Olivia Rodrigo is taking the world by storm, and we couldn’t be more excited.
There’s almost zero chance that you made it through the beginning of this year without hearing “drivers license.” Red lights, stop signs — ring any bells? It’s essentially the new teenage anthem, a ballad with the staying power to be a radio hit for years to come. But unlike tons of radio hits, you’re going to know exactly who sings it because Olivia Rodrigo isn’t a name that’s going to be forgotten.
Her first album SOUR debuted on Friday and has seen incredible success. She’s the first female artist in Billboard Hot 100 history to have two #1 debuting singles from a debut album. That’s huge! It really speaks to the cultural impact that her music is having, and not just for girls her age either (Rodrigo is 18). Millennials have also been sharing similar sentiments online of how Rodrigo’s music takes them back to all the hard emotions they felt in high school, even if they’re now happily married.
Her New Album
There’s no getting around it. SOUR is by every measure a sad, heartbreak album. Which is exactly what the young songwriter wanted to avoid at first, for fear of being “pigeonholed.” Rodrigo tried putting love songs on the album so she wouldn't become known as “just the heartbreak girl.” And for someone who wants to be “taken seriously as a songwriter” that was a big fear of hers, but she placed the artistry and honesty of her craft ahead of that and made a vulnerable record that was true to the emotions of her 17-year-old self.
Rodrigo titled it SOUR in the spirit of all the angst and “sour” emotions she was feeling when she wrote it. But before you assume that means all the songs sound the same, let me assure you that the 34 minute 46 second long record will keep you on your toes the whole way through as Rodrigo showcases her versatility as a musician and a songwriter.
SOUR starts off the first track “brutal” with some deceivingly demure instrumentals before launching into a full-on pop-punk sound reminiscent of the early 2000s while a frustrated Rodrigo sings, “God, it’s brutal out here.” What teen hasn’t felt that? And for the Millennials listening, just wait for her to reference Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” (Yes, that song is actually 11 years old now.) But before you think you know how this song is going to go, the crunchy punk chords slow down and transition back to the eerie instrumentals from the start, proving that with Rodrigo at the helm and with the help of her producer Daniel Nigro creativity is always going to be part of the equation.
There’s no shortage of songs on SOUR that, while lyrically sad, are the kind of songs that make you want to dance around your room like nobody’s watching. Rodrigo told Nylon that she “struggled for a really long time with writing an upbeat song that people could move to and not just cry to.” Well, Olivia, mission accomplished. A sad song that’s also upbeat is no easy feat, but pop-punk is a great genre to conquer it in.
Her Songwriting Prowess
But what might be most impressive about Rodrigo’s work is the lyrical vulnerability that’s been missing in the songs of up-and-coming singers. That storytelling element of her songwriting, Rodrigo credits to growing up with country music. And that descriptive, diary-like lyrical style of course mimics the singer and songwriter she’s often been compared to — Taylor Swift.
Quite the compliment! And Rodrigo is certainly deserving. On the track “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” where Rodrigo fittingly interpolated Swift’s “New Year’s Day”, the only 18-year-old Olivia croons, “And maybe in some masochistic way / I kind of find it all exciting,” before putting the bow on the verse when she sings with playful, almost sarcastic emotion that makes it sound as if she were talking to him, “Like, which lover will I get today? / Will you walk me to the door or send me home crying?”. Her use of tone when she sings is consistently impressive and makes the lyrics cut that much deeper.
Rodrigo seems to have the gift that gave Swift the long career she’s had, relatability. With lyrics like “I can’t even parallel park” and songs like “jealousy, jealousy” all about the blow to self-esteem that today’s youth can feel when looking at social media, her songs are speaking to a whole new generation of girls in the same honest way Swift has done. And jamming out to their favorite singer who just seems to get them (which millions of girls worldwide have been doing), just might be the cure to their latest teen struggle.
But the media and fans aren’t the only ones who see the comparison. Swift herself has recognized Rodrigo’s talent and shown her support, sending Rodrigo a note that Olivia quite sweetly kept mostly private, gifting her a ring that spells out “LOVE” (a version of what Swift wore when writing her album Red), and posting a picture of the two on Instagram.
Crafting Her Image
Another similarity between Rodrigo and Swift is an uncanny vision for their image. Olivia’s style is this hard-to-explain combination of sweet and girly with an undeniable edge. It encompasses SOUR perfectly. It isn’t too emo and alternative for slower ballads “enough for you” and “happier,” but it has the edge she needs to get up and sing songs like “good 4 u” and “brutal.”
And her team seems to be right there with her with clever marketing like the collaboration with Sour Patch Kids to play off the album name and a car wash decorated for her album release to give a nod to all the car imagery in her singles “drivers license” and “deja vu.” The attention to detail bodes for lots of creative album promotions to come.
Rodrigo and her team seemingly haven’t made a wrong step yet. And despite her at times hard-hitting lyrics, that probably has a lot to do with Rodrigo’s positive and professional attitude. She had the wherewithal to refrain from any regrettable social media posts during the media coverage of the alleged drama between her, former flame Joshua Bassett, and Sabrina Carpenter, all co-stars on the Disney show High School Musical: the Series. She’s smart and seems to value the work she creates over the fanfare that surrounds it, even talking about the day when she might stop putting out records and just stick to writing songs. It all just reads like an artist who at only 18 has her head on straight and isn’t too affected by the fame.
And that’s what makes Rodrigo different from past Disney starlets like Miley Cyrus who went off the rails (remember “Wrecking Ball”?) in a statement of rebellion and divergence from their innocent Disney roots. Instead, Rodrigo made a thoughtful decision to sign with Geffen Records. Her music has been separated from her acting roles with Disney entirely, so you’ll hear a few swear words on the explicit version and some biting lyrics that wouldn’t be approved if she were under a Disney label. Olivia doesn’t seem like she’s trying to prove a point, she just seems like herself. And that’s exactly why it’s working.
Olivia Rodrigo may have seemingly come out of nowhere, but she’s here to stay, and deservingly so. She’s bringing something fresh and exciting to the music industry, and her penchant for heartbreakingly honest songs will not only resonate with listeners for years to come, but will also lead to commercial success. So maybe she’s the one whose “career is really taking off.” Good 4 her!
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