Scrolling through social media these days, it seems like everyone has something to say about millenials. They’re lazy; they’re overwhelmed; they’re more connected than ever; they’re isolated and lonely—the list of paradoxes goes on and on. Twenty-seven-year-old British pop singer-songwriter Dan Croll just wants to talk to them. On his new album Emerging Adulthood (it shares its title with a book by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, “the originator of the theory of emerging adulthood”), Croll dives into how the internet has rewired our circuits and how easy it is to feel adrift in the cacophony—not that he has all the answers. With its mix up of bubble-gum pop, darker rock and playful electronics, it’s the perfect soundtrack to a quarter-life crisis.
At once brash and vulnerable, the bespectacled Croll describes his own sound best when he calls it “pop music, but with honesty and real, personal issues.” He can seamlessly blend new-wave guitars and gooey harmonies, as on the jumpy “One of Us.” On “Bad Boy,” he gets heavy, imploring a trapped listener to just relax. “Stuck in a city unable to travel / you want your head to unravel and a feel a loosening of the chains you feel / society has placed on the path it chose ahead of you.” But the synth sheen, big ‘80s beat and Croll’s soaring falsetto give it all the sweetness you need to make it through.
“There’s this generation that have been born and brought up on social media,” Croll said recently. “I feel like my fans always feel like they’re missing out or that they’re not leading exciting enough lives because they’re always looking at someone else’s on a screen. I think that’s quite sad, and I have a duty as a musician with a decent fan base to be there for them. Now more than ever there are going to be more people dealing with anxiety and occasionally depression. Nothing is ever so bad that it can’t be fixed. It’s about telling people that and being there for them.”
“Nothing is ever so bad that it can’t be fixed. It’s about telling people that and being there for them.”
Croll is no stranger to forks in the road. Once an aspiring professional rugby player, a broken leg brought his dreams to a screeching halt and forced him to look elsewhere for direction. It was only then that he embraced his love for music and managed to reinvent himself. But even after his debut album, 2014’s Sweet Disarray, found some success with its synth-driven hooks and tight harmonies, Croll wasn’t sure he could stick with the grind of writing music, recording and then going back out on the road.
“There were obviously a lot of great things that happened with that album, but also the music industry is a really tough and quite brutal place at times,” he said. “It made me think whether I wanted to go through all of that again. That’s what this second album is about, really, me assessing what is going on in my life—the positives, the negatives, what I want to do, the opportunities to take, and all of that.”
When Croll finally headed back into the studio, where he would spend six months carefully crafting new tracks, he was acutely aware of the expectations and pressures facing him. Perhaps to his advantage, the most pressure was self-imposed. “I really wanted to push myself to see if I could do what I did the first time, but in a more professional way,” he said. “Six months to write it. Two months to record it. I also wanted to play all of the instruments on it. Because of my sporting background, I need goals. I’m quite competitive, and I’m very competitive with myself. I needed to set myself a challenge to do this.”
Eager to help others find direction or just keep their heads above water, Croll also began posting about mental-health awareness and his experiences with anxiety and depression on social media. From there, he got the idea for the Dial Dan line, a “hotline” number that he posted this spring allowing anyone, anywhere in the world, to call him up for a period of seven days.
“It started out as a bit of fun, and then you realize that actually there are a lot of people that just want to escape their jobs for even 10 minutes,” he said. “They want to talk about what their real passion is, or they want to vent frustration about exams and teachers and mom and dad. Basically, it was just a lot of teenagers who wanted to speak to someone else other than their teacher or their mom and dad. I think it’s really important to have that person.”
Croll’s one rule—that he couldn’t hang up—led to a range of conversations, some as brief as surface-level “hellos” and “how are yous,” others lasting over an hour. One long call, he said, ultimately led the caller to a realization about her sexuality. “We’d been on the phone long enough that we’d both forgotten that the other was there,” he said.
Have something to get off of your chest? Stay tuned to Croll’s social media for the chance to talk through it with him during the next round of Dial Dan.