After the success of her single, Driver’s License, Olivia Rodrigo has released her debut album, Sour, at the age of 18. She redefines the stereotypes of being a Disney star and emerges as an artist in her own right.
When I first heard Driver’s License by Olivia Rodrigo, I was both gripped by the pure excellence of the song itself and equally the theories surrounding the song. I couldn’t comprehend how a 17-year-old girl, from Disney channel fame, had written a song you would expect to hear from a highly experienced artist.
It made me even more sceptical when Rodrigo announced her debut album, titled Sour, in April. This was only a few months after she had released Driver’s License. It felt rushed and more like an opportunity to capitalise on the hype surrounding her music, rather than the appreciation of the music itself.
From January to May, Rodrigo released a total of three singles. They were all different in sound and tone, proving early on that Olivia Rodrigo is no one-hit wonder.
olivia rodrigo proving to critics she’s not a one hit wonder with SOUR and she’s coming for best new artist in 2022 mark my words
— sara (@thisbemesara) May 21, 2021
Teen Rage for Every Age
The album opens with the angsty and raging song titled Brutal. It is an acknowledgement of the difficulties of being a teenager in today’s climate. It also showcases how anxiety and insecurities dominate what are supposed to be the best times of your life. Having Brutal as the opener is the beginning of a self-aware trajectory that she remains truthful to over the course of the album.
One of the recurring questions I had when I first listened to the album was: “Why do I relate to a teenager’s lyrics so much when I’m in my twenties?” However, age is not a constraint for Rodrigo. She acknowledges her youth but articulates her pain and anger in a way that transcends the thoughts and feelings of a 17-year-old.
She hasn’t created an album for a particular audience. Instead, she has written truthfully about her experiences which have resonated with audiences of all ages. You can tell this is the music she wants to make, rather than the music a record label is asking or expecting of her.
‘Taylor cried so Olivia could sob’
If you know of Olivia Rodrigo, you probably know of her love for Taylor Swift, who she has repeatedly praised and credited for being an inspiration. These associations with Swift automatically created comparisons between the two artists. This is another barrier Rodrigo tackles effortlessly. Admittedly, I went in expecting Swift influences, but Rodrigo doesn’t let these pre-conceptions of her music constrain her to a certain type of sound.
In her song 1 step forward, 3 steps back, Rodrigo samples Swift’s song New Year’s Day from her Reputation album. Despite this, the song still sounds like Rodrigo’s in her own right. The only traces of Swift in this album are from Rodrigo’s lyric writing. This is understandable since Swift is arguably one of the best lyric writers in the music industry. Rodrigo’s fan love for Swift is endearing and relatable, but she does not let this dominate her own musical sound.
📝| @RollingStone names Olivia Rodrigo as Taylor Swift's disciple and compares "my tears ricochet" to "traitor".
"Rodrigo… proudly assume her place as a disciple of Taylor Swift, 'Traitor' is the long-lost cousin of 'My Tears Ricochet'." pic.twitter.com/k6alJuOo7V
— The Swift Society (@TheSwiftSociety) May 21, 2021
An album of immersive listening and feeling
From the start to the end of Sour, it can sometimes feel like you’re listening to someone read their diary entries. Every song is vivid and honest. You can feel the pain of her heartbreak in every word she sings. Everything is hyperbolic, dramatic and she feels things deeply. It’s the kind of drama we all went through and admittedly still feel — especially after heartbreak.
Sour offers the opportunity to relive your angriest, saddest and most intense teenage years vicariously through Rodrigo. Her descriptive and dainty ballads are songs you envisage in a coming-of-age film. Her 90s pop-punk upbeat songs are the kind you want to scream with your friends on a road trip.
Like her music video aesthetics, she wants listeners to visualise exactly what she’s feeling. Every single song builds an image, and you envisage an aesthetic for every song. While you listen, you can’t help but wish for a visual album or immersive experience to see these lyrics come to life. Your mind can create mini-movies based on the honesty and intensity of her storytelling. This could be something to look forward to on her future tours.
Closure for one, closure for all
Some particularly outstanding songs are favourite crime and hope ur okay, featured as the last two songs on the record.
The song favourite crime serves as an acknowledgement and self-reflection of her role in this broken relationship. She reveals the extent she would go to keep this mysterious ex-boyfriend in her life. While you’re listening, you can’t help but be tempted to message your own non-existent ex.
As for hope ur okay, you initially think the song is a source of closure and putting this intense relationship behind her. Instead, the track is a narrative surrounding people’s difficult upbringings. It is a hopeful ballad to those who have experienced hardships from families and wider society.
The song addresses the different circumstances people are forced to grow up and live in. It is her way of extending support, love and unity with those who are struggling. It is one of the most beautiful and cathartic endings to an album. The song also mirrors the emotions felt when first hearing Fine Line at the end of Harry Styles’ sophomore album. It ties the narrative of her album together harmoniously and helps the album feel like a uniform and thoughtful collection of work.
A new era of Disney star magic
Rodrigo’s debut album is the soundtrack you wish you had when you were growing up, experiencing your teen heartbreaks. But it’s also the album you’re glad you have as you’re maturing and reflecting.
The word sour is a good way to encapsulate how she probably felt at one point in the relationship. But by the end of the album, there’s a maturity and transition into adulthood. You can’t help but root for her sourness at the start, but feel hopeful that by track 11, she gets the closure she deserves.
Unlike other Disney artists, this is not an album she’s going to be embarrassed about in 10 years’ time or try to disassociate herself from. It’s a reflective body of work that encapsulates who she is right now and where she is going.
I hope she utilises the ‘era trends’, in the same way as Swift’s Reputation era and Lover era, and begins to grow into this space of maturity that she has created for herself by the end of the album.
As Rodrigo sings in good for u about how she’s lost her mind, spending all night crying on the floor of her bathroom, we will be doing that too. But instead, we’ll be crying in our bathrooms listening to Sour.
sour is a masterpiece, olivia rodrigo is a lyrical genius pic.twitter.com/iJ7kpVtutd
— tee | jude duarte simp (@BR3KKERKAZ) May 21, 2021