Being on Disney used to hold teen stars back. Olivia Rodrigo is changing the narrative. Her chart-topping debut record Sour breaks the child-star archetype with honest (and explicit) hits fit for Gen-Z and beyond. Gemma Cockrell delves beneath the angst and allure of the biggest album of the year so far.
Olivia Rodrigo is somewhat of an overnight sensation. From her role in Disney+’s ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’, to becoming a household name following the virality of her first single drivers license, there was huge pressure placed on Rodrigo’s shoulders to release a debut album which attained, if not exceeded, the same levels of publicity and popularity as its lead single. Ultimately, Rodrigo succeeded, with the two following singles from the album (deja vu and good 4 u) having already achieved virality and success almost equal to drivers license on TikTok. However, there is much more to SOUR than just the singles. An album highlight is traitor, where Rodrigo reflects on her past relationship and being betrayed.
The fourth track of SOUR, 1 step forward, 3 steps back, lists Rodrigo’s musical idol Taylor Swift and producer Jack Antonoff in the writing credits. However, this track is not a collaboration between the two artists. Instead, Swift and Antonoff are credited for this track because the song interpolates the melody of Swift’s track New Year’s Day which appeared on her 2017 album Reputation. Rodrigo has also confirmed that Swift’s 2019 track Cruel Summer from her album Lover was the inspiration behind the bridge of the album’s second single déjà vu (a track which also strikes similarities to Lorde). Rodrigo is clearly very inspired and heavily influenced by Swift as an artist, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into a bad thing on SOUR. Rather than the album seeming like a direct copy of one of Swift’s previous albums, Rodrigo brings her own unique personality and emotive song-writing ability to the laidback pop music that she crafts.
‘Rodrigo brings her own unique personality and emotive song-writing ability to the laidback pop music that she crafts.’
Relationship breakdown serves as a recurring theme of the album as a whole, and there are many lyrical moments throughout SOUR where it is emphasised that Rodrigo is a vulnerable eighteen-year-old girl who is truly heartbroken for the first time, experiencing emotions in their purest form as adolescents often do. enough for you sees her losing herself in order to please someone else (“I wore makeup when we dated / Cus I thought you’d like me more”) and on the track favorite crime, she admits that she has allowed herself to be treated badly by someone to avoid losing them (“Know that I loved you so bad / I let you treat me like that”).
Taylor Swift is not Rodrigo’s only musical influence on SOUR. good 4 u is a pop-punk-inspired anthem, driven by fire, resentment, bitterness, and electric guitars, comparable to the American rock band Paramore. The opening track of the album brutal channels the same energy, with a Gen-Z-esque quip of “It’s brutal out here” on the hook. Another track evidently directed at an adolescent audience is jealousy, where Rodrigo explores the unrealistic beauty standards set for young people by social media and the negative effect this has on her mental well-being, with lyrics such as “I kinda wanna throw my phone across the room / Cause all I see are girls too good to be true,” and “comparison is killin’ me slowly.” happier further tackles the theme of comparison, but here Rodrigo compares herself to her ex’s new lover with a pure and refreshing yet heart-wrenching innocence (“But she's beautiful, she looks kind / She probably gives you butterflies”).
The album’s closing track, hope ur ok, tackles different themes to the rest of SOUR. Here, Rodrigo reminisces about old friends and expresses how proud she is of them. It can be assumed that these people were part of the LGBTQ+ community, surrounded by family members who did not accept their identities or sexualities. “His parents cared more about the Bible / Than being good to their own child / He wore long sleeves cause of his dad,” and “Her parents hated who she loved / She couldn't wait to go to college” are lyrics that hint heavily towards this, and ultimately Rodrigo affirms their existence and purpose, wishing them well in their futures. It is an unexpected but welcome turn in the album, following ten tracks about Rodrigo’s own personal heartbreak, and it is a tribute to Rodrigo’s storytelling ability as she uses striking imagery to paint realistic pictures of the experiences of the people that she is describing.
SOUR is the perfect soundtrack to the experience of a breakup, specifically a first breakup. Even though this is evidently the album’s intended demographic, it is still an enjoyable listen regardless of whether you are currently experiencing those post-breakup emotions. Ultimately, SOUR is a promising album packed with raw and honest lyricism from a young, talented and versatile rising pop star.
Written by: Gemma Cockrell
Edited by: Alex Duke