REVIEW | Olivia Rodrigo’s Generation-Defining Debut

When ‘Driver’s Licence’ was released at the start of 2021, it was easy to dismiss Olivia Rodrigo – in spite of the song’s undeniable strengths – as another one-hit-wonder, sad-girl pop artist with a TikTok hit. The last year-or-so, helped largely by the popularity of said-social media site – has seen countless stars enjoy overnight success with just one track (Masked Wolf with ‘Astronaut in The Ocean’, Tate McRae with ‘You Broke Me First’). It was easy to assume following the viral success of ‘Drivers Licence’ that Rodrigo would join their ranks; as yet another artist seemingly destined to have the rest of her career overshadowed by one early hit. 

Follow up single ‘Deja Vu’ did little to either assuage their fears or confirm them; the track failed to reach the same level of chart-domination as it’s successor; yet it was hardly a flop either:- the song debuted in the top 10, maintained a stable standing in the charts and would later peak at the number 3 spot. 

It was the album’s third single ‘Good 4 U’, however, that really solidified Rodrigo’s staying power; a smash hit that debuted straight at number one and broke records Rodrigo had set herself months earlier with ‘Drivers Licence’. This coupled with the eye-watering success of ‘Sour’s opening-week, confirmed Rodrigo’s place as a generation-defining artist: following in the impressive lineage of artists like Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne, and most recently, Billie Eilish. 

Like those artists and their landmarks albums (‘Jagged Little Pill’, ‘Let Go’, ‘When We All Fall Asleep…’), ‘Sour’ is an imperfectly perfect soundtrack for an entire generation; encapsulating feelings of angst, heart-ache and the conflict between searing bitterness and delicate regret. For a 34-minute, 11 track album, ‘Sour’ is a remarkably fully-realised, well-rounded album that captures the current mood of Gen-Z with remarkable precision and accuracy. Opener ‘Brutal’ – a delightful 00s esque pop-punk banger – reflects both a generalised teenage angst (“I’m so insecure, I think / That I’ll die before I drink”) and more specific discontent with our hyper-capitalististic system (“Who am I if not exploited?”, “Where’s my fucking teenage dream?”). 

‘Traitor’ – an early fan favourite – meanwhile, encapsulate the melodrama and end-of-the-world inconsolability of teenage heart-break; her ex, she tells us, may not have cheated but he’s still a “traitor”. ‘Deja Vu’ meanwhile uses deceptively sunny production and instrumentation to disguise that livid feeling of seeing an ex move on and do all the things in a new relationship they did with you: “everything is all reused” Rodrigo belts on the bridge.

‘Jealousy, Jealousy’, meanwhile, captures that social media induced self doubt instigated by Instagram models “too good to be true” and unfavourable comparisons with your peers. The song almost collapses under it’s weight as Rodrigo ends up getting self-doubt about her own self-doubt (“Oh God, I sound crazy”) and longs hopelessly for some sort of inner peace (“I’m so sick of myself / I’d rather be, rather be / anyone, anyone else”). The chorus is just climactic enough, and offers just enough release, to offset the heaviness of it’s themes. 

The album’s best moments oft occur when the bitterness of heart-break doesn’t consume the song’s narratives. The Swiftian ‘Favourite Crime’ sees Rodrigo take on at least partial responsibility for her heartbreak and contains some of the albums sweetest and most positively nostalgic moments (“I hope I was your favourite crime…’Cause you were mine”). ‘Hope Ur Ok’ – the album closer – meanwhile, is a master-class in story-telling; a track that exudes total sincerity in an irony-poisoned world. With seeming influence from the lyricism of Boygenius’s Lucy Dacus, the song is an ode to those with mental illness and those who have been maligned for their sexuality. With lines like “His parents cared more about the Bible / Than being good to their own child / He wore long sleeves cause of his dad”, the track is a genuine show-stopper, but if ‘Sour’ is any indicator, the show isn’t going to stop anytime soon for Rodrigo.

Score: 7.4

Best Tracks: Deja Vu, Traitor, Favourite Crime, Hope Ur Ok

Worst Tracks: Driver’s License

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