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I kinda get the hype.


There is no shortage of interviews and articles charting Olivia Rodrigo’s rise to fame. One moment she was an actress with a lead role in a mildly popular teen drama, the next—and almost overnight—she blew up on TikTok and became pegged as pop music’s “one to watch” with the release of ‘Drivers License’, which opened at and topped the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks.

Keeping up her winning streak, Rodrigo released two more stellar singles that showed different sides of the teenage schoolgirl persona she had created. The twinkling ‘Deja Vu’ and scornful ‘Good 4 U’—which introduced the world to angsty Olivia. Her ‘Picture To Burn’, if you will.

Rodrigo’s debut album ‘SOUR’, which arrives this week, furthers her introduction as an artist: a gutsy collection that one might not have come to expect from a member of the Disney actor-to-popstar pipeline. The album opens with ‘Brutal’, whose lyrics see Rodrigo put the perils of being a young celebrity on full display: “And I’m so sick of seventeen / Where’s my fucking teenage dream? / If someone tells me one more time / ‘Enjoy your youth,’ I’m gonna cry”. It’s certainly a fiery opener, one that might have come as more of a shock if not for the release of ‘Good 4 U’ just a week prior, which clued us in on the singer’s 2000s pop-punk influences.

Elsewhere, ‘Jealousy, Jealousy’, one of the album’s best tracks and a contender for its next single, also imbues a sense of social consciousness in its lyrics as the 19-year-old sings about “Girls too good to be true / With paper white teeth and perfect bodies”. In her interview with NYLON, Rodrigo revealed that the inspiration for the song came when she found herself developing an unhealthy relationship with social media—we’ve all been there.

Ever since ‘Drivers License’, Rodrigo has been drawing comparisons to Taylor Swift for her similarly confessional lyricism and knack for poignant imagery. On ‘1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back’, the two artists come together as the song borrows from Swift’s ‘Reputation’ cut, ‘New Year’s Day’. And there are little “Swift-isms” peppered throughout ‘SOUR’ as well. The lyrics “You couldn’t have cared less about someone who loved you more” from ‘Enough For You’; the folky ‘Favorite Crime’ that sounds like it could be plucked from Swift’s ‘Folklore’/’Evermore’ universe; the mentions of sweaters, trees and coffee throughout the album—just to name a few.

In the same way that Swift was beloved for her ability to make feelings of heartbreak, jealousy and teenage angst all feel universal, ‘SOUR’ is Rodrigo showing she’s got more than just one relatable character in her wheelhouse. She can be both bitchy high school cheerleader and rueful writer of love letters, so don’t be too quick to pigeonhole her just yet. ‘SOUR’ is both burn book and romance novel, and Rodrigo’s total package as the singer-songwriter behind it is truly once-in-a-generation. It’s hard to believe she’s only getting started, but you can count us in for the ride (even if she’s still working on her parallel parking). 🚙

SOURCE: Pop Juice


At the start of the year, few would have predicted that the most anticipated pop record of 2021 would be by a 18-year-old virtually unknown to the wider mainstream months ago.

Olivia Rodrigo’s ascent has been sharp: ‘drivers license’, the stirring ballad that gained unprecedented viral momentum, was released less than six months ago. Now, we have her debut album, SOUR, which includes three Australian top 10 singles.

Before ‘drivers license’, Rodrigo was known mostly to just the Disney community as Nini in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. The Disney-star-turned-popstar story isn’t a new one by any stretch, but there’s something refreshing about Rodrigo’s transition. She’s shied away from big-name producers, instead working almost exclusively with Daniel Nigro who, before Rodrigo, operated on the outskirts of mainstream pop working with names like Sky Ferreira and Conan Gray.

She’s also starting out with good-footing in the industry, revealing to The Guardian that she has full control of her masters (a big deal if you’ve been following the Taylor Swift debacle). What’s more, there’s no tidy, Disney image to be upheld on the record. The F-bomb is dropped in the first 40 seconds of the album.

Her debut album does arrive alarmingly early in her career. Billie Eilish, the last record-breaking teen to crash through, took three years to build towards her debut. SOUR was initially meant to be an EP but it was extended to an album as the magnitude of ‘drivers licenses’ success blindsided both Rodrigo and her team. With that in mind, it’s surprising that the record feels completely unforced. This isn’t an album stitched together in a hurry as success came at her fast. It’s a nuanced, raw and inspired project showcasing a newcomer who is too good a songwriter to simply be a fad.

‘Drivers license’ is the sort of song that can both build and sink a career; its success is so large for a debut single that you could spend the rest of your career chasing it. Rodrigo has made it very clear, however, that she has no intention of recreating it. Since the song, she’s followed it up with the jagged, left-centre ‘deja vu’ and then the angsty, punk-infused ‘good 4 u’. It’s difficult to recall a new popstar who has had such a varied initial run. Rodrigo darts through genres like an iPod shuffle, tying it together with her earnest, unfiltered songwriting.

‘Drivers license’ is perhaps the best song on the album, but it doesn’t stand as a giant amongst the other songs. ‘Good 4 u’ is tracking to match its success as a number one single in the US using a totally different sonic blueprint. The heartbreaking emotion that waltzes through her debut single’s bridge is translated into unadulterated rage on ‘good 4 u’, thundering out with rollicking drums. It’s just as effective, albeit on a totally different emotional spectrum.

That said, ‘deja Vu’ and ‘good 4 u’ are anomalies on the album: SOUR is ballad-heavy, with seven of the 11 songs fitting the description. None of them, however, follow ‘drivers license’s sweeping, piano-led style. ‘Favourite crime’ unravels over a gently plucked guitar as does ‘enough for you’ while ‘happier’ gracefully dances by on a bed of strings. The production rarely pushes explicit new boundaries but it rises and falls in all the right places with technical precision.

What makes these ballads better than most is Rodrigo’s ability to give it to us all — the good, the bad and the ugly. There’s no attempt to dull down her extremities even though she questions them throughout. “Stupid, emotional, obsessive little me,” she sings on ‘enough for you’, picking holes in her personality before concluding by song’s end that it’s not her, it’s him: “I don’t think anything could ever be enough for you.”

