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Not Just ‘Luck’: Why Queer Pop Star Chappell Roan Broke Through to the Hot 100, And Why It Matters

How did an oddball pop song versed in queer theory get on the Billboard Hot 100? Specifically, how did Chappell Roan, a rising lesbian pop star, get on the Hot 100 for the first time and break the “gay famous” ceiling (as SNL puts it) seemingly preventing likeminded acts MUNA and Girl in Red from crossing over to the main chart?

With nearly seven million streams in its first week and a stint in the Spotify Top 10, Chappell Roan’s spry new single “Good Luck, Babe!” has the makings of a runaway hit – No. 77 may not seem like a particularly impressive debut if you’re an A-lister, but for someone who’s been in and out of the major label system for almost a decade, it’s a noteworthy, well-deserved breakthrough. It helps when you have a touring slot with Olivia Rodigo, a cannily timed Tiny Desk concert, and a Coachella performance that, unlike a certain other Coachella set, went viral for the right reasons. In the midst of this, maybe any new song from her would have charted, but it matters that “Good Luck, Babe” is the one that did, and the one that may continue rising even further next week as her upward trajectory continues.

To understand how we got here, it’s important to know Roan’s perilous journey, encompassing all big three major labels. Born in Missouri and raised in a conservative Christian household, she was signed to Warner’s Atlantic Records and positioned as the next Lorde after a video of her 2017 single “Die Young” went viral, and moved to L.A. to pursue her pop career. When “Pink Pony Club” came out in April 2020, Atlantic didn’t know what to do with an off-kilter gay club song in the middle of lockdown, and promptly dropped her. 

After a brief stint back home, she moved back to L.A., releasing her next few singles through Sony’s indie distribution arm AWAL. It’s here where she further developed her long-term partnership with “Pink Pony Club” producer Dan Nigro (then blowing up from his work with Olivia Rodrigo), who produced singles like 2022’s ebullient sexual awakening anthem “Naked in Manhattan.” Nigro ultimately signed Roan to his Amusement Records imprint in 2023, with an Island Records contract shortly following. Up until last summer, she was still working at her old sleepaway camp, teaching songwriting while living a double life as a pop star influenced by drag; Roan frequently compares herself to Hannah Montana because of this duality. 

It wasn’t until her Island-released debut last year, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, that Roan emerged fully formed. She immediately gained a following among the kinds of pop superfans who champion Rina Sawayama and Caroline Polachek – neither of whom have charted on the Hot 100, but both of whom have successful careers anyway. What set Roan apart was how unapologetically fun and silly her music was; there’s not another pop musician right now on any level of fame that will open an album with a song called “Femininomenon” and include the line “get it hot like Papa John” in the chorus. Her lyrics were frank about her sexuality, particularly in a viral line from Midwest Princess song “Red Wine Supernova”: “I heard you like magic? I got a Wand and a Rabbit!” Yet there’s also a goofy down-to-earth quality – in the same song, she cheekily boasts about her twin-sized bed and her roommates, who cheerfully interject “don’t worry, we’re cool!” 

Roan’s mischievous theatricality made her an apt fit to open Olivia Rodrigo’s Guts tour; the two don’t just share a producer but a bratty spirit. From there, her momentum picked up, culminating in a Tiny Desk concert and an acclaimed performance at Coachella. With Spotify streams steadily increasing, the end of her trek with Rodrigo was the best possible time to drop a new song, but an unlikely one for a relative risk like “Good Luck, Babe.” 

What makes “Babe” fascinating is that it’s hard to place; online pundits have compared it to Kate Bush, Wham!, and recent alt-rock crossovers The Last Dinner Party. With its slower tempo and straightforward arrangement, it’s closer to the lo-fi alt-pop charters like Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit” or even Clairo’s “Sofia” than Roan’s usual music. But the best comparison might be Cyndi Lauper; it’s the big voice, the big hair, and of course, the big choruses. Lauper didn’t have a more mature midtempo song until “Time After Time” was a last minute addition to her debut She’s So Unusual, and that became her first Hot 100 No. 1. While it announces a “new chapter” for Roan, (and while Lauper already had a massive hit with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”), “Good Luck Babe” functions similarly for Roan, showing a previously unseen depth to her sound.

