Less than an hour after his latest album dropped on Spotify, Noah Kahan tweeted asking his fans what they thought.
“It’s been 30 mins what’s your fave lyric? Lol I’m so online rn I’m sorry,” he wrote.
Despite the short turnaround, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter got answers.
“I’m untethering from the parts of me you’d recognize, from charming to alarming in seconds,” one fan responded.
“It won’t be by your own volition / If you step foot outside this town,” another added to the thread of more than one thousand replies.
One of Kahan’s personal favorites?
“‘In love with being noticed, but afraid of being seen,’” he tells TODAY.com. “I feel that’s a really big part of my life for the past year. I’ve really enjoyed the attention of people knowing my music and hearing me and coming to see me. But I also am really scared of being exposed to be a fraud.”
The conversation demonstrates Kahan’s unique proximity to his extremely devoted audience.
I've really enjoyed the attention of people knowing my music and hearing me and coming to see me. But I also am really scared of being exposed to be a fraud."
They pore through his confessional lyrics for signs of his personal transformation, more like texts to annotate than folk-pop songs. They act out singles and rewrite them from other characters’ point of views.
“People really dissect this music,” he says. “It reminds me that I’m doing the right work by putting my heart into a lot of this stuff, because they’re feeling it ... it brings us closer.”
And to think: It all began with a snippet of a breakup song posted in 2020.
This viral, seconds-long tease of “Stick Season” was powerful enough to launch Kahan as an artist, following two studio albums. With "Stick Season," he was finally allowed to write the type of music that left him fulfilled and reach the audience he craved.
"The biggest conversation I've had this year is like, I feel like I've been wasting this opportunity," he tells TODAY.com. "I don't know if that's true — I don't think it is — but that's something I've been really worried about it."
How a modern rock star is born
Let's get the timeline of Noah Kahan's internet ascent down.
It didn't begin with his debut album, "Busyhead," in 2019, nor did it with his 2021 "I Was/I Am."
Instead, it began on TikTok in 2020, where "Stick Season" went viral. The full "Stick Season" album came out in 2022; a deluxe addition, with seven additional tracks, was released in June 2023 — and teased on TikTok first.
The trending song that fans were desperate to hear in full was called “Dial Drunk” — and the rollout paid off. “Dial Drunk” reached No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 June 24 — his first placement and the highest debut on that week's chart. On July 18, Kahan released another version of the song, featuring an additional verse written and performed by Post Malone. His video featuring that remix hit 3 million views in less than a day.
Kahan says his TikTok rollouts are also part of his relationship with his fans and, he admits, his “need for attention.” He also believes listeners are "desperate for anything new from artists."
“I want my fans to feel like they have an access to me that doesn’t feel manufactured or artificial."
When he teases songs, Kahan says he doesn’t set out to go viral. He just likes to know what fans think.
“I want my fans to feel like they have an access to me that doesn’t feel manufactured or artificial, and in doing that I like to let people in on the process,” he says. “Be as intimate with releases as I can for these fans.”
Kahan is still in a ‘stick season.’ What does that mean?
Kahan was in a “stick season” while making his 2022 album of the same name, and he says he’s still there. Fittingly, his deluxe album is titled "Stick Season (We'll All Be Here Forever)."
A “stick season” is a specific term native to Vermonters, referring to the period of time between Halloween and the first snow. The words Kahan uses to describe it are “gray,” “dreary” and “depressing.”
The song “Stick Season,” and eventually the album, represent how Kahan has felt about the last few years of his life.
“It speaks to change, it speaks to waiting for a better time,” he says.
Even though he's an inarguable success, he says he still feels like he’s in a stick season. “You don’t notice growth or change until later, I feel like that it’s hard to notice when it’s happening,” he says.
Though change in Kahan’s life is loud and clear — if you listen. "Stick Season" has a markedly different sound than his first two albums, which were more pop.
“I’d be going to these sessions in L.A. and New York, and I would just be so exhausted and burnt out by trying to make pop music that I would just go home and just write folk music on my own,” he says.
He specializes in the spirit of New England
His breakout song came after a “long day in the studio.” He wrote the entire album at his mom’s house, a process he describes as “raw” and “inspiring.”