Relationship woes aren’t her only mode. On the heart-rendering closer ‘hope ur ok’, Rodrigo took inspiration from the narrative-based style of “country and folk singers”, telling the story of old friends she’s lost contact with. “His parents cared more about the Bible, Than being good to their own child,” she sings in a line that’s being perceived as outward support for the LGBTIQ community.

Pop music has a history of painting young female artists as hysterical for displaying the depth and breadth of their emotions. Taylor Swift was long made fun of for perceivably jumping from boyfriend-to-boyfriend, trashing her next “victim” in a fury of emotion on each record. She flipped that script on ‘Blank Space’, creating one of her biggest hits by humorously claiming the narrative with lines like, “I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.”

Rodrigo has proudly claimed the overly emotional nature of her music, responding to what she calls “sexist criticism of songwriters.” “I’m a teenage girl, I write about stuff that I feel really intensely — and I feel heartbreak and longing really intensely — and I think that’s authentic and natural,” she told The Guardian.

“I’M A TEENAGE GIRL, I WRITE ABOUT STUFF THAT I FEEL REALLY INTENSELY…”

SOUR is engaging because it is so authentic in its depiction of teenage emotion. Its opener, ‘brutal’, doesn’t shy away from anything, declaring “where’s my fucking teenage dream,” over chopping guitars. She furiously unravels before catching her breath and laughing it off: “Damn, it’s brutal out here.”

That same brand of angst re-emerges on ‘good 4 u’ with Rodrigo letting loose in the chorus. “I’ve lost my mind, I’ve spent the night, crying on the floor in my bathroom,” she sings in one of the most cathartic choruses of the year. It’s been a minute since the days rock-pop ruled the charts (Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne and Katy Perry) but ‘good 4 u’ is so engaging Rodrigo may single-handedly bring the pop-punk genre back to the radio.

From a songwriting perspective, SOUR is rooted in ‘00s pop history. It directly and inadvertently nods to some of the best pop writers of the past decade or so, particularly Taylor Swift and Lorde. It’s hard not to hear Lorde’s intonation in the bridge of ‘drivers license’ or her dark delivery in the little laughs and gasps that fill ‘deja vu’.

Lorde’s sister reportedly reached out to Rodrigo to tell her that Lorde was a fan of ‘drivers license’. Swift has been a little louder in her support for Rodrigo, writing that she was “really proud” of Rodrigo on social media before the pair met in person at this year’s Brit Awards.

Swift’s fingerprints are all over SOUR. She and producer Jack Antonoff are credited on ‘1 step forwards, 3 steps back’ with Rodrigo sampling reputation closer ‘New Year’s Day’, using the gentle keys as the backdrop for one of the album’s rawest moments. The bridge of the song is one of the album’s key moments — which it better be if you’re using a Swift instrumental.

The bridge has been dying in pop music as song lengths have gotten shorter and shorter — but Swift and Lorde have always championed it. We can add Rodrigo to that list now as she delivers bridge after perfect bridge on SOUR: ‘Drivers license’ lifts to a new dimension when she sings “red lights, stop signs,” while ‘deja vu’ takes inspiration from Swift’s explosive ‘Cruel Summer’ bridge with Rodrigo shouting, “I know you get deja vu!”

SOUR sees Rodrigo join her idols as a peer — an exciting new voice that is still learning and developing in front of our eyes. It isn’t a perfect debut, nor does it feel like the peak of Rodrigo’s powers. When she errs more towards Ed Sheeran than Swift on moments like ‘happier’ she loses her charisma, and she doesn’t quite stick the knife in far enough on ‘jealousy jealousy’.

These are small criticisms, however, of a record that otherwise achieves exactly what it set out to do — to establish Rodrigo as an artist who is unafraid to feel it all. SOUR is unapologetic, messy and unhinged. To criticise that would be to criticise being a teenager. Her portrayal of teenage emotion — the extremes and the nuances — is totally thrilling.

SOURCE: Junkee


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


Every once in a while, a pop music juggernaut comes along and whisks you away. Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Drivers License’ is that undeniable song of 2021 so far, a tear-jerking ballad that smashed streaming records as hard as it took a hammer to our hearts. To say its achievements were not bad for a debut single is a whopping understatement. The twinkling ‘deja vu’ was a similarly brilliant follow-up, but now comes the real test: showing what else she’s got.

The answer is: a lot. On her debut album, ‘Sour’, the 18-year-old singer-songwriter puts herself forward as pop’s most promising new megastar – one with the talent, musical personality and smarts necessary to craft a long and illustrious career. With typical Gen-Z versatility, she hops from genre to genre without losing sight of herself and doses her songs with bitingly specific details that go full-circle from being precisely personal to universally relatable.

Rodrigo has said she took big dollops of inspiration from the women of ‘90s alt-rock, and you can hear their touch immediately on opening track ‘brutal’, one of ‘Sour’’s biggest bangers. Its wiry guitar chug is pure Elastica, its creator’s exasperated “God, it’s brutal out here” her own version of the most iconic part of The Breeders’ ‘Last Splash’. The way she sings the chorus – pitch set permanently to ‘urgent’ – and the reverberating production make it sound like a polished-up riot grrrl recording.

Latest single ‘good 4 u’ fast forwards in the musical timeline to early ’00s pop-punk, but you can pinpoint more than a trace of Alanis Morissette in its lyrics. Her self-aware, sarcastic missives are laced with bitterness, a 2021 update on the anger and angst of ‘You Oughta Know’. Concerned with an ex who is doing better with their new girlfriend, the song excavates the stinging sensation of seeing someone moving on up in their life, leaving you in their dust. “Good for you – I guess that you’ve been working on yourself,” Rodrigo sings in a dangerous purr. “I guess that therapist I found for you, she really helped/ Now you can be a better man for your brand new girl.”

Later, in the final chorus, she repeats her observation, “Good for you / You’re doing great out there without me, baby”, but adds one last acerbic note: “Like a damn sociopath!” There’s pain in the way she yells it out, but also liberation and the kind of twisted euphoria that comes from screaming your deepest feelings into the ether; a raw, adrenaline-surging high that makes your ears ring and your pulse go at lightning speed.

