For grandson, music is more than an artform. It’s his way of communicating the endless anxieties, fears, epiphanies and questions swirling in his mind, burdened with an overwhelming responsibility to ‘do the right thing’. Using this moniker to anonymise himself, alternative singer/songwriter Jordan Benjamin has struck a chord with millions of fans, who he affectionately calls ‘grandkids’.
Born in America but raised in Toronto, Canada, grandson has resided in Los Angeles for six years, since the video of his first ever performance was discovered. He was brought up in a progressive and musical household, heavily influenced by his older sisters’ unconventional opinions and his parents’ artistic endeavours. Listening to everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Bill Withers, grandson emerges at the confluence of rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop and electronic music, keen to “recontextualize” rock music today.
This non-conformist sound, which grandson describes as “cathartic, confrontational and a little confusing”, is a direct projection of the ongoing inner conflict with his identity. This vulnerability has engaged a loyal and global fanbase, and his relationship to them guides many artistic choices, “I remember meeting some of the first grandkids and realizing how many people rely on music to be understood like I do.”
grandson’s activism also lives outside of his music, as founder of XX Resistance Fund, a charity that “amplifies the voices of activists who might not otherwise have as large a platform.” The fund has previously raised tens of thousands of dollars while elevating awareness on issues such as gun violence. grandson is now partnering with Defeat By Tweet, mainly working with marginalized communities in swing states, which is a key cause ahead of the US presidential election.
grandson’s most commercially successful single, ‘Blood // Water’ (2017) currently has over 182 million Spotify streams, is Platinum in Canada and Gold in the US. From here, he released the Modern Tragedy EP Trilogy (2018-2019) and has since collaborated with artists such as Dillon Francis, K.Flay, KennyHoopla and Oliver Tree.
Now, grandson is ready to release his debut album, Death of an Optimist, “It was written in tears, it was recorded shaking with anger and fear.” This body of work conflates personal anxieties with political realities, “I spent a while trying to articulate this tension between my hope for the future, and the challenges we face.” As the protagonist, grandson simultaneously explores the dark underbelly of his unrelenting optimism for change, by creating an antagonist, X.
Always planned as a 2020 release, the vast uncertainty provoked by the global pandemic only reassured grandson that the time was right, “My goal has always been to deflect the attention from myself onto the audience, and realize that within you exists this narrator in the middle of the story.” An ambitious project, grandson delivers a subtle A-side/B-side structure totalling twelve tracks, following grandson and X’s duelling world views.
The project brings together a handful of producers including Krupa and his long-time musical partner, Boonn, who he credits as pivotal to his career.
The first single released from Death of an Optimist is ‘Identity’. grandson collaborated with eponymous hip hop producer and engineer Andrew Dawson, and completed most of it in one night, “I wanted to…give this anxiety I feel about the state of the world, and about my inability to feel I’m making any real tangible difference, more context and gravity.” The refrain, “I’m still trying to find my identity”, explodes in and out of heavy guitar and drums, making it impossible to escape the cave of emotion that grandson has delicately created for this conceptual listening experience.
The second single, ‘Riptide’, falls into the latter half of the album, espousing the darker voice of X. Co-written and co-produced with Mike Shinoda of Linkin’ Park (their second collaboration), he adds an unmistakable tinge of nostalgia. The title is an effective metaphor to describe the pessimistic and depressive tone of X, who almost reveals a “sliver of doubt in himself.”
The third and latest single, ‘Dirty’, is a noticeable shift in tone. Drawing on more soulful influences of Outkast and Amy Winehouse, ‘Dirty’ includes a catchy chorus and brass instruments, reminiscent of ska, with the lyrics demonstrating the power of individual agency. “If you don’t have the strength within yourself, look to the person next to you to find that motivation to get involved.”
‘Drop Dead’ is the penultimate track, and finds grandson working alongside Travis Barker of Blink-182 for the first time. Describing him as “really cool and easy to work with”, grandson quickly quashed his internal insecurities of creating as a peer with a childhood idol. The song nods to the “optimistic sarcasm” and chord progressions of Blink-182, without being an echo. A crucial track inspired by fan stories, grandson shines a glint of hope through the chasm of pointlessness that X cracks open.
The album ends with ‘Paradise’, planted as a cliffhanger and deliberately making it unclear if grandson is dreaming, given the phrase, “Welcome to paradise.” Whether grandson or X is victorious is up to the audience.
Through DOAO, grandson delivers an overwhelming urgency to do something, “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.” Showcasing a conflicted soul for intense scrutiny has the benefit of not dictating what is right or wrong. It just shows that we’re in this together.