‘Sour’ Introduces the Pop Star as a Vulnerable Work in Progress

Friday, May 21, 2021

On “brutal,” the opening track of Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, Sour, she slams the brakes on her fast track to super stardom. “I’m so tired that I might quit my job / start a new life and they’d all be so disappointed / because who am I if not exploited,” she talks-sings through her teenage angst. “God! It’s brutal out here,” she howls. It’s a modest way to prime listeners to go easy on her—it’s her first time after all.

Rodrigo has had the number one song in the world, performed on Saturday Night Live, found herself in the middle of a public love triangle, and graced the cover of magazines around the world—all before her first album even debuted. She turned eighteen back in February, weeks after her single “driver’s license” went massively viral, and has since been thrust from girlhood to Hollywood as the music industry’s songwriting darling. TikTok loves her, Taylor Swift loves her, and according to the charts, so does the world.

Known best before “driver’s license” as a star of Disney Channel’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Rodrigo is following in the familiar footsteps of her predecessors Miley, Selena, and Demi—but she’s also doing it on her own terms. Their careers have given her a ticket aboard the cool girl express. She curses, she wears what she wants, and she collaborates with Petra Collins (a line straight from the Selena playbook). Her debut album isn’t a complete departure from Disney child star, she’s neither growing up, nor all grown up. Simply put, she can do whatever she wants.

At times Sour can feel disjointed, going back and forth between timeless sparkling ballads and pop-punk anthems that give her a late 90s/early 2000s edge. On first listen, the sweet, which the album is mostly comprised of, can leave you craving more of the sour. But part of the fun is following Rodrigo down these different roads and trying on those different identities with her. She goes from a dorky reference to “Glee” (Watching reruns of Glee / Bein’ annoying, singin’ in harmony) on “Deja Vu” to calling an ex “a damn sociopath” on “good 4 u.” She’s not settling on just one taste yet.

Her strongest bite comes in the form of “jealousy, jealousy,” a track about the toxicity of social media. “I see everyone getting everything what I want / I’m happy for them / but then again no I’m not / Just cool vintage clothes and vacation photos / I can’t stand it,” Rodrigo hisses at the rich kids of Instagram, kicking and screaming her way out of the box that her first two singles seemingly put her in.

If that fire feels pulled from the Reputation era of Rodrigo’s idol, Taylor Swift, most of Sour feels more drawn from Swift’s early days, dominated by the nostalgic breakup ballads that first put both artists on the map. There’s a dash of Swift’s Fearless on “Enough For You” (“Stupid emotional obsessive little me / I knew from the start from the start this is exactly how you’d leave,”), hints of “Speak Now” on “traitor” (It took you two weeks to go off and date her / guess you didn’t cheat / but your still a traitor) and even a little taste of Folklore on “Favorite Crime” (“You used me as an alibi, I crossed my heart / as you crossed the line”). She even samples Swift’s “New Year’s Day,” on another romantically intoxicating track. These softer string-filled moments slow down the album, in the best way, taking pause to absorb Rodrigo’s silky smooth voice, and clever, sometimes devastating lyrics about young love.

On Sour, Olivia Rodrigo is doing the only thing an eighteen year old should be doing—becoming who she is. Just like any teenage girl, the album goes through phases, and her confidence comes in waves as she debuts herself as a vulnerable work in progress, giving listeners glimpses of who we might watch her become. The air of possibility is enough to stay along for the ride. At the beginning of the album she pleads, “I wish I had done this before, and that people liked me more/ but all I did was try my best.” Lucky for Rodrigo, her best has already crowned her this year’s prom queen of pop.

SOURCE: Vanity Fair

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *