I usually open my articles with some witty anecdote or soundbite that leads into the meat of the story. A clever pun. A summative quote. It typically comes to me easily, but this time, I struggled writing my intro. Not because the artist is boring, or the material is convoluted, or I don’t relate—quite the opposite. I struggled to find an opening because I understand so clearly the emotional push-pull grandson has captured in his art that writing this piece made me feel exposed—like I was explaining my own inner turmoil this past year rather than his. And perhaps that’s why grandson is an artist that should be on your radar if he isn’t already—for his ability to be raw, and real, and relatable, and to address activism without all the bluster you get from other entertainers. That, and his genre-bending music is addictive as hell.
With three EPs under his belt, the ambitious Modern Tragedy series, grandson made his major label debut in December 2020 with his concept album Death of an Optimist that centers around hope for the future plagued by doubt. Relatable, right?
As grandson explains it: “It’s about my personal dilemma of whether or not to keep fighting. It really represents my own personal crossroads on if I can continue to preach agency and change in a time where there is so much fear-mongering and doom scrolling to suggest it could all be for nothing, ultimately.”
This dilemma is manifested by not only grandson’s lyrics, but by the personas that bring the words to life in the accompanying art and music videos for the album. There is grandson, the optimistic protagonist of the album, and X, the antagonist casting shade at every turn. You can feel the anxiety and fear X’s mere presence creates as very real questions like “Is it… time to raise hell or walk on by?” are explored on songs like the single, “Dirty.” What makes the conflict all the more compelling is the protagonist and antagonist are both played by grandson, lending complexity to the song “Identity” where it is clear grandson—like so many of us—doesn’t really know who he is right now in this strange world.
“After the hardest year of our lives, it’s time to confront the reflection staring back at you, because only in doing so can you know who you truly are,” states grandson.
So, who will win between grandson and X? Who is he, and how does it end? For the sake of his fans (affectionately called grandkids) and our society, I want to see grandson triumph over X so he doesn’t give up the fight. As the founder of the XX Resistance Fund, a charity that “amplifies the voices of activists who might not otherwise have as large a platform,” grandson has raised tens of thousands of dollars to elevate awareness of gun violence and to work with marginalized communities in swing states. The list of issues the XX Resistance supports goes beyond these two areas and their reach can only grow. With tangible results, it’s hard to believe grandson could feel like this and his words are for nothing, but isn’t that how we all feel sometimes when we’re trying to affect change on problems so much bigger than ourselves?
And that brings things full circle. When you live in times as crazy as ours, it is easy to teeter between bright optimism and crippling pessimism. What Death of an Optimist reminded me is that I’m not the only one questioning, “Is it time to speak up or time for silence?” as I watch myself and the world battle its demons. We just all need to work to keep X in check as best we can if we want to win.