A lot of ‘Sour’ explores emotions that feel elicit, skipping boldly into dark corners that young women are conditioned not to explore. Rodrigo illuminates them brazenly, presenting a pinpoint accurate portrait of what it’s like to be young and female in the 21st century – but also, thanks to that power of relatability, in any age. On the folky ‘enough for you’, she details modifying herself to attract a former partner (“I wore make-up when we dated ’cause I thought you’d like me more/ If I looked like the other prom queens that I know you loved before”), while the aforementioned ‘good 4 u’ brings searing female rage to the fore.

The shadowy, bass-led ‘jealousy, jealousy’ takes on the insecurity complexes slapped on us by social media. “I’m so sick of myself,” she sighs on its chorus. “I’d rather be, rather be / Anyone, anyone else / But jealousy… started following me.” Back on ‘brutal’, she crackles: “I’m so sick of 17, where’s my fucking teenage dream? / If someone tells me one more time ‘enjoy your youth’ I’m gonna cry.” Moments later, she lists her failings, ending with a comedic example of just how lame she thinks she is: “I’m not cool and I’m not smart / And I can’t even parallel park.”

There are plenty of songs that fit more into the ‘drivers license’ vein of slow and weepy too – perhaps a touch too many. ‘Traitor’ is a gorgeous song about feeling betrayed when you see your ex stepping into a new relationship while you’re still reeling from your separation, Rodrigo narrating in a devastated whisper: “You didn’t cheat but you’re still a traitor.” For every track like that, though, there’s a ‘1 step forward, 3 steps back’ – a perfectly fine song but one that leaves little impression sandwiched between Rodrigo’s gigantic debut single and ‘deja vu’.

When your first release is a track as ubiquitous as ‘drivers license’, it must be tough going to make a whole album that matches up. For the most part, Rodrigo has passed the bar she set on that single, sharing with us an almost-masterpiece that’s equal parts confident, cool and exhilaratingly real. This is no flash-in-the-pan artist, but one we’ll be living with for years to come.

SOURCE: NME.com


Few people on Earth can know how Olivia Rodrigo feels right now; even by today’s standards of viral fame, her rise has been exceptional. On January 7, she was playing in the celebrity minor leagues, the not-quite-18-year-old star of the Disney+ show High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. By January 12, she had smashed streaming records and blanketed TikTok with her debut single, “drivers license,” a piano-driven power ballad steeped in suburban malaise and teen anguish. Since then, she’s graced magazine covers, sung at the Brits, and become the subject of an SNL sketch. Then she was invited on as the musical guest.

But most of us can know how Olivia Rodrigo felt when she wrote her debut album, Sour: so gutted by heartbreak she simply couldn’t talk about anything else. “drivers license” outlined a crushing breakup, the contours of which became clearer in subsequent singles. A gossipy real-life backstory aided—though certainly did not precipitate—the song’s rise. (If you must know, it’s said to be about Joshua Bassett, Rodrigo’s HSM:TM:TS co-star, who has since been linked to another Disney star.)

The matter of failed romance is central to Sour, a nimble and lightly chaotic grab bag of breakup tunes, filled with both melancholy and mischief. Rodrigo’s first trick: Seconds into the lugubrious strings that open the record, she and her producer, Dan Nigro, abruptly switch to grunge guitar and distortion. Abandoning both the gossamer falsetto and the emotive belt that power “drivers license,” Rodrigo adopts a wry sprechstimme on “brutal” to rattle off her grievances: self-doubt, impossible expectations, her inability to parallel park. “Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” she snarls, wisecracking about the way pop culture romanticizes youth. It’s not particularly elegant—it’s not meant to be. Bucking expectations about the kind of sounds she might gravitate toward? That’s just part of the fun.

When she was little, Rodrigo and her mother made a habit of grabbing records indiscriminately from the thrift store, exposing her to the mistiness of Carole King and the muscle of Pat Benatar. Born two years post-Napster, two years pre-YouTube, Rodrigo grew up with music of all varieties at her fingertips. The range of her taste, and her disinterest in choosing a lane, animate Sour; queue up a track at random, and you might hear pop-punk fireworks à la Paramore (“good 4 u”), dewy-eyed soft balladry à la Ingrid Michaelson (“1 step forward, 3 steps back”), or alt-rock squall à la the Kills (“jealousy, jealousy”). Like any teenager, Rodrigo is trying on identities. The fluidity of her approach creates a sense of play that balances out the record’s more sullen moments—the self-righteous sprawl of “traitor,” for example, or the sinister extended metaphor of “favorite crime.”

Of Rodrigo’s many influences, she’s most obviously styled herself after Taylor Swift, whose work she praises often and emphatically. Like her idol, Rodrigo treats emotional turmoil like jet fuel, and laces her lyrics with specifics—a Billy Joel song she and her ex listened to together, the self-help books she read to impress him. She’s said that the shouty bridge in Swift’s “Cruel Summer” directly inspired her own in “deja vu”; “1 step forward, 3 steps back” interpolates the reputation song “New Year’s Day.” And publicly inveighing against a heartbreaker, then sauntering off with the last word? How very Swiftian.

But there’s more to Rodrigo’s writing than revenge; Sour gives her occasion to examine her own insecurities. “I wore makeup when we dated ’cause I thought you’d like me more,” she sings over fingerpicked guitar on the tearful “enough for you.” It’s a shot at her ex for underappreciating her, but also a hard lesson about not making concessions. On “happier,” a sweet-and-sour ballad that appeared in demo form on Rodrigo’s Instagram in early 2020, she grapples with the faulty narrative of female rivalry: “And now I’m picking her apart/Like cutting her down will make you miss my wretched heart.” It was this song that captured the attention of Nigro, a former emo band frontman who’s written with Carly Rae Jepsen and Conan Gray. It’s easy to hear what he heard in the homemade snippet: a gently tumbling melody, Rodrigo’s flute-like lilt, a winning balance of pettiness and wisdom.

Meanwhile, Rodrigo is still very much a part of the Disney ecosystem, reprising her role in the second season of HSM:TM:TS, which debuted just last week. To anyone familiar with the history of Disney darlings and the morality clauses that typically bind them, the profanity that peppers Sour will stand out as a break from type. This minor subversion of expectations has given Rodrigo a low-key rebel status. Like her seeming newness, her earnestness, the heartbreak baked into her ascent, it’s one of the qualities that make her easy to root for. In a way, the flattening effect of the internet has worked in her favor, allowing her—someone who has been on TV for roughly a third of her life and is signed with the biggest record company in the world—to slip into the role of the underdog.