“When I sit down to write a song, I try to think about how I want it to feel and try to be very honest with myself,” he says. “I kind of have to let myself get to a place of ... I don’t want to say sorrow, but just, very transparent honesty with myself.”
The song introduced a central theme to what would become his album: A small town like the one he's from — longing to leave it, missing it when you do, and all the nuanced feelings in between.
Born in Strafford, Vermont, Kahan says he grew up in “a nice town, with nice parents.” He’s been attending therapy since he was 9 years old, he says, and his interests have always included writing.
The result is lyrics that have people feeling like they’ve been read like a book — even if they’ve never even stepped foot in New England.
One of the most circulated song snippets comes from his song “Homesick,” released last year. In the track, he sings about wishing he could leave his town, feeling like he “will die in the house that I grew up in.”
“I would leave if only I could find a reason / I’m mean because I grew up in New England,” he sings in the chorus.
Basing a career on introspection and self-deprecation can take a toll, he says.
“Sometimes I’ll write, and I’ll be like, ‘Man, I can’t believe I’ve been feeling that for so long, and I’ve never dealt with it,’” he says.
“I don’t know how other people experience life. Maybe I’m just overblowing it, but I definitely feel like I’m always thinking about poetry and things and the meaning of things and how I fit,” he continues. “My thought process becomes my songs, and my songs really are just who I am.”
Getting real about mental health
After years as a working musician, Kahan has officially entered the mainstream. Fans are eager for any additional content they can get from the singer. Even just a sighting of him out in the wild — for example at Taylor Swift’s Denver concert July 15 — racked up more than 40 thousand likes and comments like, “omg I was in the same room as him???”
All the praise, he says, can get to his head — and it’s not always a good thing.
“With a lot of positive feedback, I can find myself getting lost in it a little bit and feeling like I’m trying to make music that fits what people think I am instead of who I want to be and who I know myself as,” he says.
This reached a head when making the deluxe version of “Stick Season.”
“It was hard to make another version of that without thinking about that attention,” he says of that time.
On May 2, months after the initial release of “Stick Season” and the promise of releasing a deluxe edition, Kahan shared a statement on TikTok explaining the delay. The 2022 album changed his life, he said, and the “moment that I had waited for my entire career was finally arriving for me.”
But “it didn’t all feel like success,” he wrote.
“My ego inflated and deflated drastically every day,” he said. “I would wake up feeling like I could conquer anything and would fall asleep feeling like it was all a big joke or a lie or a trick of the light making me think I deserved this all.”
After feeling “dulled creatively” by antidepressants, he said he “made the risky decision” to stop his medication. He lost 15 pounds and went back home, where he wrote the initial album, only to feel like a “tourist.”
Looking back, Kahan says what helped him overcome this was letting go of “self imposed expectation.”
“A lot of it was just being willing to accept that maybe it’s not going to be as good, or maybe it’s not going to be the same and understanding that it was never going to be the same thing,” he tells TODAY.com.
“I realized that I just had to stop putting so much pressure on myself and make whatever I could and not kill myself over it,” he adds.
He credits the help of his girlfriend, his mom and his sister with helping him let go of that pressure. Friends and band members also stepped in.
“These people, this is not the first time they’ve dealt with this,” he says. “I cycle through long periods of creative troubles because I’m so stressed out about the pressure. These people helped me get through it, and they remind me that I’ve done it before.”
He says he met with a therapist weekly, and that therapy is what he would have pursued if he hadn’t been a musician.
“My job is so self-focused — I try not to use the word self-centered — just very focused around myself and my life and people asking me how I’m doing and what I want to do. I feel like it feeds my ego sometimes really negatively,” he says.
In another life, he says he’d want to do something focused on helping other people figure out their own issues.
But based on the reaction from fans, he may already be doing that.
“I have cried every time this song has played. It tugs at my heart, strings in ways I can’t explain,” one fan commented on the official lyric video for “Dial Drunk” with Post Malone. “It reminds me of people of my past that I cared for no matter how hard they were on themselves. Hearing two of my favorite artists portray this makes it even harder.”
“This album (and likely the extension of the story it started) has put into words emotions I could never translate. Thank you,” one TikTok user commented on his account.
“Thank you for sharing of yourself because you have helped me to understand parts of myself that I thought were just broken or missing,” another added.
And finally, “Listening to your music is the therapy we all need.