A conversation with Chappell Roan, the yodeling, queer pop icon of tomorrow

LOS ANGELES – In the first few minutes on the phone with The Associated Press, Chappell Roan shared a revealing fact about herself.

“I have a ‘princess’ tramp stamp, that was my first tattoo,” the 25-year-old pop singer laughed.

“And it was kind of a ‘f—- you’ to my upbringing of very conservative, Christian, ‘modesty is hottest’ mentality,” she continued. “I feel like the pendulum has just swung so far because of how restricted I felt.”

Roan’s glittery, innuendo-stuffed debut album, “The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess,” was released Sept. 22. Born and raised in Missouri, Roan left the state for Hollywood not long after being discovered on YouTube by Atlantic Records. They dropped her in 2020, and she moved back home for a few months, where she considered leaving music all together.

Eventually she returned to LA, Amusement/Island Records signed her in 2023, and the rest is history — in the making. With over a million monthly listeners on Spotify, a thriving TikTok presence, and a co-sign from some of the biggest pop performers, Roan’s not a household name or a chart-topper just yet, but the future’s looking bright.

Next year, she will join Olivia Rodrigo’s arena world tour. The two share a producer in Dan Nigro, Rodrigo’s longtime and closest collaborator.

Roan, like Rodrigo, has a knack for candor in theatrical, cheeky pop songwriting — even when the truth is embarrassing — emphasized by her vocal range.

“I think that a lot of the songs are from daydreams, and a lot of that daydreaming happened from Missouri, from this repressed state of not having a queer community growing up and feeling really weird,” she says. It’s that background that gives her a deep understanding of being an outsider and draws in the listener.

Over the phone, Roan spoke to the AP about her new album, queerness, and finding her voice. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: Your given name is Kayleigh Rose Amstutz. Is Chappell Roan a character? A persona? A way to protect your personal life?

ROAN: It’s evolving constantly, but more recently it’s been more of a drag project, especially now that I’m (on) tour. I’m in drag every night and I have drag queens opening for me. So, it’s easier to separate the two because I’m already so involved in my project, in my work, and I feel like the drag of it all kind of lets you have a break when I take my makeup off, when I am off the stage, etc.

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I would say the mythology … is just like being a girl from Midwest and experiencing, like, Hollywood. And the cliche of “small town girl goes to big city to make it big.” But involved in that is self-exploration and freedom and finding a community that she didn’t have before.

AP: There’s an old cliche with debut records — that you have your whole life to write it, which makes the next one a bit daunting. But the pressure to introduce yourself as a fully formed artist must be huge. How long were you sitting and working on some of these songs?

ROAN: For sure. “Naked in Manhattan,”“Red Wine Supernova,” “California,” are all written four or five years ago. It just takes a long time to get there. “Guilty Pleasure” was written three years ago. These have been in the vault for years and years and years and I’ve given up on them over and over and over again. Dan (Nigro) really helped me bring them back to life and believe in them again.

AP: I wonder about a song like “Casual,” how it tackles the sometimes embarrassing and always frustrating experience of being in a “situationship” (a relationship that has not been defined).

ROAN: I just felt very different from the person I was dating. My friend said they were talking about our relationship and how they broke it off and said it wasn’t that big deal because it’s casual and it wasn’t casual for me. Like, at all. I had created this entire nonexistent relationship. Like, I dreamed of meeting their friends and maybe having an apartment together, all this crazy shit. Not chill girl vibes. When I heard them say it was casual, it was this explosion of betrayal feelings inside of me. Even though they totally had the right to say its casual.

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AP: There’s a kind of unrelenting openness to queerness and sexuality on this album — and it’s belted, not whispered, or meek.

ROAN: The reality is that I’m not like that at all. I’m really uncomfortable by sex scenes in movies, or when people flirt with me. Chappell as a drag queen — I can express that version of me. But that is definitely not what I am regularly. The songs kind of give me the opportunity to act like that, and say that, and dress like that. It’s mainly to piss off — it’s all a rebellion. That’s what it is. It is very empowering, I think, for a lot of people. … It’s just not as empowering to me as it is living out a fantasy. Very strange.

AP: And you have a very unique vocal tone — did you do musical theater growing up? Where does that come from?

ROAN: When I was younger, I really loved Karen Carpenter and I really wanted to emulate her. And then, I really love Stevie Nicks, her gravel and the vibrato she brought. And then I tried to mix the two. And then I had this really weird accent that I got rid of when I moved to LA and then I just really leaned into my yodel. I was never properly trained in yodel or even vocally. I took my first vocal lesson, legitimate vocal lesson, in December.

AP: That’s hard to believe! Also, I saw that you’re helping fans who can’t afford tickets to your shows. What’s the idea there?

ROAN: I did a scholarship program at the beginning, when tour tickets went out, because I feel no one has money and I didn’t want queer kids in the Midwest who can’t afford to join the safe space for them (to miss out), just because they don’t make enough. Or their parents don’t make enough or whatever. So, I just know how that feels. I know that a concert ticket means, sometimes, multiple meals and a lot of gas. And like, I’ve been there. … I just think it’s important because it’s like, well, who cares about throwing a great show if the people who need it most can’t be there.