Rodrigo avoided the major-label treatment when Universal left her and Nigro largely to their own devices to make Sour. But the effort to preserve the authenticity of Rodrigo’s voice also leaves her shortcomings more exposed. The flatness of the melody on “traitor” is especially noticeable alongside the movement of “drivers license”; “enough for you” is oversung. On a record largely centered around a single story, Rodrigo can fixate on select plot points (like the amount of time it took her ex to move on), rather than seeking out new angles. She sometimes settles for simple rhymes and self-evident phrasings: “You betrayed me/And I know that you’ll never feel sorry.” In moments like these, she seems more invested in content than in craft.

Of all the songs on Sour, “hope ur ok” feels most connected to her Disney lineage. Over a twinkly instrumental, Rodrigo sings directly to a victim of child abuse, a queer girl rejected by her family, and to outcasts more broadly. In its message of love and acceptance, the song calls to mind the empowerment anthems churned out by a previous generation of Disney stars. But as Sour’s closer, “hope ur ok” is limp. An outward-looking loosie tacked on to 10 songs about the world inside Rodrigo’s head and heart, it reads as a last-minute effort to demonstrate perspective and maturity. Someone out there might feel genuinely comforted by Rodrigo’s words, and that matters. But, as the success of “drivers license” shows, there’s a certain magic to be found in embracing your own mess.

SOURCE: Pitchfork


Back in 2019, aka the Year of Our Lord Lil Nas X, the “Old Town Road” artist faced the conundrum of almost every breakout success: How do you follow up fast on a world-dominating smash single without looking like you’re just milking the opportunity? His decision, with his debut EP, 7, was to gallop away from the country-rap formula and try to prove his versatility with a hodgepodge of other stylistic exercises. It mostly didn’t come off, and it took a long interlude before Nas X would reclaim his cultural force, with the queer-inferno jam “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” a couple of months ago.

Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” may not be to 2021 what “Old Town Road” was to 2019, but it’s come damned close. Unlike Nas X, Rodrigo was not entirely unknown, being a 17-year-old Geffen signee who’d spent the past five years starring on Disney TV shows. But her weeper of automotive triumph and romantic downfall got more massive than anyone anticipated almost overnight. It set streaming records and ensorcelled listeners far outside the tween-to-teen demographic, as certified by a Saturday Night Live parody sketch full of sobbing dudes that aired in February on the night of Rodrigo’s 18th birthday. (She made her own live SNL debut last weekend.) “Drivers License” propelled the rising current of Gen Z power ballads by female and queer artists directly into the mainstream . As Laura Snapes wrote in the Guardian, these songs “project that emotion inward, trading bombast for hush,” confiding in the listener in ways that draw on the mental health discourse of social media. Rodrigo was informed by the sadcore successes of artists like Lorde, Billie Eilish, and, on a more niche level, Phoebe Bridgers. But Rodrigo dispensed with their cool-weird-girl self-awareness and went for the full waterworks. Perhaps primed by a year of lockdown and political tensions, “Drivers License” was the cathartic release no one realized they’d been yearning for.

So what would she do for an encore? Two well-received follow-up singles, “Good 4 U” and “Déjà Vu,” demonstrated range; Rodrigo showed that she also has a pop-punk, Avril Lavigne/Hayley Williams side. But with the release of her first album, Sour, she’s made sure that anyone who wants more of that “Drivers License” heartbreak kid gets what they’re coming for. Aside from a handful of outliers, Sour is a breakup album through and through. It treats the subject in a variety of styles, from folkie strums to shouty rants to tracks with a bit of groove. There are also plenty of recurring references to suggest the songs are all about the same split-up—not that there’s anything underhanded in that.

Rodrigo is likely the most direct, popular heir yet of Taylor Swift’s approach to songwriting as emotional journaling, and it seems this experience was the central one Rodrigo had to process. Yet it’s unconventional, even risky, for a debut album to be a full conceptual breakup record, counting on an audience to be invested enough in the newcomer to crave the fine details of her inner life. Indeed, Rodrigo has said she and her producer/co-writer Dan Nigro tried including a few more straightforward love songs, but they didn’t seem to fit.

But I think the unusual outbreak of collective feeling that “Drivers License” inspired also granted her a license to spill. That’s because, unlike most of the hushed-ballad singers out there, showbiz-kid Rodrigo is a belter. She doesn’t overuse it, but it’s a skill she’s been honing since she first started slaying in Boys and Girls Club “Idol” competitions as an elementary schooler. Writers like Karen Tongson and Christine Bacareza Balance would link this with Rodrigo being Filipino American and the deep Filipino lineage of talent-contest culture. In any case, it means that beyond her Swift or Lorde influences, Rodrigo is able to manifest what you might call the “Adele effect”—the sheer sentimental-sonic overwhelm that made Adele’s breakup songs bigger than other people’s upbeat bangers. That incidentally made Adele the subject of a 2015 SNL sketch that relied on almost exactly the same joke as the “Drivers License” one did, about the capacity of a steamrolling tear jerker to flatten boundaries between groups of people. Once you’ve done that, your listeners might follow you anywhere.

And Sour is not just about heartbreak, it’s about first heartbreak. That risks wearing on a more mature listener, and songs here, like second track “Traitor” (placed just before “Drivers License,” and sounding like a weaker prequel), do lack most of the wistfulness and wisdom that enrich classic grown-up breakup albums through the decades. But it also can be moving to revisit what it’s like to undergo those ordeals afresh, without any built-up shields or set language. Rodrigo’s attention both lyrically and vocally to the intricacies of her reactions and reflexes, the small slights that mean everything—as in “Good Enough,” where she’s doing everything she can to win the boy’s approval and he shrugs, “I’m not the compliment type”—resonate like memories you’d forgotten until she sings them.

Whomever the callow boy in question on Sour may be, he’s obviously no great loss. That first torturous lesson in the art of losing, the unfixable fracture that shows you love and life will never make a satisfying whole—that’s the experience that matters. In the right frame of mind, hearing a young artist debut with a breakup record is a reminder that loss and severance of some kind are the origin point of anybody’s sense of self, one of the few things that are universal. Oh, and it helps a lot that she earns an A from the Taylor Swift School of Super-Dramatic Bridge Writing.

