Olivia Rodrigo is unstoppable. When the 18-year-old singer released her first single, ‘drivers license’, in January, it was an instant hit, earning her 35 million monthly Spotify listeners and securing a huge fan base through TikTok streams. I liked the song. I appreciated the clever premise, emotive lyrics, and the bridge that reminded me of Lorde. But I was sceptical. I’m not usually a fan of up-and-coming pop music, and being older than Rodrigo herself, I thought that her music wouldn’t really be my scene.
However, after dropping a few promising singles, Rodrigo’s full album was released in May, and I was ready to give SOUR a chance. I hit play on ‘brutal’, the first track. Enveloped by rising orchestral sounds, followed by a cacophony of punk-rock drums and guitars, I immediately knew this was no ordinary debut album. On what has become my favourite song, Rodrigo explores teenage disillusionment and crippling insecurity with relatable lyrics: ‘I’m not cool and I’m not smart / and I can’t even parallel park’. She screams through her anxieties, leading up to the gutsy line: ‘God, it’s brutal out here’, making her statement on both youth and the music industry. This electrifying opener was enough to get me hooked.
Ironically, SOUR hits a sweet spot. The main theme of the album is grief following a painful breakup. Rodrigo is burdened with the knowledge that her ex has moved on with someone else. Yet this ending prompts the beginning of her music career — a contrast that generates a near-perfect blend of youth and maturity, angst and reflection. This blend also explains why her music seems to be beloved by all ages. The songs evoke nostalgia for older listeners, reminding them of the pivotal moments of adolescence, like learning to drive and being in love for the first time.
Despite the overall strength of the album, there are a few moments that stick out. In the Taylor Swift inspired ‘deja vu’, she transitions from sickly sweet vocals in the verses to a killer chorus with punchy drums. She slices apart the subject of the song with her ruthless lyrics, claiming her place as her ex-boyfriend’s first love and asking if he is reminded of her with his new girl: ‘I made the jokes you tell to her when she’s with you / do you get deja vu?’ Later, Rodrigo leans into teenage angst on ‘good 4 u’. Inspired by the Megan Fox film Jennifer’s Body, the music video casts Rodrigo as a peppy cheerleader with a dark secret. It’s one of the best songs to dance and scream along to, with its quick pace and cathartic lyrics: ‘like a damn sociopath’.
However, as SOUR is a breakup album, Rodrigo struggles to avoid repetition and cliché. The majority of the tracks on the album are emotive ballads about feeling betrayed after being dumped. While Rodrigo is comfortable with this format and even excels at it, it felt repetitive for me. Without the punk influence, I don’t think the album would stand out. What’s more, Rodrigo sometimes takes her ruthless lyrics a bit too far, seeming to shame her ex for seeing a therapist and mocking his mental health issues. While I’m sure this was not the intention, I think some of the songs will age better than others, and Rodrigo’s music will reflect her maturity as she gets older.
This may sound like harsh criticism, but after listening to the album a few times, it’s clear that Rodrigo is capable of so much more. I’m not saying that teenage girls shouldn’t write about love and heartbreak, or that some genres of music are inherently more respectable than others. However, I do feel as though the album is weighed down by her focus on the past and the failed relationship she keeps turning to. When Rodrigo focuses on herself, she shines.
Featured Image Source: Still via Olivia Rodrigo // YouTube