Alex the Astronaut; Creating a Safe Space
By Zoe Elerby
Alex Lynn, also known as Alex the Astronaut is an Australian folk-pop singer who released her latest album “How to Grow a Sunflower Underwater” on July 22nd. At only 26 years old, Lynn has over 4 million listens on Spotify and has a committed following in the LGBTQ community world-wide. When writing this album, Alex released a number of songs as singles, one of them includes “Haircut”. Lynn released the music video for the song on June 15th, in the middle of Pride month, revealing a very personal story that many people in the LGBTQ community can relate to.
In LGBTQ culture, hair is a very big piece of history. It helps many break gender stereotypes and feel comfortable in their own skin. The concept of a haircut is very mundane but to queer people, it’s a very big deal. Since hair is a large part of an individual’s appearance and how others see them, it’s important for one to feel “right” with the hair style they choose. Lynn makes this very clear in the song and the music video:
“Since I cut my hair, I’ve been feeling so much better. It was more than that, now the mirror looks back and I feel like who I am supposed to be. Do you know that feeling?”
In the video, Lynn stands up as soon as the music starts with a towel around her chest and neck, holding a hand mirror. As she’s examining her new haircut, her friend ruffles her hair and they start to run around the yard, laughing and smiling. Its clear that this friend is supportive of Lynn and her choice to cut her hair short. Since the conception of Alex the Astronaut, Lynn has had long blond hair until the year 2020 when she shaved her head for charity.
Suddenly, Lynn’s queer experience took a slight shift. She talks about the concept of gender after shaving her head, giving “Haircut” a much deeper meaning. She currently has bleach blonde short hair,
which she sports in the album art of “How to Grow a Flower Underwater.”
In “Haircut”, the music is very much alive. From an excited drum beat, to enthusiastic acoustic guitar, the song captures joy in its sound. As Lynn looks in the mirror and is constantly fixing her hair, her friend always appears right next to her to ruffle her hair and hold her hand.
“I do feel a weight on me. Buying a men’s shirt there’s a shame, I’m still scared of the mean girls from year eight. It’s more than fabric, it’s more than thread.”
“Dive in, don’t think, this is our stage and we’ve made it. I’ll write “I'm not a boy or a girl, I’m still filling that in.”
These lyrics are paired with Lynn’s friend wearing a tan suit with their hair slicked back as they arrive at the party. They also are constantly adjusting the way they look when they catch their reflection. At the end of the video, with the jubilant chorus to follow, Lynn and her friend reunite and the camera pans to all of their friends jumping and singing the lyrics at the camera.
“You can hold my hand, turn around like everybody loves you, everybody loves me, everybody loves you, everybody loves me, everybody loves you.”
In the end, “Haircut” is about feeling comfortable in your own skin and having your community support you. The rest of “How to Grow a Sunflower Underwater” is filled with songs like this, from Lynn talking about her experience with something as mundane as a bike ride or a haircut to talking about the importance of therapy and a good community. You can find Alex the Astronaut on all music streaming platforms.
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How to Grow A Sunflower Underwater
An unforgettably original lyricist, the music of Australian singer/songwriter Alex the Astronaut cycles through a series of radiantly detailed slices of life. Alex documents moments of both the seemingly mundane from a haircut, a therapy session, a trip to the beach, and the supermarket to then utterly life-changing experiences as a caregiver along with the PTSD that followed and her recent diagnosis with autism.
The 26-year-old artist imbues her songs with equal parts self-awareness and sensitivity, imagination, and idiosyncratic humor. In its intimate exploration of post-traumatic growth, the result is a body of work affirming Alex as a truly essential songwriter, capable of transforming the way we view ourselves and the world around us.
“I’d read a few books about post-traumatic growth and was struck by how trauma can negatively impact so much of your life, but it can also help you to connect better with people based on your shared experience,” says Alex. Along with magnifying her sense of empathy, that revelation soon inspired Alex to embrace a new level of emotional transparency on How to Grow A Sunflower Underwater.
“I’d written a couple of songs that were far more vulnerable than anything I’d done before, and I started to see that I needed to keep being that vulnerable if I wanted to make something that contributed to the world,” she says. “I like to write songs that have a purpose to them—so even if it felt uncomfortable sometimes I had to tell myself, ‘Let’s just keep swimming.’”
The follow-up to her ARIA Music Award-nominated debut, The Theory Of Absolutely Nothing, How to Grow A Sunflower Underwater, takes its title from Alex’s adventures in snorkeling at Clovelly Beach near Sydney. “During the lockdown, I’d snorkel four times a week; there was so much going on in the world, and it felt good to be underwater and get to know all the creatures there,” she says. “I started thinking about the ideas that I’d put forward in the album, and I realized that the big question was, ‘How do you live a happy life and be optimistic with so many horrible things happening all the time?’ I ended up picking sunflowers to represent that because they’re the happy flower.”