She earns an A from the Taylor Swift School of Super-Dramatic Bridge Writing.

There are also moments on Sour that remind you how Rodrigo’s life is very much not universal. The album opens with a swell of strings interrupted by Rodrigo laughing, “I want it to be, like, messy!” and then a punk-boilerplate guitar riff kicking in instead. This is the overture to “Brutal,” which is her kiss-off not to the boyfriend, but to her role as a Disney star. “Who am I if not exploited?” she asks, and then, with a scowl in Katy Perry’s direction, “Where’s my fuckin’ teenage dream?” Ever since she dropped one big F-bomb on her hit, Rodrigo’s been fast-forwarding the standard script for capitalizing on and then rejecting Disney princess status. She hinted heavily to the Guardian earlier this month that she wants out of her contractual obligations to High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, to concentrate on her songwriting and performing. Whether or not that works out, she’s making a declaration of independence here. Of course, the rumors are that the love triangle she sings about on Sour is an on-set one. That’s irrelevant to the central feelings of the songs, but some of the references to these people being actors and songwriters do conjure up an insular world. Bad enough to have to date teenaged boys, but teenaged TV actors and would-be pop stars? Shudder.

The fishbowl element of her life is invoked in “Jealousy, Jealousy,” which surprisingly isn’t part of the breakup story but finds Rodrigo anguished by the “com-comparison” of herself to Instagram models and influencers, who seem to be having more fun on social media. “I think I think too much/ about kids who don’t know me,” she sings. The clever pun about jealousy “following me” online is relatable stuff, yes, but the song is also a sidelong way—along with the “blond girl” line on “Drivers License”—for Rodrigo to point out that she may be pretty and skinny, but she still isn’t a white girl. It’s also a welcome hint that the world may be larger than any drama between, say, three young actors on a Disney show.

That’s reinforced more potently in the closer, “Hope Ur Ok,” which offers a couple of vignettes about kids from hostile or abusive homes, whom the narrator once knew and lost touch with. It resolves a little tritely, but there’s a vivid compassion to the storytelling reminiscent of “The Story” by Conan Gray (another Nigro collaborator and friend of Rodrigo’s), as well as “You Were Cool” by the Mountain Goats, which each journey via memory to express allyship with and anxious hope for people whose prospects are more fraught than the singer’s. It’s a special category of song, and Rodrigo’s exploration of it suggests broader ambitions than most of what we hear here.

After “Drivers License” took off, TikTok users created covers, parodies and fan-fiction songs in the voices of pretty much every possible character in the story—the guy and the other woman, of course, but also the driver’s license itself, and, my favorite, a motorist who gets stuck in traffic behind some girl who’s idling and crying in front of some guy’s house. At intervals when Rodrigo’s viewpoint starts to seem narrow, it’s tempting to suggest she take notes. But then I remember it took Swift until her eighth studio album to start writing from other perspectives. On her first go-around, Rodrigo has met the challenge of her flash success with an affecting set of newsreels from the front lines of her life. The trick now is for her to take the space to live out the sequels, and for no one to rush her.

SOURCE: Slate.com


In the first few seconds of her debut album, Sour, Olivia Rodrigo declares, “I want it to be, like, messy!” That shouldn’t be too difficult for a pop star who emerged seemingly out of nowhere in January, a Disney actress whose hit “Drivers License” ignited widespread interest in a love triangle between her High School Musical: The Musical: The Series co-stars. Rodrigo belted extremely relatable, heart-wrenching lines about doing something you were supposed to do with your partner but are now doing alone — and it gave us a glimpse of her songwriting potential. It’s only May, but “Drivers License” is already the song of the year. We’ve given Rodrigo the keys. We’re just lucky to be along for the ride.
Whereas most artists build to their breakup album, carefully laying down the foundations of their future devastation, Rodrigo has already skipped ahead to her Tunnel of Love (ahem, there’s even a song titled “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back”). In the same vein as “Drivers License,” the ballads here tackle heartbreak with grace — even when she’s parting ways with an ex, she resists the urge to tear their new partner down. “But she’s beautiful/she’s kind,” she admits on “Happier,” one of the record’s sparkly highlights. “She probably gives you butterflies.”

Just like she did with Billy Joel on the hypnotic “Deja Vu,” Rodrigo brings old musical references back into our consciousness, like an excited teenager relaying gossip on a rotary phone. “I’m so sick of 17/Where’s my fuckin’ Teenage Dream?” she asks on “Brutal.” If you felt old hearing Katy Perry sing about Radiohead on “The One That Got Away,” you’ll feel ancient hearing this.

Rodrigo wades through Sour free of any pretenses or protection, reveling in her insecurity and weaknesses. “I wore makeup when we dated ‘cause I thought you’d like me more/If I looked like the other prom queens I know that you loved before,” she sings on “Enough For You.” She grapples with the hollowness of social media on “Jealousy, Jealousy,” inhabiting the voice of any Gen Z teen comparing themselves to others on a screen: “I wanna be you so bad/And I don’t even know you.”

She also makes sure to sprinkle in some pop-punk stunners to balance out the sadness, particularly “Good 4 U.” It’s great to hear the track without the Petra Collins pyro-cheerleader video that was a touch overblown; here it’s simply a wild blast of bitterness, like Lorde covering a Dookie B side. She meticulously sharpens her fury down to rapid send-offs — daggers dipped in glitter like “It’s like we never even happened, baby/What the fuck is up with that?”

Rodrigo was born in 2003, making her the perfect age to be inspired by late-Nineties fashion (hair clips, skinny sunglasses, butterfly stickers) and proudly assume her place as a disciple of Taylor Swift (“Traitor” is the long-lost cousin of “My Tears Ricochet”). But she’s forging a path into an entirely new realm of pop, where she’s unapologetically and enthusiastically her own guide. Just as “Deja Vu” and “Good 4 U” proved Rodrigo was going to be much more than a one-and-done phenom with a viral hit about careening through heartbreak, Sour confirms this is just the start of her story, where she expertly rides the wave of teenage turbulence and emotional chaos down any road she chooses. God, it’s brutal out here.

