Okay, the two year anniversary was actually yesterday, but I had an ear infection and didn't feel like doing anything, so I'm calling this the anniversary weekend piece. Regardless, I wanted to jump at the chance to write about "Generation Why" because it's one of my favorite Conan Gray songs and one of my favorite songs in general. I don't think I've ever listened to a song and related to it on a generational front. Feelings, fears, and personal details can be passed along regardless of age, but the specificity of having someone close to your age, growing up in your exact version of the world, writing about those specific generational feelings from a lens you also see through is something else. "Generation Why" was a single off of Conan's Sunset Season EP and was written by Conan alone. If you have time, give the music video at the end of this post a watch and pay particularly attention to the news headlines because they are hilarious or just too real in a very morbid "wow the world is ending" way.
First off, I love that it's called "Generation Why" and the background vocals are a lot of "why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why" because that does define our generation well. We might be Gen Z (does that imply we're the last generation?), but generation why suits us so well because we can't stop questioning things. Questioning the status quo and being completely unwilling to settle for it defines so much of how we operate as a whole generation. While I never experienced any other generation as a teen, I would say we're some of the most politically engaged because we're so plugged in. The internet allows up to be extremely informed and to form our own opinions separate from what our families believe earlier in life because we can see what's happening for ourselves in real time. We also have the power to share our own thoughts and have a louder collective voice through these platforms. Also, there's more weight on whether we choose to engage or not. With the state of the country and the state of the climate, our survival is dependent on waking people up.
While the song encapsulates such a sweeping idea, putting out Conan's definition of our generation, it's grounded in personal stories and snatches of suburbia. The first verse opens with, "I was off/Keying cars parked on radium lawns/By suburbian moms". Already, this sets up such a grounded picture of this world. There's an action, a hint at the character, and the specific world that gets built through his word choice. There isn't any wasted space. Immediately, you're wondering why he's keying cars, and there's a hint of rebellion and mischief in that act. In the video, he writes "why" in the door. Then the detail of being on "radium" lawns. The world is decaying and falling apart. Climate change is an inescapable fear if you're a teen right now. This isn't the only reference to it in the song. Choosing "suburbian moms" instead of suburban moms is also a unique choice since suburbian isn't really used now. I suspect it was more of a sonic choice, but setting it all in the boredom of suburbia doubles down on many of his ideas. Also, the suburbs are sort of glorified for hanging on to the status quo, so it's a cool contrast.
In the second half, there's new action. "I called a friend/Let's meet at ten/Go wherever we want/Cause no one cares that we're gone". Again, the world keeps getting established. I feel like every generation claims to be the latch-key kids neglected by their parents and left to fend for themselves. Gen Z is defined by claims of helicopter parenting and coddling, but in the fast paced world, kids can be easy to be forgotten for so many reasons. I feel like that sneaking out, forgotten about nature is more inherently teen than it is generational.
The longer pre-chorus that comes next keeps up the pace of specific details that make the song more relatable. "This town don't got much to do/And you and I haven't got much to lose/Do you wanna ride in your room like we always do". Again, he leans into the boredom and dead end feelings of small towns. I also feel like on the whole, we feel like we don't have much to lose because the world feels so dark and apocalyptic leaning now, you might as well do and say what you want while you can. "Talk about how fast we grew/And all the big dreams that we won't pursue/Then get in your car and laugh til we both turn blue". I love these lines so much because I've been there. You wonder how you got so old, you muse about running out of time, and then you go laugh it off because what else are you going to do? I also think I latch onto these lines because we all start with big dreams. It's impossible not to, and then the world tells you to be more practical, that you'll never make it, until most people let go of what they wanted. The scary thing about growing up isn't being an adult, it's about being forced to let go of your dreams. Is there a way to overcome that?
