It was like a declaration: against a glaring white background on a mid-sized stage, before a crowd of no more than a couple hundred, attended by the faded purple hue of the venue and the faint smell of booze… The name Greyson Chance in thick, black print sits squarely in the middle of the projection wall. A horizontal line runs through both his first and last names, slicing the words in half, denoting the before and the after, the past and the present, like an avatar of the divided self. This was Swedish American Hall, San Francisco, May of 2016. This was four years after Chance was dropped from his record label.
Greyson Chance’s initial rise to stardom is one we are all familiar with: at thirteen, he performed a heart-rending cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” at his school’s talent show, and a video of the performance became viral on YouTube. It later landed him a spot on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Dressed in a green-and-white polo shirt, with an unaffected demeanor, a charming streak, and indisputable vocal prowess, Chance reenacted the performance on the talk show and inspired Ellen to launch a record label, eleveneleven, just to sign him on as an artist. Thrust into studios, interviews, live sessions, Chance was poised to become the next teen pop sensation — until the release of his first full-length album, Hold on ‘Til the Night, fell south of commercial expectations. While working on his second record, Chance was dropped from his label. His manager followed suit.
From living in fame to having his hands tied behind his back, and, in his own words during an interview with Fuse, with “a chip on [his] shoulder,” Chance was at a standoff. Where to go from here? It would be easy to call it quits, reminisce his time in the limelight and move on. Been there, done that. It was a good run after all. But Chance was first and foremost a musician, be it on live television or in his suburban Oklahoma home, and he persisted. Not with the rush and abandon of his youth, pulled alongside by an industry giant, but with a gradual search of identity, a cascade of raw lyricism on romance, loneliness, change. The stuff of life. After a two-year hiatus, Chance began anew.
In 2014, Chance signaled his return with the announcement of his sophomore album, Planet X, previewed by the release of several new tracks: “Thrilla in Manila” is a startling piece, playing with erratic, hurrying beats, straddling the alternative and funk; on the other hand, “Temptation” is a meandering ballad, bearing passing resemblance to “Speechless” by Lady Gaga. The two tracks are jarring in conjunction, albeit compelling on their own. It seems that while Chance plunged into writing music with devotion, hoping to redefine his image without losing traction, his musical style was still in soft-focus. Ultimately, Chance cancelled production of the premature album, instead announcing an EP to be released two years later.
The EP, Somewhere Over My Head, was released in 2016, and it became the powerful statement Chance needed on his reemergence into the music scene — as a singer-songwriter, an instrumentalist, and, most importantly, an unabashedly confused, lost, and growing teenager. A short yet deftly composed repertoire, the EP forms a coherent whole that not only showcases Chance’s vocal range and lyrical abilities, but also ruminates on the process of growing up. “Hit & Run” and “More Than Me” are about the simultaneous unwillingness to settle, being “too young for that lifestyle,” and the hollowness in not finding what one is looking for, always “[wanting] more,” as exemplified in the title of the EP. And Chance doesn’t just talk about his own experiences — his lyrics come to typify the voice of a generation, of a “you” who want to “continuously find a new passion,” to “take the chance and explore.”
A little over a month ago, Chance released his newest single, “Low.” In his words, it is “perhaps one of the most personal records” he has written, and we sure feel the same way. While Chance again speaks of feeling lost, more so than ever before, he also writes that, “I think I’m ready to hear I love you,” echoing an earlier lyric from Somewhere Over My Head, “Don’t tell me you love me when I don’t.” It’s far from a reverberating, exultant track that marks the beginning of a revolution, nor is it an excessively mournful and maudlin confession. His words are simple, repetitive, and emphatic. They are stripped of the histrionics. They are past the noise and fanfare. It’s a song that shows Chance as a kindred spirit who has finally “found [his] balance,” a singer-songwriter who will tell you the way it is, an artist who will continue to make music on his own terms. With over one million streams on Spotify, “Low” might bring Chance a new wave of opportunities. But even if it doesn’t, he’s still “got things…left unsaid.”