Does Rex Orange County Want to Be Famous?

“I don't feel like fucking Beyonce. I'll be honest with you. I just feel like a lucky person that gets to do what I do.”
Rex Orange County
Photo by Alexandra Waespi

The small, sleepy village of Grayshott, in England’s South, is where Alex O’Connor - known better by his stage name Rex Orange County - first recorded his debut album ‘Bcos U Will Never B Free’. 

At the time he was a 17-year-old kid with a fascination for music, and the songs he recorded weren’t so much about getting him places as they were about quenching that interest. 


When recalling those moments, a certain tone of nostalgia pierces Rex’s voice. “I feel like the first time I ever put music out, no one was listening, right?” he tells VICE. “I didn't have to think so much about what anyone would think.”

“As soon as I started thinking about it, it just became painful for me. People might still be into it [the music], but the process is difficult. Sometimes you worry about how it's gonna come across.”

Lifted into the spotlight after fellow “music nerd” Tyler the Creator contacted him over email in 2017, Rex’s world expanded. With that expansion came the trials and tribulations of both being a public figure and going through the formative years of late-teenagehood while cast in the limelight. 

There was also a searing pressure to create.

It’s those shackles that Rex has tried to shake in his latest album Who Cares? - a fitting title given the state of his mentality during its creation.

“If I'm honest, I spent a long time worried about what other people were thinking. So it was the first time I was writing really freely and just not caring about what it sounded like or what people would think.”

The end result is a project similar to his first - a decision he says wasn’t conscious but now, looking back, is a possibility. “I was just making it for myself,” he says.

That’s not to say that his sophomore album Apricot Princess, and third, Pony, were lacking any sort of talent or emotion. Throughout his discography, Rex has been one of those generous songwriters that has worn his heart on his sleeve, allowing the world to look on as his quiet moments are revealed. There are no facades. 


It’s the reason for the millions of streams across his discography and one of the many traits that first attracted Tyler the Creator to his inbox.

“He emailed me directly to say that he liked the chords on ‘Bcos U Will Never B Free’,” says Rex. “He’s a nerd to music similar to what I am. So we could relate.”

Impressed by his repertoire of eclectic music knowledge, discussing artists from powerhouse vocalist Amy Whinehouse to Jazz-Pop Singer-songwriter Jamie Cullum, Tyler hit him up for a song. “Whatever you need,” Rex replied.

When describing his introduction to the music industry at such a young age, Rex sees it as “difficult” and “pretty weird”.

“You can imagine the kind of things that anyone goes through from 17 to 23 years-old. The things anyone naturally learns,” he says. “If you make mistakes, most people have privacy to do that.”

Though many people may not find his life relatable, Rex figures the trade-off comes through in the extremities of his highs and lows. 

“I honestly think that the more amazing shit that happens to me, the more I have to expect the bullshit times not being so good,” he says.

“I get to go play on stage and live the life I live, but then I'm probably gonna do some extra bullshit that I wouldn't have to deal with if I didn't get the amazing things. The scale’s extreme, but that's fine by me.”

For Rex, those highs usually amalgamate when he’s on stage - or at moments where he can see just how far his reach has gone. Whether that presents itself as being recognized on an off day in a small city like Omaha, Nebraska, or witnessing crazy reactions to his performances in Australia. 


One thing he doesn’t seem overly concerned about is the notion of fame. Does he like it? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is no. 

“If that's the byproduct of the thing that comes with getting to do this, it's cool. And there's parts that are great and there's parts of it that suck,” he says. “I don't feel like fucking Beyonce. I'll be honest with you. I just feel like a lucky person that gets to do what I do.”

“And every now and then, someone will be like “what's up Rex?” and I’m like that's funny, but that's it. I try to keep my feet on the ground.”

Meeting his own idols, or other artists that have reached the same heights, it’s the same frame of mind.

“You can idolise someone and when you meet them, whether it's amazing or not, you always realise that they're just another person,” he says, “And they just grew up and had a difficult time and fell over and learned to ride a bike like any other person”.

“Sometimes you’re like, ‘Wow, you were just as amazing as I’d hoped’ or you meet them and you’re like ‘Damn, well, fuck, maybe we don’t need to hang out again’.”

These pressures, as well as his ascension into the spotlight, have merged to form the beating heart of his latest album.

And while Rex says that he likes to leave his work up to interpretation, it’s all there for those who look hard enough.

Clearly, Rex is searching for an opportunity to be himself and go wherever he wants - physically or figuratively. He often thinks about a return to that small, sleepy village he started in, recording albums like he used to: A place just for him and his creations, without the kerfuffle of the world around.

“The bedroom I did the first album in still exists,” he says with a slight smile.

“I would love to do that super isolated and just lock in and see what happens.”

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