Photo by Adrian Korte / Unsplash

Album Review: The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess

Music May 7, 2024

by Macy Berendsen

Just like she states in her album title, artist Chappell Roan is on a rapid rise with the release of her 2023 studio release, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess.

Roan, whose real name is Kayleigh Amstutz, scored every aspiring singer’s dream — a record deal with Atlantic Records before even finishing high school. After the release of her 2020 single “Pink Pony Club,” however, Atlantic Records dropped Roan.

Hopefully, Atlantic Records is regretting their choice to drop Roan because Roan re-signed with Island Records and created her debut album that climbed up the charts and is dominating social media.

The album consists of fourteen songs with a strong mix of make-you-want-do- dance pop and vocally strong ballads that are reminiscent of 80s synth pop and the Madonna era. The album opener, “Femininomenon,” is a bold and theatrical beginning to the journey through the album. It’s a great choice as the opener because it’s a taste of what Roan’s style—fun, queer and campy.

“Red Wine Supernova” is similar in style to “Femininomenon” and jests with the lyrics “I heard you like magic/I got a wand and a rabbit,” showcasing Roan’s witty and very comedic lyricism and storytelling.

In the category of these two wildly fun songs are “Hot to Go!” and “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl.” As Olivia Horn writes in her review of this album for Pitchfork, “across the album, gang vocals have big cheerleader energy, tapping into an aesthetic that has been co-opted and queered in a cultural lineage running within Roan’s lifetime.”

The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess. Chappell Roan. Island Records, 2023.

“Femininomenon,” “Red Wine Supernova,” “Hot to Go!” and “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl” all feature this girlie energy in Roan’s tone and with her background vocals. These songs feel like performing with your best friends in a garage concert and are putting on the performance of a lifetime.

It feels like gossiping and laughing with your friends. “You know what they say/ Never waste a Friday night on a first date/But there I was, in my heels with my hair straight/ And so I take him to this bar, this man wouldn’t dance/He didn’t ask a single question/And he was wearing these fugly jeans,” is how Roan starts “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl,” complete with a chorus of girls agreeing with her story.

Some of the more heavy hitters on this album are “Picture You,” “Coffee” and “Casual” (which recently blew up on social media for its relatability about situationships) where we are granted a glimpse into Roan’s doubts and insecurities, specifically in her romantic life. Roan, who is now openly queer, did not always have the backing of the community she has now.

Kayleigh Amstutz, before she became Chappell Roan, grew up in small-town Missouri where she was the oldest of four siblings and lived in a trailer park. Roan has described her hometown and upbringing in many interviews as conservative and homophobic.

In the lyrics of her song, “Pink Pony Club,” she sings “And mama, every Saturday/I can hear your southern draw a thousand miles away, saying/ God, what have you done.”

Roan has taken her platform far beyond writing hit songs. She gives back to the queer community as she states in an interview for Polyester Magazine, “I find that it’s my duty to give back to the queer community that supports me. I have a platform and I have money to redistribute and I really encourage other artists to give back too.” Right now, Roan is searching for local drag performers to open for her on her album tour.

My personal favorite of the album is “Pink Pony Club” because of its backstory, a memorable experience at a gay bar, and message of accepting change for the better in your life, but “California” has also snuck up on me as a favorite.

In the same Polyester Magazine interview mentioned earlier, Roan acknowledges how the Midwest was a big part of her upbringing and still loves certain parts of it. I think many people who now live in big cities who come from small Midwestern towns can find some solace in these lyrics.

“Come get me out of California/No leaves are brown/I miss the seasons in Missouri/My dying town/Thought I’d be cool in California/I’d make you proud/ To think I almost had it going/But I let you down.”

Besides an incredible gift for music, Roan also has an incredible gift for theatrics and story-telling. Part of her album’s success is due to her funky stylistic choices, reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s rise to fame.

Roan’s style is adventurous and exciting—adding to why the world has fallen in love with her as a performer. Her weekend two Coachella costume was a butterfly proudly displaying the lesbian flag colors.

In early April, Roan released a new song called “Good Luck, Babe!” that has also taken social media by storm. She belts falsetto in the chorus and sounds like Kate Bush in the bridge—what’s more to love?

Do yourself a favor and take a listen to the queer pop album of the summer. It will not disappoint.

Macy Berendsen is a writer based in Chicago. You can find her online @macyberendsen.