Courtesy of Spotify
These days, it’s difficult to run into a Case Western Reserve University student who isn’t going through an existential crisis. It appears that having a cynical perspective on modern romance and questioning my “purpose” in the world is not that original of a dilemma, and is rather a part of the universal college experience. It’s basically a rite of passage here. For those of us who struggle with crumbling self-esteem and have a sense of hopelessness about the state of this world, Rex Orange County delivers a paradoxically jaded but cheerful answer to the world—who cares?
Alex O’Connor, better known as Rex Orange County, recently released the effortlessly relatable album “WHO CARES?”, which follows the inevitable highs and lows of life, self-worth and romance. Although O’Connor graciously commented that the title was open to interpretation, it seems like a direct response to the negativity, stress and self-doubt touched upon in the album. Rather than centering on the adversity without any resolution or adopting a falsely optimistic outlook, O’Connor offers a difficult balance—who cares about the haters and detractors when you can chase your dreams?
The first track, “KEEP IT UP,” is an upbeat reminder to continue seeking what you want, despite the stress and exhaustion it may take. I will admit, the first time I listened to this song, the optimistic and supportive “keep it up!”s that leaked through the lyrics were difficult to listen to. But something about the constant reassurance throughout the song that “it’s enough,” along with the calm, simple way O’Connor recognizes our frustration with the world is comforting. Since so many moods of songs are either depressing or positive, O’Connor’s take is a refreshing way to create a compromise with our resentment towards the world’s failings and the encouragement to still pursue our passions.
“OPEN A WINDOW” is the next track, a mix of pop and R&B featuring Tyler, The Creator. The song centers around the desperation of needing to leave a toxic situation that O’Connor feels trapped in. Despite this, he remains positive that there exists “a way to get out,” hopeful that someone might come around to open a metaphorical door or window to provide an escape. Tyler’s distinctive flow mixes effortlessly with the R&B sensibilities, making it one of my favorite songs on the album.
The following few songs deal with the struggles of moving forward and accepting oneself. In “WORTH IT,” O’Connor wonders if anything’s “worth it anymore” after grieving the end of an important relationship. “AMAZING” reveals O’Connor’s love for another accompanied by melodic strings, but the relationship is troubled by his shame and anxiety over not meeting his lover’s expectations. Ironically, most of these songs have upbeat instrumentals and even simple lyrics, but the worries and fears that Rex addresses in each song are all too real and hit close to home. My personal favorite on the album, “ONE IN A MILLION,” describes how rare and kind O’Connor’s lover is, something to which he feels cannot compare to due to his past mistakes. Nevertheless, there is consolation in doing “whatever it takes to believe / That I’m enough and hope you agree.” O’Connor accepts that he may not be as perfect or good of a person as his lover, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to be enough, from taking a “who cares?” approach to overcoming an ugly past.
Unfortunately, the second half of the album was not particularly memorable to me. Each of the songs still touched upon the heavily relatable topics of questioning self-worth and feeling stuck, but none of them particularly stood out. Individually, each song was a nice listen, but the message seemed a bit repetitive overall, especially all in a row. “IF YOU WANT IT” recounts the obsessive worrying and needing to prove himself that damages a relationship, while “7AM” questions “what if I’m not cut out for this?”, which are both common themes throughout the album. Overall, the songs are each well-done, but their similarity causes them to lose depth and uniqueness.
So, my final thoughts on “WHO CARES?” I would consider the project amazing, but perhaps not terribly unique. Each song gives you just enough to feel motivated, but the message is not particularly profound or metaphorical. But maybe it doesn’t need to be. If you just need a bit of affirmation after a rough day or a happy little pop tune to help you forget your self-esteem’s dependence on academic validation, giving the album a listen would definitely be “worth it.”