SOURCE: Rolling Stone


Even in a world where streaming’s rise means chart records are broken all the time, the debut single by Disney star Olivia Rodrigo is an anomaly. Upon the release of Drivers License in January, it had the biggest first week for any song ever on Spotify – then hit the 100m streams mark faster than any other track on the platform had before. It debuted at No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for eight weeks – only the seventh song ever to do so. In the UK, it topped the charts for nine weeks and broke the record for the highest single-day streams ever for a non-Christmas song.

And yet, both the song and the album it is taken from are propelled by an energy that’s about as far from cold, number-crunching rationality as it is possible to get. Drivers License – a portentous power ballad backed by plummeting drones and minimalist percussion – was written among the ruins of first love. At 18, Rodrigo, sentimental, furious, mired in self-pity, is staggered at the way her ex-boyfriend has moved on (“I just can’t imagine how you could be so OK now that I’m gone,” begins the chorus crescendo). This isn’t just about romantic rejection: for Rodrigo, reality has been irrevocably ruptured, and she is deeply disturbed. No wonder. The realisation that somebody you once knew and loved can unilaterally revert back to being a complete stranger – and by doing so seemingly erase all the time you spent together – is among the biggest and most unpleasant shocks of adulthood.

In a satisfying mirroring of form and content, almost every single song on Sour –written entirely by Rodrigo and producer Daniel Nigro – deals with the enormity of this development baldly, bluntly, and with none of the meaningless word salad that popstars often hide behind. Rodrigo imagines her ex recycling dates with his new squeeze over the Taylor Swiftian pop of Deja Vu (“Don’t act like we didn’t do that shit too”). The seething pop-punk of Good 4 U has her incredulous at the irony of everything: “I guess that therapist I found for you, she really helped.” She uncovers yet more hypocrisy on the sad and stately Traitor – “Remember I brought her up and you told me I was paranoid?” – and is fundamentally bruised on Enough for You: “I don’t want your sympathy, I just want myself back.” Rodrigo uses the album as a way to do that, by setting down the terms of her own reality, over and over again.

And if she sounds like a broken record, that’s the point: what makes Sour such a great album is that its maker is unafraid to make a nuisance of herself. In an interview with the Guardian earlier this month, Rodrigo said she was proud the record revolved around emotions that “aren’t really socially acceptable especially for girls: anger, jealousy, spite, sadness”. Even the title is a reclamation of the word “sour”, with its connotations of bitter, undesirable women. Considering that women are told to feign disinterest in men lest they scare them off, writing a whole album about how furious and devastated you are that your ex has forgotten you seems like the sort of thing any good friend would strongly advise against. But the shades of cringeworthiness that run through the whole enterprise is the reason why it is so cathartic, and so charming.

Of course, the emotions Rodrigo mines are not exclusive to adolescence, but Sour is still a gloriously teenage album. Vulnerability has recently become a watchword for a generation of young (and youth-oriented) musicians who are keen to open up about tumultuous inner lives that revolve around anxiety, low self-esteem and romantic rejection. Rodrigo’s emotional palate is not restricted to that: there is much rage here and the generic grammar to match. The brilliant opener Brutal starts with elegiac strings before Rodrigo insists things get “like, messy” and the song swiftly morphs into anthemic 90s alt-rock with pregnant pauses suggestive of a droll eye-roll, in the vein of the Breeders’ Cannonball. Good 4 U, meanwhile, channels a more recent strain of rock: a slice of electro-tinged pop-punk, it shares perhaps slightly too much DNA with Paramore’s Misery Business – but it’s hard to care when it metabolises spitting fury into infectious euphoria so expertly.

A couple of songs have Rodrigo singing over fingerpicked guitar figures in sweetly folky style (Enough for You, Favorite Crime), while Deja Vu plays with fuzzy, crashing percussion and a mosquito synth-line. The majority of Sour, however, is rooted in the style of its breakout hit: Adele meets Taylor, lovely and unadventurous, thoughtful but hardly breaking new ground. Which isn’t quite the same as calling it basic or staid. From the way the seatbelt alarm sound births the opening piano line to the gut-wrenching drones of doom that sporadically appear low in the mix, the other heritage fuelling Drivers License is the precise, sparsely furnished production pioneered by the xx that now forms the basis for a huge amount of modern pop. Rodrigo carries the baton with class and mass appeal, even if things do get a bit samey after a while.

Miraculously, the subject matter never seems over repetitive, but Rodrigo loses her nerve right at the end. On closing number Hope Ur Ok, she turns her gaze outwards to sing about people she once knew who have experienced hardship in their lives. It’s as close to a palate cleanser as a song with such a cloying sentiment can get, but thankfully doesn’t overshadow the glorious myopia of Sour: a collection of polished, precociously accomplished pop that doubles as one of the most gratifyingly undignified breakup albums ever made.

SOURCE: The Guardian


Lowercase girls tend to fly under the radar by design, but once you start looking you’ll see them everywhere. For one thing, they’ve been all over the streaming charts in the past few years: folklore, evermore, “thank u, next,” girl in red, mxmtoon, dodie, beabadoobee, how i’m feeling now, “drivers license,” “deja vu,” “good 4 u” — to name just a few recent, femme-forward musical phenomena that wouldn’t even think of imposing the tyranny of capital letters on the listener’s imagination.

But lowercase girls have been there forever, in the back rows of classrooms and the corners of parties, daydreaming, doodling, stockpiling vivid details and observations in the marble notebooks of their minds — waiting for the precise moment to launch them like a carefully crafted dart that punctures everybody else’s apathy and proves just how sharply she has been paying attention. Some of the best of them never grow out of it. “My only advantage as a reporter,” Joan Didion wrote in 1968, unwittingly describing her own species perfectly, “is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does.” Beware the lowercase girl. Although she is usually overlooked, underestimated and even ignored, she sometimes turns out to be the one who’s been writing the story all along.

