After 39 seconds of scene-setting baritone, Greyson Chance flips the view: He jumps up to a much higher vocal register on the tender pre-chorus of his adventurous new song "Dancing Next to Me." If you haven't paid attention to the career of Chance — a prodigy who first hit viral fame in 2010 thanks to a Lady Gaga piano cover and a signal boost from Ellen DeGeneres — this will come as a wonderful surprise.
But if you pressed play on his silky, raw 2019 re-arrival album Portraits, a collection influenced by Frank Ocean and Bon Iver, you know what Chance's voice can do. On "Dancing Next to Me," its power is felt through the meticulous arrangements he handled himself, alongside producer and canny pop brain Teddy Geiger. By the time he sings the title of the song a minute in, you've already been taken for a ride.
"I don't know if we necessarily even thought about the change of tone," Chance told MTV News. "I think we just went with the vocal because it felt really good. I think we developed a mutual trust in that lane and my ability to know how to go in and create."
Like so many melodies in the digital age, "Dancing Next to Me" finds its origin in a voice note. Chance woke up one day and went straight to the piano, where he got the bones of the song together and recorded it. Later came Geiger; they connected in person and started working right away. "That was our first day, and that was the first time I met her, and that's what we started with." (Much like she did for Shawn Mendes on his more exploratory 2018 LP, Geiger is producing Chance's upcoming album in full.)
"She asked me about my relationship life and what's going on there," Chance said about working with Geiger. He opened up, and the lyrics took shape quickly after that. "The song is really a story about a sense of betrayal from somebody, a sense of them being so present with you in this moment and then when the sun is rising, they're just gone."
Portraits found Chance using he/him pronouns in love songs, likening a flame's classic look to Alex Turner's, and even dropping an ex's initials into a song. The 22-year-old wanted to continue that streak of honesty in his songwriting when he began work on his next album. "All of this shit happened to me," he said. Specifically, this shit: "I was really tired this summer of being people's experiments."
The narrative of the song makes this tension clear. Chance meets a guy, and they hit it off. They dance together, they kiss, and more. It's fireworks. But then, his partner bolts. The song's bridge makes the complications clear — as the beat drops out, Chance sings, "I was yours for the weekend, come sunrise it's time / For you to dodge your feelings, call your girl to deny."
"We were a bit nervous about that line," Chance admitted, saying he and Geiger fretted over the specificity of it and how it could be heard as "targeting somebody." Ultimately, he praised Geiger for her tenacity in pushing them to include it in the final version: "That's the difference between her and a lot of other people. She said, 'No, fuck it, let's keep this honest.'"
The "Dancing Next to Me" video spotlights that honesty as well, finding Chance and a would-be lover mingling on and off a dance floor. When he talked to MTV News about the song earlier this month, he'd just finished shooting the video, which ran late because of his own scrupulousness. "You'll be delighted to know that we were supposed to end around midnight, and of course my ass pushed on until 3:15 or 3:30 in the morning," he said. "I said, 'Oh, we need this shot. Oh, let's keep the light around.' It was all a mess, but in the best way possible."
Chance has gotten to flex more of his personality in his recent videos. In November 2019, he released "Boots," a fuzzed-out bop that found him bare-chested and bloodied in the desert, exhaling smoke and surrounded by a circle of trophies. It's the kind of energy he's brought to the entire recording process, an artistic vision inspired by the talismans he'd spy on visits back to his family home in Oklahoma.
"I had a huge obsession this past summer, and going into writing this record, with trophies," he said. "It can have gold and diamonds and platinum and whatever. It can be laced in the most beautiful things, but what's interesting is that it all depends on what's in fine print. You could have the biggest trophy, but at the end of the day, it still says 'Ninth-place runner up.'"
Chance likened this talk of "beautiful statues" to how he was sometimes viewed both on and off stage by people he was romantically entwined with: "They would come to my show, they would see me, and they would think I was this trophy, that I was always this object." What makes "Dancing Next to Me" a true moment for him is how it captures what's real: a narrative with stakes and actual people at the center of it.
Like Chance, those people can be flawed. That's the whole point of making these songs as honest as possible. "There are nights," he said, "where the fine print doesn't look so hot with me."