Culture Pick: ‘Who Cares’ cements Rex Orange County’s sound in the indie community

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Sarah Clifton, Contributing Writer

Three years after the release of his third full-length studio album, “Pony,” Alex O’Connor, better known as Rex Orange County, released his new album, “Who Cares?” on March 11. 

The album departs from his deeply introspective lyricism and settles into a new outlook of vulnerability and positivity set to his distinct sound.

The album is the U.K. singer-songwriter’s second under the major record label RCA Records and contains one feature with Tyler, the Creator on the second track, “Open a Window.”

The singular inclusion of this feature artist is a callback to Rex Orange County’s previous collaboration with Anna of the North and Tyler, the Creator on the track “Boredom” from Tyler’s 2017 album “Flower Boy.” In an interview with Vulture, the singer opened up about what Tyler’s influence means to him.

“[Tyler is] like a mentor for me,” O’Connor. “I remember once when I was struggling a lot to find inspiration, and was also very stressed about what other people were thinking … he gave me a lot of great advice. He’s always just been there in that sense.”

The album features a range of sounds signature to Rex Orange County’s previous work. Soaring, robust strings and piano melodies blend together to create a mix of moody, somber songs and upbeat, groovy tracks. 

“Who Cares?” departs from Rex Orange County’s previous album, “Pony,” which accrued praise for its introspective lyricism and earned the artist the moniker of “the world’s new favorite sad boy” in an article for 34th Street. 

The songs oscillate back and forth between standing on the precipice of self-doubt and taking an opportunity to love yourself and trust the love of others.

“Keep It Up” opens the album with a message of putting on a smile and persevering. 

Keep it up and go on, yeah, you’re only holding out for what you want,” O’Connor sings in the track. “I know that it’s so frustrating. It’s enough, keep it up.”

This sentiment of finding reassurance in being enough continues throughout the album, and sends a pointed message to the listener: You can choose how you see yourself and whether or not you let yourself feel the love of others.

“You don’t ever do no wrong to me, I wish that I could just say the same,” O’Connor sings on the track “One in a Million,” a harmonic love song. “But it’s okay, I’m trying to do whatever it takes to believe that I’m enough, and hope you agree.”

Some reviewers, such as Joey Perkins of The Lantern, criticized the album for its simplicity and “lackluster” moments, but the progression from “Pony” to “Who Cares?” shows a clear growth of artistic identity.

The singer has come a long way from his candid admission on the second track of “Pony,” in which he sings, “Until somebody sits me down and tells me that I’m different now, I’ll always be the way I always am,” and even further since the days of his 2016 single “Uno,” in which he sardonically admits, “I live with a voice that tends to tell me that I’m s— in my head, and well, maybe I should f— it and be happy instead.”

Rex Orange County has proved he knows who he is now, lyrically and sonically, and seeks to spread a message of learning to live with yourself. 

Questions? Email the culture desk at [email protected].