Such were the cultural forces that Olivia Rodrigo harnessed, streamlined and gloriously melo-dramatized earlier this year in her breakout single, “drivers license” — stylized all lowercase, because of course. A lifelong Swiftie (almost literally: When Taylor Swift’s self-titled debut album came out, Rodrigo was 3) and the daughter of a therapist, Rodrigo was raised to be the kind of person who didn’t exactly hide her feelings. On the chorus of the song that accelerated her to overnight fame, she saves her most impassioned vocal delivery for what she clearly considers to be her ex’s most grievous crime: Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me. The implication being that in her songs, defiantly, she means every word.

In the last few years, given the success of Billie Eilish’s ASMR jams and Swift’s soft acoustic reveries — “lowercase girl album” bona fides that were documented by Jill Gutowitz in Vulture last year — it has sometimes felt like pop musicians are playing one big round of the Quiet Game, daring each other into an ever more provocative hush. “drivers license” certainly benefits from that tonal shift, but the most moving thing about the song is actually its careening sense of dynamism, the way it swings repeatedly from a private muttering to a collective, belt-it-out exorcism of the heart. Such is the power of That Bridge. (Perhaps the surest indication of the song’s massive, cross-generational appeal is the fact that its bridge inspired both a TikTok challenge and an SNL skit — some kids may have been editing their small-screen video responses to it as their parents watched the episode on some old technological innovation called live TV.) Rodrigo’s songs play out like bottled-up soliloquies rather than two-sided conversations, which gives them the emotional force of someone who has previously felt unheard (by an apathetic boyfriend, or maybe by adult society writ large) finally speaking her mind. And so that bridge exposes the great irony of not only “drivers license,” but the lowercase girl herself. Because on the inside, where all the feelings are, her caps-lock key is JAMMED.

“drivers license” would have been a hard act for any new artist to follow, but in the past month, Rodrigo has seized every opportunity to prove that there’s more to her than even that song could fully showcase. The two singles she’s released in the lead-up to her debut album, Sour, have effortlessly slipped into unexpected genres — who among us could have predicted that the “drivers license” girl would go scorched-earth pop-punk on her third single, or that she’d pull it off? — and both have been sprinkled with striking, cleverly documented observational details. “Trading jackets, laughing ’bout how small it looks on you,” she sings on the hypnotic “deja vu,” as a chorus of backup Olivias exhale a scathing line of canned, can-barely-be-bothered laughter at such a romantic cliché: ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. “Guess the therapist I found for you, she really helped,” she shrugs on “good 4 u” — one of those kung fu lyrics that cuts its intended target in seven different places before he even realizes he’s bleeding. Rodrigo’s songs have lived-in details to spare, as though she had all this time been assembling a detailed dossier on the emotional minutiae of the teenage experience.

The remarkably potent Sour, out today, plays a similar game of bait-and-switch with expectations. Far from the muted chords of “drivers license”—and worlds away from the musical-theater sheen of her songs for Disney+’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series — the album’s opening track, “brutal,” crashes in with a torrent of loud, crunchy guitars, overtop of which Rodrigo’s dryly compressed voice lists a seemingly unending string of adolescent neuroses: “And I don’t stick up for myself / I’m anxious and nothing can help / And I wish I’d done this before / And I wish people liked me more.” The and and and and’s pile up like a teetering Jenga tower of stress. Rodrigo proved on “good 4 u” that she can do a very effective vocal sneer, and on “brutal” she saves her most caustic one for the adults who insist, in their rose-colored recollections, that their teenage years were the best of their lives. “I’m so sick of 17,” she sighs, “where’s my f****** teenage dream?!” It’s an exhilarating lyric, an expertly calibrated eye roll at anyone over the age of 18 — or maybe even at the previous generation’s entire philosophy about how pop music should be made.

“I’m very emo,” Rodrigo said in a recent Rolling Stone video interview, sitting beside her co-writer and producer Dan Nigro. “Dan was in an emo band, and he still tells me I’m emo — that’s how you know you’re really emo.”

Now 39, Nigro used to be the frontman of the Long Island-based band As Tall as Lions, who found moderate success in the booming East Coast emo-punk scene of the early aughts. He might seem an unlikely musical partner for Rodrigo, until you remember that perhaps the most prominent current producer of pop music made by young women, Jack Antonoff, is a veteran of the very same scene. (His first band, New Jersey-based Steel Train, was signed to the beloved, influential pop-punk label Drive-Thru Records.)

But as a one-time lowercase girl / emo kid / Drive-Thru Records enthusiast from suburban New Jersey, I do find it pretty surprising that two of the most successful producers in crafting pop music from a feminine point of view came out of that scene. Because, as I remember all too well, it was a realm almost entirely devoid of women’s voices.

“From my early-to-mid adolescence,” I wrote years ago in a reassessment of this period in my music-obsessed life, “I listened almost exclusively to music made by sad boys.” And it wasn’t just that girls’ perspectives were absent from this music that I loved so passionately during this confusing and hormonally tumultuous time: The Girl was always the reason the boys were sad. In these songs, she was often actively vilified, blamed for the Lead Singer Boy’s every earthly woe — and not infrequently the star of his violent revenge fantasies. “Even if her plane crashes tonight she’ll find some way to disappoint me,” went a song I can still sing by heart as an adult, “by not burning in the wreckage, or drowning at the bottom of the sea.” This was, to me, romantic, melodramatic, deep. I doodled lyrics like those on the backs of worksheets, in the margins of my diary. I played guitar — much better than I ever gave myself credit for then — but was too shy to be in a band, so I resorted to playing covers of those sorts of songs alone in my bedroom. Maybe I would have uploaded them to YouTube if it had existed.

I gravitated toward emo and punk music because I was seeking out some sort of alternative to life as I knew it, so I think if Olivia Rodrigo had existed when I was a teen I would have at first been a little skeptical of her mainstream popularity, her preternatural poise, her Disney past. But in the end I have to think I would have been pulled in by the oceanic undertow of her music’s subjectivity, an exquisitely detailed, deeply felt, young girl’s perspective that was woefully lacking in the music I listened to when I myself was learning how to parallel park.

Nigro’s production style for Rodrigo is both playful and atmospheric, conjuring a kind of dreamy internal space in which it seems like the listener is eavesdropping on the singer’s thoughts and impressions. Seemingly small, intimate moments — an ex sharing a Billy Joel song with his new flame, say, in “deja vu” — are underscored with operatic flair. Though updated for this world of social media surveillance and stream-of-consciousness text messages, this approach isn’t exactly new. It’s basically the foundation of modern pop music as we know it, dating back to the youth-oriented concerns of Brill Building songwriters in the 1950s and the early 1960s girl groups whose adolescent experiences were dramatized into three-minute symphonies thanks to Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound.”

