasts greatly with the newfound hopefulness of "Overdrive."
"When I wrote 'Heather,' I distinctly remember thinking in my head, 'I don't know if anyone's going to relate to this one.' It just felt so specific," Gray says of the fan-favorite track about jealousy and unrequited love. "The positive response to it really surprised me, but in such a good way, because ... I wrote it from such a spot of insecurity and fear. I'd had those feelings growing in me, those feelings of resentment, for years and years of my life."
With his frustration behind him, Gray's latest release is less introspective and feels larger in every way. No longer fearful, he's tackling each chorus with a pop star-like fire that is less present on his earlier, sadder tunes. "Overdrive" is an attempt at sonically capturing that same feeling he got when he realized fans related to "Heather," a sign he's not so alone.
Perhaps Gray's songwriting is relatable because it's so honest. Although "Heather" was highly specific, "Overdrive" is up for interpretation. "But I'm likin' the danger/ Of the 'I don't know'/ Don't give a f*ck about labels," he sings on the track. This oscillation between sadness and the high of optimism is incredibly authentic to how his teen listeners relate to his coming-of-age experience in such a chaotic world.
Gray's authenticity has attracted the interest of numerous A-list peers, including V of BTS. V even reached out over Twitter to collaborate. "All of those boys, including V, are just so talented," he says about the Korean pop group. "To be mentioned at all [by V] was very, very surprising. It made my day, my month. It was very fun, and I would absolutely love to work with him. I think him and I both have a soft spot for the sad."
A "soft spot for the sad" is a good way to describe Gray's journey up until now, especially because that "soft spot" is what led him to try escaping into the world of "Overdrive" in the first place. Burying yourself under the weight of the world is hard to avoid in the aftermath of a year like 2020. But hopefully, "Overdrive" will encourage fans to switch gears and let their hair down with Gray in celebration of such a massive anthem.
Watch the full video for "Overdrive" below.