This anthemic explosion of the chorus is extremely cathartic to scream along to, which is the main goal of all pop music, really. He switches gears from personal to into naming the universal experience head-on. "'Cause we are the helpless, selfish, one of a kind/Millenium kids, that all wanna die". These open lines take on the labels we've been given and the stats smacked on us. All the snowflake jokes are getting old, and they like to make us out to be "helpless" saying that we lack grit because we demand better. And "selfish" because we know what we're worth, and we care about ourselves and our futures. Then I feel like "one of a kind" almost goes with the selfish. To be uniquely yourself like our generation is, there's a bit of selfishness in not conforming. That's not a bad thing. Then he kicks into what those labels lead to, "that all wanna die". I don't think that this is necessarily a comment on all of us being suicidal and more of a comment on how morbid we all are. How we don't want to be a part of this mess. Also, there are plenty of articles out there calling us the most anxious, depressed generation, and I don't think they're wrong. He continues, "Walking in the street with no light inside our eyes/We are the worthless, cursed with too much time/We get into trouble and lose our minds/That's something that I've heard a million times in my life/Generation Why". Again, this second half gives a glimpse of reality and a critique of the labels. The "no light inside our eyes" hits hard because it's true. There's an element of crushing hope before we even get started. It matches well with the verse line "All the big dreams that we won't pursue". All of these feelings and consequences Conan names are true. How do you expect kids to turn out when we're constantly told we're "worthless" and will amount to nothing? It's amazing that such dark lyrics can be packaged into a bright, shining chorus that you want to sing along. And that feels very Gen Z.
Then we launch into the second verse. "Parents think, we're fast asleep/But as soon as we're home, we're sneaking out the window". There's an inclination to just live your life while it's happening. While the parents in the first verse didn't care, now there's an element that does acknowledge that there's a layer of deception in leaving the house. The second half of the verse is where it shines the most. "'Cause at this rate of earth decay/Our worlds ending at noon/Could we all just move to the moon?" These are some of my favorite lines in the song. It directly takes on climate change as well as Gen Z's acute awareness of it. When we're not trying to fix it, there's a fatalism that creeps in. Between the uptick of hurricanes and flooding and the wildfires that just won't stop and a government that refuses to do anything about it, we're all forced to recon with the idea that we might not have a planet as older adults. Or, at the very least, not a safe one. "Our worlds ending at noon" hits at it so well. We're still in the morning, but time is running out. Then there's a bit of a wink in "Could we all just move to the moon?" but there's a bit of seriousness as well. Let's escape this mess and run away just like we crawled out the window at home. But larger scale is hard to escape.
When the prechorus hits again, it's shorter. "This town don't got much to do/And you and I haven't got much to lose/So do you wanna leave everyone in this place for good?" This snappy version gets to the point. The whole song is about escape, really, and I relate to that a lot. I feel like I just keep running and running hoping that, at some point, I'll hit better. It also ties into escaping suburbia and the flaws that come with it.
In the bridge, the backing "why"s come back in full force interspersed with a couple lines that hit harder given everything that comes before them. "We're living' night to night/Since we're bound to die, oh/Oh what's the use in trying?/And that's exactly why" then he launches into the chorus. It's an explanation, almost, to everyone who wants to judge our choices. He doubles down on how we were handed a world that is working against us. How it's hard to function in the face of that. He's framing the chorus in a new light, and I love how most of the track drops out for the start of the first chorus that makes you sit with the uncomfortable reality of what he's saying. Conan manages to make an effective pop song and still create a moment where even the most casual listener must be struck with the message. And I think that's why I keep coming back to this song. To feel seen. To feel understood in my cynicism. And to remind myself that the entire mess can still be soundtracked by delicious synth-pop.
Conan has proven himself time and time again to be a truly great songwriter, and this song puts that on particular display because it's on a topic that is so open and unexplored. The balance of sweeping claims and grounded personal experience makes it function like the best essay. He knows how to tell a story. And, honestly, his talent has only grown. His sound has shifted as he's gotten older, but there's still that core layer that holds his perspective and gift for words that stays steady and sure
If you want to read more of my writing on Conan's music, I'll leave that all linked below, but I also encourage you to check out my YouTube video breaking down/reacting to all my favorite parts of Kid Krow. And if you haven't listened to Conan yet, you're absolutely missing out. Go listen and then let me know what you think. Find me on Instagram or Twitter @mslaurenbrice to tell me what you think.
Subscribe On YouTube