Caroline Rose Embraces the Anti-Heroine on ‘Superstar’

With much of pop culture embracing anti-hero and anti-heroine tropes, it makes sense that such sensibilities would make their way to the music world as well. 

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Singer-songwriter Caroline Rose, who enjoyed a breakthrough with Loner two years ago, creates an unforgettable protagonist in that mode on her new concept album, Superstar, which is part satire and part self-examination, but 100 percent compelling.

“When I watch films and read books, my favorite stories are the ones about people who are kind of fucked up,” Rose tells American Songwriter. “They just don’t have their shit together and have all sorts of problems and baggage. I just gravitate towards those characters. I love this idea of taking the worst parts of yourself and having that be the thing that everyone is looking at and noticing. ‘Cause to me, I feel like it speaks to people more.” 

Superstar features a character who takes off from humble beginnings in a quest for the big time, resembling at times a reality show contestant with no qualifications for being famous other than an overwhelming desire for it. Yet Rose is quick to point out that she also included parts of herself in this portrait.

“I think art is a good extension of a person’s life,” she says. “I wanted to make this an extension of my life on steroids. A long time ago, someone told me that the person that you put on stage is a version of that person with the spotlight on them, shining a spotlight on the things that the audience wants to see. I have interpreted that as I’m going to display these parts of myself on stage and on records that people might not want to see, but I need to fucking talk about.”

Rose tells these stories with shiny synthesizers and clanging beats mirroring the character’s optimism. Hopeful beginnings and promising romantic escapades give way to an inevitable decline, when the “Pipe Dreams” start to evaporate. This person – “I don’t want to gender the character,” Rose says – stomps all over the fine line between ambition and delusion, leaving a trail of carnage in their wake.

“They’re definitely unsympathetic,” Rose explains. “It’s the idea that when you have this dream and you’re so hyper-focused on becoming successful and becoming a star. And I wanted to show the negative side of following your dream. If someone doesn’t believe in you, you cut them out. Or if someone is holding you back, you leave them behind. 

“It doesn’t have to be romantic; it can be your family member, it could be your bandmates, it could be your agent. You start making these decisions with a different intention in mind and that intention is to improve yourself – improving yourself to the point where you’ve lost your foundation. You’ve become untethered to the things that made you who you were in the first place.”

Rose combines sly humor with sneaky pathos throughout the album. By the time you reach the closing track, “I Took A Ride,” you’re not sure whether there is triumph or heartbreak waiting for this would-be Superstar. But you can’t deny that it’s been a fascinating ride.

“Ultimately the way that I imagined it was this kind of fall of Icarus moment, where this person is flying, coursing up,” Rose says of the album’s trajectory. “And then at a certain point in the record, they fly a little too close to the sun and the rest is just falling back down to Earth.” 

Rose also likes the idea that each listener can form a unique interpretation of the outcome. 

“Each song takes you to that place where at the end you’re wondering if this person has gone mad or if they’re liberated,” she says.

Rose is an extremely self-contained artist, writing, producing, arranging and playing most of the instruments on Superstar. And she likes it that way; in fact, she hopes that she can do even more on her next project, getting involved more with the mixing aspect. 

“I like improving a little bit more each time I make something,” she says. “Making this record was like going to grad school whereas making Loner was like finishing college. I want to just get even better on the next one.”

Whatever comes next, Superstar will be a tough act to follow, and Rose says she’s still reflecting on her latest creation. 

“I think that the more I wrap my head around what I made, the more I realize that it parallels my life in a lot of ways,” she says. “This story is a microcosm of how I’m feeling right now. Feeling just on the edge of hopeless, but there is a tiny ounce of light that could mean something important. I think that’s generally the type of person that I am. Where does this road lead? This journey’s exciting, but it could end disastrously.”

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