The actual content of the song finds Roan breaking up with a girl not ready to come out. Written quickly in a fit of rage, the song follows Roan warning this girl that she’ll be unhappy if she denies her own emotions: “you have to stop the world just to stop the feeling,” she sings. Her, Nigro and ultra-successful queer songwriter Justin Tranter then spent months hammering away at the song, even if it’s hard to tell from a cursory listen. It’s noticeably lighter on its feet than the maximalism of Midwest Princess; the percussion is limited to a drum machine, and there are no gang vocals or cheerleader chants. In the past, Roan might have been swallowed up by Dan Nigro and company’s production, but here she has room to breathe and gets to show off her impressive falsetto in the chorus. It’s that accessible quality that might have allowed “Babe” to better connect with listeners.

It’s not just a culmination for Roan, but a mainstream moment for a concept mostly known to queer theorists and Tumblr addicts up to this point. Compulsory heterosexuality, coined in 1980 by Adrienne Rich, is a term describing the societal imposition of heterosexuality on women. Online sapphics of a certain age might know the concept because a Google Doc circulated for those questioning their orientation; the infamous “‘lesbian’ masterdoc, which fellow queer icons Kehlani and Renee Rapp have alluded to in interviews. Those themes become vital to understanding “Good Luck Babe”, where Roan is a casualty of her ex lover’s comphet, and knows the other person isn’t happy: “You can kiss a hundred boys in bars/ Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling.” 

Rapp’s own Tranter co-write “Pretty Girls” mines similar territory for laughs (“Yeah, that bitch is gay”, Rapp quips at the end), but Roan’s is mired in a sincere grief and worry for the other person. Most of the song is closer to tough love than an outright diss, making it easy to be in both people’s shoes — the jilted lover, and the scared, closeted ex. Roan even tweeted “good luck, bitch” at an image of her past, pre-drag self, alluding to her own history with overcoming comphet. She said herself last year that though she was dating a woman, she was too scared to kiss that woman in public. 

That’s not to say the song is wholly gentle: the bridge depicts her ex in a loveless, empty marriage to a man, “nothing more than his wife.” At the end of the bridge, Roan roars “I told you so,” and it’s the rawest moment in anything she’s released so far. “Babe” comes into the world in the midst of both increasing acceptance of LGBTQ people and a severe anti-LGBTQ backlash; it’s hard to blame someone for being too scared to come out, and behind the lyrics about this “sexually explicit love affair,” Roan clearly knows it. She’s not gloating at that ex, she’s angry at the ex not taking the leap with her, while understanding how it feels to hide in the closet. After a series of frothy pop songs, embracing more complex emotions might have been the push she needed all along. She wouldn’t be the first person in recent years to hit it big by getting messy — there’s a reason she’s opening for Olivia Rodrigo, after all. 

Due to UMG’s TikTok feud, there’s no official sound clip available on the app, but like songs by some UMG contemporaries, the song is going viral anyway: true to its message, “Babe” is persevering through any external forces that may impact it. With her recent success, Island is positioning Roan not as a cult fave, but as a pop star, period. Tellingly, Roan currently has multiple songs scaling Spotify’s Daily Top Songs USA chart – with “Supernova” even climbing into the top 50 –  showing that this is not a fluke, but a full-on femininomenon phenomenon.

There’s a lot to learn from Roan’s success. She didn’t pander to TikTok or get lucky on Spotify algorithms (though TikTok obviously played a huge role), she just had a label that knew how to use her and a live show that sparked genuine word-of-mouth. The hardest part of the music industry at all levels is getting people to care about your music, and Roan has given audiences reasons to care – whether it’s the music, the over-the-top aesthetic, or the inspiring backstory of a woman from Missouri coming to terms with her identity. 

With “Good Luck, Babe”, those fans are finally being rewarded, but it’s bigger than just one great song by one promising artist. Along with Rapp and Victoria Monet, Roan leads a new class of young queer pop stars garnering fame without compromise, and it’s not a huge stretch to imagine this being the rising tide that finally gets their gay contemporaries the success they deserve. Not even stopping the world will stop them. 

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