Chappell Roan: Naked in the Subterranean

Arts Reporters Sofia and Lainey cover Chappell Roan’s Naked in North America Tour performance at the Subterranean.


Sofia Hrycyszyn and Lainey Gregory

Roan took hold of the microphone, slipping right into the lyrics.

By Sofia Hrycyszyn and Lainey Gregory

On March 5, we found ourselves pressed up against the stage at Chicago’s Subterranean, surrounded by a sea of pink fringed cowboy hats, devil horns, and lacy red tops, waiting for Chappell Roan, rising pop star and queer icon. The night’s theme was “My Kink is Karma,” named after Roan’s breakup anthem, and everyone had clearly seen the Instagram post with its example outfits. The crowd burst into cheers as high-heeled feet made their way down the spiral staircase which offered the only way on stage. A drag queen took the spotlight, decked out in a red-sequined bodysuit with matching cowgirl hat and gloves. “Now, how many of you have been to a drag show before?” she asked. Met with raised hands and a roar from the audience, she proclaimed, “y’all a bunch of LGBTs.” Gender Neutral Gena (“laugh, it’s funny,” she remarked as she introduced herself) ran through the rules of attending a drag show: be loud, be respectful, and tip well.

Gena stepped aside, letting another drag queen take center stage. Mia Dee Diamond had long loose hair and a pink jumper with heart cut-outs and a long tassel attached to the back. Flanked by two back-up dancers in white tanks, Diamond performed an energetically choreographed dance starting with “Diamonds” by Rihanna. Neutral Gena was next, sparkling under the stage lights in her sequins. Her act began with a remix of “Vogue” by Madonna. She opened by holding a pose, then hit a new one with each of the song’s repeated orders to “strike a pose” before transitioning into a dynamic dance. Finally, Nena Dee Diamond closed the show in a diamond-studded maroon dress with Britney Spears’s “Work Bitch.” Throughout the show, the audience sang along, cheered at the feats all three artists managed to pull in their stilettos, and threw balled-up bills at the stage. The trio was dynamic and energetic, setting the tone for a show where the crowd’s energy fed off the performers’ and ricocheted around the tiny venue.

A phone’s dial tone rang out. The audience shifted their attention to the spiral stairs. “Hi, it’s Chappell,” echoed around the room over an electronic pop beat. As soon as one of her white Skechers hit the stairs, the audience erupted. Roan took hold of the microphone, slipping right into the lyrics. Embodying “My Kink is Karma,” she wore a sleeveless one piece, dripping with red lace, over fishnet stockings. Bouncing back and forth across the stage, her loose mass of red hair keeping the beat, she barely paused to hold the long notes. “Naked in Manhattan,” the namesake of her tour, is about experimenting with girls. Somehow it manages to be both melancholy and upbeat. With its steady rhythm, catchy but complex lyrics, and vocals that range from rhythmic chants to incredible vocalizations, “Naked in Manhattan” captures the essence of Chappell Roan.

The tone of the show shifted during “Love Me Anyway,” a heart-wrenching ballad whose undulating notes showcase the extent of her talent. The audience knew enough words to sing along but let Roan take over the hard parts. Like much of her recent work, the song has elements of sadness and pain, but the expression of those negative emotions through pop makes them enjoyable. Maintaining the calm energy, a recorded violin opened “Femininomenon.” After a few slow verses about bad boyfriends and heartbreak, Roan turned to her band for the lyric “um, can you play a song with a fucking beat?” (followed by motorcycle revving) which launched the song into a dynamic expression of feminine power.

With the audience riding the “Femininomenon” high, Roan moved into an unreleased song, “After Midnight,” which challenges her mom’s saying that “nothing good happens after midnight.” During her previous songs the voices of the crowd had risen up to mingle with Roan’s, but the crowd was silent during “After Midnight”, a song we were all experiencing for the first time. Next, Roan performed “Coffee,” a slow, sad breakup song, at center stage with accompaniment by guitarist Eliza Petrosyan. The track also being unreleased, we craned our necks to watch her mouth move, moving to the new music. As the song drew to a close, an object came flying on stage, causing Roan to scream. As she bent down to pick up the flowers, she laughed, “you’re only supposed to throw one rose, not the whole bouquet!”

Throwing on a cowboy hat, Roan took the energy back up with another unreleased song, “Red Wine Supernova,” which she called “a little country, y’all.” She paused to introduce her band with Aubrey Harris on the bass, Brit Bowman on drums, and Petrosyan on the guitar. From there, she moved into a cover of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” Before the number, she noted that singing the song made her mad, and her sharp movements around the stage reflected that emotion. With Roan’s high energy filling the venue again, the audience was itching for a couple more of her hits, but she had one more unreleased track. “I always wanted to be a cheerleader,” she explained, but because she never thought she was pretty or cool enough, she never tried it. She recently realized that she was always all of those things, so she decided to create her own cheer. After a couple minutes of “dance lessons” for the crowd, she started “Hot to Go,” with the audience already singing and dancing along.

It was then that she finally gave the crowd “Casual,” her most popular song on Spotify. With a slow, steady drum beat and lyrics that express the pain of unrequited love, “Casual” shouldn’t make people as excited as it does; even so, with Roan’s hair flying around on stage, the audience was anything but sad. Here, we were instructed to throw all the anger and sadness of a recent breakup into the next song. We knew what was next; on cue, we joined Roan in belting the words to “My Kink is Karma.” Roan bounced across the stage, the red hearts on her shoelaces bobbing, pausing to lean over the audience for the most important lyrics. As the song climaxed, Roan knelt on the ground in front of bassist Harris before jumping back up and facing the crowd.

“I’m not making my band walk up and down those stairs,” yelled Chappell. “So, this is the encore, bitches!” In an unusual move for an encore, Roan began with one of her gentler tracks, “California.” She sang of her journey as an artist, and the pain that comes with not having reached your dreams despite the sacrifice of moving away from home. Roan ended the show with her iconic hit “Pink Pony Club,” which originally brought her to fame. Starting with a piano flourish and soft vocals, the song gradually built. Seemingly drawing on her relationship with her own mother, it expressed a daughter’s need for freedom on her own terms, namely dancing at the Pink Pony Club. Despite the beautiful voice on her records, Chappell Roan is one of those rare artists whose vocals are even better live. We left the show as newly converted Chappell stans. Roan is a rising pop icon with limitless potential, who will undoubtedly become a household name.