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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

Care for some wholesome tunes? Rex Orange County’s “WHO CARES?” will give you just that

With amazing post-production quality and relatable lyrics, Rex Orange County’s new album is what you need “to feel all the feels.”
Who cares? We do! About Rex Orange County’s latest album release, “WHO CARES?”

Spring break is (unfortunately) over and most of us are left with memories, perhaps some new friends and hopefully a relaxing experience. For Alex O’Connor, also known as Rex Orange County, his “spring break” (a road trip from London to Amsterdam) resulted in his fourth album, “WHO CARES?”, released March 11. 

This album is aligned with Rex Orange County’s previous style: sweet and mellow, a perfect blend of pop, R&B, electronic and jazz. Every song in the album is worth listening to, with each providing some unique musical element while demonstrating the ups and downs in the life of a young adult. 

The album’s first single “KEEP IT UP” is the most personal to Alex and the source of his inspiration for the album. According to Apple Music, the song came into being in the midst of lockdown in 2020. Feeling trapped and in need of a change of scene, Alex drove to Amsterdam and spent a few days with his friend Benny Sings (who he collaborated with in the production of his first widely popular song “Loving Is Easy”). As the title of the song suggests, Alex positions this song to be an affirmation both for himself and for his audience, that we still need to “keep it up and go on.”

The song indeed rejuvenated him and motivated him to spend another 10 days in Amsterdam later that year to complete this masterpiece of an album. 

Another notable song of the album is “OPEN A WINDOW,” featuring the iconic indie artist Tyler, the Creator. The two artists previously collaborated on Tyler’s Grammy nominee album “Flower Boy.”  In fact, Alex’s first major breakthrough in his career came from his voice being featured on the “Flower Boy” track, “Boredom.” Similar to “KEEP IT UP,” “OPEN A WINDOW” is about seeking a breathing space, to break free from the stressful situations we seem to be stuck in. 

In this album, you have some upbeat, bedroom pop tracks like “AMAZING” and “WHO CARES?”, extending the general positive message. On the other hand, modern jazz’s influence on Alex is manifested in “SHOOT ME DOWN” and “ONE IN A MILLION,” both of which make good use of the simplicity of piano instrumental and Alex’s characteristic nasal voice. Continuing his exploration across traditional music genres, “WORTH IT” and “MAKING TIME” incorporate elements of a majestic string section, making Alex’s style truly unique in current mainstream music. 

Beyond catchy melodies and beautiful musical presentation, each song’s lyrics deeply resonate with young adults thinking introspectively. One of my personal favorites in this album is “7AM.” Starting off with instrumental sounds of piano, then adding the string section and groovy baseline, the song transitions from lightheartedness to a culmination of deep pondering, and returns to a tranquil end. 

Accordingly, the lyrics begin with a brief description of an ordinary morning for Alex: “7AM, I’m waking up / Guess that I should have kept the curtains shut,” and then goes into his anticipation of the day though with some level of doubt for the self: “I know that I wanna be independent / I really wanna prove myself today / But what if I’m hopeless and dependent? / Once again, should I pack up or should I stay?” 

Being the successful artist that he is, Alex‘s candid depiction of his worries that he may not be “cut out for this” was quite surprising. At the same time, these lines touch upon the similar emotions and self-consciousness we all feel as we navigate through the world without knowing what our future may be. When singing along with Alex’s song, you may feel like you are singing about your own life. 

While being consistent with his personal style, this album shows major growth since his last album “Pony” in 2019. Alex has allowed his creative expression to roam and does not seem to fear breaking the formulaic structure of pop songs. For instance, “MAKING TIME” has all but 6 repeating lines throughout the song, but the intricate progression of this two-minute-long track charms listeners to hit replay over and over. The animation attached to the song fittingly captures the circular nature of the track as well. 

Having followed Rex Orange County since his first album “Apricot Princess,” it is safe to say that my investment in his music has not waned following this new release. Critics have been predominantly positive about the album (with occasional remarks of it being monotone and “unvarying” in emotional conveyance). 

For me, it has yet to replace “Pony” in my heart, since I spent so much time playing the previous album on repeat and created so many memories from my listening experience. I’m sure given more time and letting it sink in, I will come to love “WHO CARES?” with the same profundity. 

On the day of release, Alex also revealed that “there is a whole other side” beyond “WHO CARES?”, potentially hinting at another album to be released very soon. 

In May, his US tour will also come to Nashville, bringing uplifting music and good vibes only.

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About the Contributor
Sandra Ye, Graphics Staffer
Sandra Xinyu Ye ('24) is a student in Peabody College majoring in Cognitive Studies and planning to double major in Communication of Science and Technology. She is open to any music recommendations and has a lot to say about the dearth of decent Asian food in Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
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