Some songs go viral immediately, for example, pretty much anything by Taylor Swift. But other songs take longer to build momentum, such as the sleeper hit “Astronaut in the Ocean,” by Australian rapper Masked Wolf (a.k.a. Harry Michael). Inspired by hip-hop artists like Eminem and 50 Cent, whose hits tell a story, Masked Wolf recorded a song about his struggle with depression and posted it to YouTube in summer 2019, per Billboard.
However, the outlet reports that “Astronaut” idled on the platform for over a year, until it was discovered by TikTokers (and Jennifer Lopez)! As social media users soon realized, the single’s ominous, electro-synth beats made it the perfect fit for a short-form video in which something dramatic happens. To date, over 304,000 TikTokers have recorded “feats of strength to the song’s intro,” propelling its climb up the charts, where it “currently sits at No. 3 on the Billboard Global 200 and No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100” (via Billboard).
“TikTok is fickle and it’s short-lived,” Jacob Fain, Elektra Records SVP of A&R, told Billboard. “So when you get that window, you really need to reposition and then just capitalize on it for as long as TikTok will allow you to.” And capitalize they did, with Masked Wolf performing the song at the Gold Coast Lunar Electric Music Festival in March 2021. But beyond a catchy beat and a killer intro, what is “Astronaut” really about?
'Astronaut in the Ocean' illustrates Masked Wolf's struggle with depression
In March 2021, Masked Wolf recorded a video breaking down the meaning of the “Astronaut in the Ocean,” where he discusses his reluctance to release something so personal. “People talk about mental depression and stuff, but I truly feel it’s like a craft to be able to relate these meanings and lyrics with a banger,” he explained (per Genius). “Now, I see millions of streams and people hitting me up all the time, it’s like ‘we believe in what you’re talking about’… Now that I know who I am is who they want to connect with, watch out.”
It wasn’t smooth sailing early on for the Australian singer, though. As a struggling musician, he grappled with depression, which he channeled into art. In the chorus of “Astronaut,” Masked Wolf describes “rollin’ down in the deep,” which is not a reference to Adele, but an experience of feeling “low” or “down” in a pit of depression, via Genius.
He illustrates this emotion by comparing it to how astronauts prepare for their trips by spending time underwater. Per Genius, “the gravity of being underwater replicates gravity in space,” which Masked Wolf likens to “an ocean of pain.” In the video, he explains that this analogy can also be used to mean feeling out of place. “An astronaut should be in space, but I’m in the ocean… I’m not where I want to be,” he said.
Masked Wolf is elevating the rap game
In the bridge, Masked Wolf switches up the tone of “Astronaut” with a more upbeat tempo. As he explained, “This was like a flick of the switch in the song where it was like, ‘it’s on me to make the change… let’s kill it, let’s murder the game.'” Depression notwithstanding, the rapper is on a quest to power his own artistry. As such, he’s determined to sing about “real” topics instead of what he considers superficial: girls, money, and material possessions (via Genius).
Into this lyrical environment of “realness,” where Masked Wolf promises to “be electric… keep it movin’ like kinetic,” he also name-drops another artist whom he considers to be keeping it real: Kendrick Lamar. The line “Swimmin’ in the pool — Kendrick Lamar, uh” alludes to the rapper’s 2012 single, “Swimming Pools (Drank),” in which Lamar sings about alcoholism. “I linked it up with ‘Swimming Pools’ because that song deals with drinking — he talks about his uncle drinking, but also about girls and drinks,” Masked Wolf explained. Thus, he brings it full circle back to girls, in reference to his own lyric “don’t believe in T-H-O-T” earlier in the song.
“Astronaut’s” deeper message might hinge on depression, but at its core, the single tells the story of an artist’s determination to rise above the obstacles in his path. As Masked Wolf told Billboard, the struggle for greatness “is supposed to be this hard.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
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