Mixed by Miro Mackie (St. Vincent, Dirty Projectors) and mainly co-produced by Alex with Sam Cromack, Dan Hanson, and Dean Hanson of Brisbane-based band Ball Park Music, How to Grow A Sunflower Underwater brings her intensely personal storytelling to a kaleidoscopic form of folk/indie-pop. To that end, the album-opening “Growing Up” begins with the raw simplicity of Alex’s lucid vocals and stark guitar work, then unfolds into a magnificent whirlwind of strings and piano and grandiose percussion.
“I was trying to understand all the changes I’d been experiencing, and as I was writing it down, I thought, ‘Maybe everyone goes through this, and at some point, they just realize they’re grown-up now,’” says Alex of the song’s origins. As proof of her lyrical prowess, “Growing Up” brilliantly juxtaposes the prosaic and poetic (e.g., “When is my parking ticket ending?/What takes the water to the sky?/And why can we break, how do we know that we can take it?/Is there still love in your eyes?”), ultimately arriving at a tender meditation on the confusion of adulthood.
One of the most sublimely devastating songs on How to Grow A Sunflower Underwater, “Airport,” spins a cinematic portrait of the forced separation of quarantine and its emotional fallout. “I was seeing that separation all around and experiencing it myself, and I wanted to write about what happens when you meet up with someone you care about after such a long time, and all the pressure that comes with that,” says Alex.
In a particularly powerful twist, Alex floods the verses to “Airport” with a feverish account of regret and longing and minor envies (“And the song that played was Phoebe Bridgers/I turned it off ‘cause I was jealous I didn’t make it”), then takes on a stunning directness at the chorus (its sole lyric: “I’ve loved you all this time”).
Throughout “Airport,” the impact of Alex’s outpouring is made all the more potent by the track’s choir-like harmonies, as well as a heavenly string arrangement courtesy of L.A.-based musician Daniel Chae. “When we sent that song off to Daniel, it was pretty bombastic, and then he sent it back to us with a full orchestra on it,” Alex recalls. “That was one of the most fun songs to work on; the feeling in the room was very much a bunch of kids in music class just playing around.”
Another fantastically childlike moment, “Octopus,” opens on a burst of bubble effects meant to mimic the aural sensation of Alex’s snorkeling expeditions. But in keeping with the album’s graceful merging of the playful and profound, the gloriously anthemic track looks at the jarring shift in self-perception that followed her autism diagnosis (“I think I’m like an octopus sometimes/Trying so hard to blend in/I forgot that I have something I could give”).
“At first when I got diagnosed, I felt embarrassed, but over time I learned that autism is actually an incredible gift and that neurodiversity adds so much to the world,” she says. “Maybe someone isn’t very good at talking or whatever else, but there are probably things they can do better than you can or I can. It comes back to what I learned from snorkeling, which is that there are so many different creatures out there in the world, and they all contribute in different ways.”
After chronicling some of the most painful episodes of her life to date, Alex closes out How to Grow A Sunflower Underwater with “Haircut,” a piece that perfectly channels the pure euphoria that comes after catharsis. Inspired by her recent experience in cutting off her hair for charity, the wildly effervescent track speaks to the singular joy of self-realization. “Once I looked at myself after I cut my hair, I thought, ‘This is so much closer to an image of myself that I didn’t even know I had,’” says Alex.
“Now, sometimes people think I’m a boy, and sometimes they see me as a girl—it’s been this interesting opportunity to be perceived as different genders.” And while its lyrics confess to lingering self-consciousness (“I’m still scared of the mean girls from year eight”), “Haircut” fully embodies the kind of radical generosity that includes everyone in her self-celebration: “Now the mirror looks back/And I feel like who I am supposed to/Do you know that feeling?/Like the lights are up and you’re the best thing they’ve seen ever.”
An unforgettably original lyricist, Alex embeds How to Grow A Sunflower Underwater with references to Peter Pan and Paul Simon, “Real Housewives” and Jack the Ripper, endlessly striking a delicate balance between forthright and impressionistic (from “To Be Something Good”: “I try to stay off my phone, I think it hurts me/A million drops of pain in light and sound”). Born in Sydney, she first started writing songs at 12, then moved to New York in 2017 to study maths and physics at Long Island University.
That same year, she delivered her debut EP To Whom It May Concern and its follow-up See You Soon, whose opening track “Not Worth Hiding” became an unofficial anthem of the Australian Gay Marriage referendum and earned support from Elton John on his Beats 1 radio show. In addition to releasing The Theory Of Absolutely Nothing to widespread acclaim, Alex has since taken the stage at major festivals like Primavera Sound, The Great Escape, and Splendour in the Grass and toured Australia on a sold-out headline run.
With the release of How to Grow A Sunflower Underwater, Alex hopes that her self-reflection might inspire listeners to open up and re-examine how they connect with others. “I think the world would be so much better if we all assumed is everyone is going through something, everyone’s fighting some kind of battle,” she says. “Especially right now, when everyone’s been forced to keep up these high productivity levels, even though we’ve been through such a traumatic twåo years. So with all the growth I’m talking about on the album, the main message I’d like to get across is that you can’t just do it on your own—to do that growing underwater, we do need each other.”