Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

29 Jul

If you haven’t heard of Olivia Rodrigo yet, we hate to break it to you but you are living under a musical rock. The singer-songwriter – not even out of her teens yet – is comparable in her pop culture heft to other voices-of-the-generation; think Britney, Miley and so on; so powerful, in fact, that she recently received a highly-covered White House invite. After a break-out year of songs permeating every corner of TikTok, Rodrigo has finally released her much-awaited debut album SOUR – and happily enough, it lives up to the hype.

At its essence, SOUR is a break-up album – but don’t let the cliché fool you. Where Olivia excels is in capturing every shade of the period after a young person’s break-up, from the heartbreak to the misery to the angst.

Her famous single, the one that put Olivia on the map, is the chilling “drivers license” (all caps and no punctuation, as is the wont of Gen Z). There is very rarely a song that’s catchy, well-written, truly heartfelt and universally beloved; and no song in recent times has come as close as “drivers license”. The song essentially follows Olivia’s train of thought after getting her driver’s license. Her initial motivation in wanting to drive to her now-ex’s house; imagining what the ex must be doing while she’s aimlessly driving around; and finally to her sad-schmuck jaunt around suburbs imagining a parallel-universe life with him. The backstory behind the song, and who the guy was, is the subject of many a gossip rag page, so we won’t bore you with the details here. What really sells the song is Olivia’s tenor – moving from warbly near-tears to straight-up misery at a forever-lost love. Of course, she’s young and probably won’t remember this heartbreak in as much detail ten years hence; but for a moment, the listener is transported to the dramatic, emotional turmoil of their late teens.

But it’s not all misery after the break-up. The pop-punk banger “good 4 u” is Olivia at her most sneery with some great burns (“And good for you, I guess that you’ve been workin’ on yourself / I guess that therapist I found for you, she really helped”) and an insanely catchy 90s-style chorus. However, she’s still hurting behind the sneer (“Well, good for you, you look happy and healthy, not me / If you ever cared to ask”). It’s perhaps a perfect pop song in its endless relatability. The softer “deja vu”, with hints of Lorde-style vocal stylings – cleverly claims the upper hand in the bitter break-up. “She thinks it’s special but it’s all reused / That was our place, I found it first / I made the jokes you tell to her when she’s with you,” she croons, and you can’t help but be on her side. The piano-driven “happier” sees Rodrigo at her most jealous and insecure: “But she’s so sweet, she’s so pretty / Does she mean you forgot about me?”

Beyond the core material around the break-up, there are several other great tracks; for example the would-be teenage anthem that is “brutal”. We’ve already spoken about this track back when the album first came out, but “brutal” is essentially a teenager’s look at the world. The hard-hitting riffs are straight out of a 90s teen movie where the young lass or lad slams the door on the parents’ faces and plots an escape to a nearby rock venue (yes, we’re channeling Freaky Friday on this one). The lyrics are somewhere between a rant session and a diary entry, with Rodrigo listing out various things that she’s not good at (making friends, parallel parking – see: “drivers license”).

Overall, the subject matter is undoubtedly a little limited, but it’s content that really speaks to her generation. Moreover, her voice is quite undeniably powerful, with an ability to switch between sugar-sweet and angst on the flip of a coin. Plus, her Disney Channel experience ensures that she has the connections – and commercial wit – to keep churning out hits and make it far in the industry. SOUR is a great start, and we’d be curious what the sophomore album would like – assuming there’s not another break-up to write about.

Rating: 7/10

Best tracks: “drivers license”, “brutal”, “good 4 u”

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