The world’s newest pop star makes a sweet debut
18-year-old actress, singer and songwriter Olivia Rodrigo has risen to fame in the blink of an eye throughout this year. At the start of 2021, when she was still 17, Rodrigo starred in the Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Within the same week, she had a jaw-dropping amount of streams and continuous domination over TikTok with her debut single, “drivers license.” Riddled with the emotions of melancholic heartbreak and anguish, the viral culture of today’s society allowed for the single to relate to teens everywhere. These characteristics are consistent with Rodrigo’s debut album Sour’s overall theme: failed romance and teenage angst. Rodrigo goes through the various stages of grief within her mind and heart—from lightly chaotic and angry to crushed and gloomy.
“brutal” is a strong opener to the album, strategically placed to reel in the listener with its grunge guitar mixed with the anger and distortion in Rodrigo’s voice. Accompanied with sarcastically snarly lyrics like, “Where’s my f*cking teenage dream,” this track sets the tone for a confused young adult who’s learning to question everything. Rodrigo strays away from the nimble tone that is “drivers license” as she criticizes the romanticization of youth and vents about her constant battles with self-doubt and expectations.
Interestingly, this album showcases that Rodrigo seems to have a wide range of tastes and is quite knowledgeable about music. Within each track, she understands how one can utilize it to figure out an identity, especially at the age where you’re constantly putting on different faces to find your own.
Modeling the firework pop-punk style of Paramore, “good 4 u” is a playful approach towards Rodrigo’s heartbreak. It’s another single that is all the rage on TikTok and has even been mixed together on the app with Paramore’s “Misery Business,” as they sound so similar. The ballet-like melody of “1 step forward, 3 steps back” has a dewy-eyed feel where she touches on the feeling of constantly being on thin ice with your partner. She uses her emotional turmoil as jet fuel in songwriting, entangling her lyrics with specific memories shared with whoever the tracks are about. (Which, if you are dying to know, the album is rumored to be about Rodrigo’s co-star in the HSMTM series, Joshua Bassett.)
“I wore makeup when we dated because I thought you’d like me more” kicks off one of the most sincere and emotional tracks of the album “enough for you.” Flowing over a soft acoustic instrumental, it takes a closer look at her own insecurities, the lack of appreciation she received from her partner and the hardest parts about relationships/heartbreak. However, because the lyrics are so heart-wrenching, Rodrigo trying to match that level of passion in her voice becomes evident in some places, causing it to sound oversung.
Despite Rodrigo discovering a new sense of maturity from this heartbreak, there are small moments throughout Sour that point towards the care for content rather than craft. The flat tone and melody (in both music and voice) of “traitor” is a major contrast to the euphoria of “drivers license.” While validating her own experience and having the outlet to unleash her heartbreak was the most important factor, repetition was the one major weakness of this project.
Given the number of teens who have gone through, are currently going through, or will go through exactly what Rodrigo has, Sour has a level of comfort that can reach her desired audience, and that’s all that matters. She teaches young girls the magic of embracing your own mess, that anger from heartbreak is human and how to break out of the norms placed onto them in their adolescent years. Her maturity and growth in the industry, and as an individual, is at its pivotal stage with a great head start.