But also: No thanks to Phil Spector. Because his unavoidable centrality in the story of modern pop music also reminds us that it is an industry with a long, troubling history of exploiting — or worse — the affective labor of teenage girls. Accusations of abuse now also loom over the previous generation’s most influential pop hitmaker, Dr. Luke — ironically the architect of so-called “empowering” female-driven millennial pop anthems like “Roar,” “Since U Been Gone” and, yep, f-ing “Teenage Dream.”

Rodrigo’s creative partnership with Nigro, though, seems to fit within a newer paradigm of pop star/producer power dynamics. Much like Antonoff’s pairings with some of the artists who have most directly inspired Rodrigo (Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey), and even a little like the intimate workings of Eilish’s bedroom pop laboratory with her brother Finneas, Rodrigo and Nigro present their work to the world as the result of a genuine, non-hierarchical collaboration. “I realize I’m okay at navigating my job because I played in a band for 10 years with three other very emotional, crazy people — myself probably being the most emotional crazy of the four of us,” Nigro told Vice earlier this year. “Having those experiences with my bandmates has really helped me work with so many different artists, because I’m able to understand what they’re going through and get them to feel open enough to be who they actually are.”

But maybe that supposedly “new” paradigm also has crucial antecedents scattered throughout musical history, too. Nigro’s language there bears a striking resemblance to the way Alanis Morissette has described her creative partnership with producer Glen Ballard, with whom she first worked on another album with which Sour finds cross-generational echoes: Jagged Little Pill. “glen’s presence with me had no agenda,” Morissette reflected in a 2015 essay commemorating the 20th anniversary of that landmark album and written — it must be said — all in lowercase letters. “this presence and this lack of projecting onto me ‘what i should be’ was the ultimate freedom and support i needed to crack open.”

In that essay, Morissette acknowledges that part of her success was lucky timing: In the mid-’90s there was suddenly, she writes, “a readiness, perhaps, for people to hear about the underbelly, the true experience of being a young, sensitive, and brave person in a patriarchal world.” That moment proved to be fleeting, though, and by the early aughts and my early teens the mainstream culture had shifted back to its norm of only caring about macho, masculine angst. Any girl trying to use the idioms of punk or emo to express herself — like, say, Avril Lavigne — was immediately regarded as an intruder, a poser or a sell-out until proven otherwise.

What I realize when I reflect back on the silent voices of my youth, though, is that we girls had so much to rage and yell and be sad about — maybe even more than the boys ever did. Because for all the sense of community it gave me in connecting with like-minded friends, the punk and emo scene often still replicated the most misogynistic impulses of the broader culture. Something I have been sitting with for the past few years, and which I have not even known how to begin to process, is that the songwriter and frontman of my favorite emo band — the one who wrote those plane-crash lyrics I sang along to endlessly — was accused of sexual misconduct by girls who, at the time, were about the same age that I was when I idolized him. When I think too hard about that, I want to scream until my lungs explode.

Rodrigo and her peers have come of age at a time when a lot of the gender norms that reinforce those exploitative power dynamics are breaking down, in part because most of them grow up with an awareness and acceptance of gender fluidity. Terms like “lowercase girl,” or just “girl,” are more pliable, inviting and optional than they used to be. Some very popular, very emotional musicians have also paved certain paths, whether that’s Swift, Lorde, or Paramore’s Hayley Williams. Even if I didn’t always hear it affirmed in my own adolescence, it’s heartening to now hear Rodrigo asserting, from the top of the charts, that girls have plenty to be emo about.

As Sour progresses, the ability to feel deeply and express herself becomes Rodrigo’s superpower. “Maybe I’m too emotional, or maybe you never cared at all,” she sings on the searing bridge of “good 4 u.” It’s not her, it’s him, she concludes, diagnosing an unfeeling ex as acting “like a damn sociopath.” Rodrigo refracts the shattering experience of first heartbreak through a multitude of different moods and genres, and it’s a testament to her transfixing strengths as a songwriter and a vocal performer that it only starts to feel repetitive one song from the end.

Some of the most promising moments on Sour come when Rodrigo widens her view beyond The Boy or even herself, toward the larger forces keeping kids of her generation feeling so emo. “jealousy, jealousy” fixes its frustration on the picture-perfect distortions of influencer culture: “I kinda wanna throw my phone against the wall,” Rodrigo groans. In response to a culture saturated with quick-fix life hacks, self-help truisms and therapy-speak, Rodrigo is refreshingly good at illuminating the space between what she knows she should feel and what she actually does feel. “I know their beauty’s not my lack,” she sings, harmonizing with herself so that the line sounds like one of those annoyingly tidy Instagram graphics with an inspirational note written in cursive. “Never doubted myself so much, like am I pretty, am I fun, boy?” she sings, airing her insecurities on the stirring “1 step forward, 3 steps back” (a song that interpolates, with permission, the piano riff from Taylor Swift’s “New Year’s Day” — the ultimate baton-pass). “I hate that I give you power over that kind of stuff,” Rodrigo sighs. And yet, how could she not? It’s brutal out there.

The final song on Sour finds one last opportunity to flip expectations. “hope ur ok” is not — as its title might suggest — a feel-good message to the ex of “drivers license,” thus cleanly and cathartically closing the narrative loop. It is instead a series of character sketches of kids Rodrigo once knew well and lost touch with over the years. Each of them carries their own trauma, which Rodrigo sketches in empathetic, economical writing (“he wore long sleeves ’cause of his dad”). The song is sad but hopeful, radically unsettling at times, and almost disarmingly earnest in its benevolently universal well-wishing. Again, Rodrigo plays the girl who’s always been observing everyone around her with a gimlet eye, whether they realized it or not. Maybe, she seems to be concluding on behalf of her much-misunderstood generation, this is a more realistic teenage dream. Not to be ecstatic, euphoric, eternally empowered. Just to be — as Rodrigo puts it in unpresuming lowercase — “ok.”

SOURCE: NPR.org