Photo Credit: Hanina Pinnick
It’s nearly impossible to have made it this far into the year without having heard of breakout star Olivia Rodrigo. Whether it be from her main role on the Disney+ original show, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, or hearing snippets of “driver’s license” and “good 4 u” everywhere you go, the name Olivia Rodrigo has become ubiquitous. Rodrigo has managed to reach a level of relatability and maturity within her songs that keep people coming back to listen to them. People of all ages find themselves in the songs either because they are around her age, or they’re transported back to the time of an angsty teenager with too many feelings to handle.
A rumored breakup with her co-star, Joshua Bassett, reportedly inspired the content for her entire debut album SOUR, with the majority of songs being about him. Despite the heavy centering on the end of a relationship, Rodrigo shows wisdom beyond her years and seeks to change the narrative we’ve written surrounding breakups like hers. The “love triangle” that developed between Rodrigo, Bassett, and Sabrina Carpenter rocketed to the forefront of the gossip mill after Rodrigo’s debut single, “driver’s license”, was released. However, Rodrigo switches the narrative from the other girl “stealing” her boyfriend, to accepting the role she and her boyfriend played in the relationship’s end.
Outside of the relationship, Rodrigo reminds us of the struggles of adolescence. The opening song, “brutal”, is a punk rock track that toes the line between a generalized angst (“And I’m not cool and I’m not smart // And I can’t even parallel park”) to a more specific discomfort with the capitalistic way the world currently runs (“Who am I if not exploited…Where’s my f*cking teenage dream”). “Jealousy jealousy” offers a critique on the role social media plays in determining self worth nowadays. Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with the Internet at their fingertips and no other songwriter has been able to capture the hardships that come with that on such a large scale.
Lyrically, Rodrigo mirrors her idols – specifically Taylor Swift in how detail-ridden and personal her lyrics are. Mentions of strawberry ice cream, trading jackets, crying on the bathroom floor are all reminiscent of Swift. Rodrigo even samples Swift’s piano melody from “New Year’s Day” on “1 step forward, 3 steps back”, and rewrites it from a sweet love song to that of a doomed relationship. Her use of extended metaphor in “favorite crime” shows how much potential she has as an artist. Vocally, she shows diversity from the grittier “good 4 u” and “brutal” to the summery and delicate “deja vu.” At only 18-years-old, Olivia still has room to mature and grow. Some of the songs on SOUR were oversung, however, overall the album was a stronger showing than most up-and-coming artists have on their debut albums.
SOUR is a generation-defining debut album. Rodrigo could have chosen to solely focus on her own heartbreak and add more sad ballads and many would have loved it anyways. Instead, she stepped back and decided to highlight the feelings of Gen Z and the unique struggles go through. The closing track, “hope ur ok”, tells the stories of others who have dealt with hardships in their homes growing up. The song ends with a message of hope and Rodrigo speaking directly to the listener: “Well, I hope you know how proud I am you were created…I hope that you’re okay.”