‘SOUR’ by Olivia Rodrigo has arrived, and it certainly won’t leave a sour taste in your mouth.
The High School Musical: The Musical: The Series star shot to viral fame in early 2020 when ‘All I Want’, a song Rodrigo wrote for the show, became a hit – being used as a popular sound on TikTok. The song went well beyond being a song in a Disney show, but that was only the start for the now 18-year-old.
‘All I Want’ led to a record deal, which led to ‘drivers license’.
On 9 January, Rodrigo posted on TikTok to announce that the song was out and already at #4 on the iTunes chart. The post went viral, surpassing some 46.2 million views on an earlier post to announce ‘All I Want’, and boasts 51.7 million views at the time of writing.
The song reached number one in charts all over the world – including the UK, where it broke several chart records. It beat out Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ for the crown of highest streams in a single day (17 million). Its nine-week stay at the top of the charts was also the longest by a female solo artist since Tones & I’s ‘Dance Monkey’.
Rodrigo hasn’t slowed down since, releasing another two singles, garnering the teen star further critical acclaim. The songs marked a break away from the bedroom pop-style ballad that fuelled her first single. ‘deja vu’ toys with psychedelic pop, with critics claiming it as a “marriage between Taylor Swift and OK Computer-era Radiohead”. ‘good 4 u’ departs even further from her first single, falling somewhere between pop-punk and grunge that recalls memories of Paramore’s ‘Misery Business’.
After three singles that display more versatility than most do in a whole album and a multitude of stunning live performances that only confirm her vocal prowess, I wasn’t sure Rodrigo could surprise me anymore.
I was wrong.
The album opens with ‘brutal’, and oh boy, is that song the best surprise Rodrigo has given us so far. It’s a far cry from ‘drivers license’. It’s addictive teen angst wrapped up in a gloriously 90s alt-rock package. Think Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavigne, but with a moment that feels very Billie Eilish to finish it off. “And I’m so sick of seventeen / where’s my f**kin’ teenage dream? If someone tells me one more time / “enjoy your youth”, I’m gonna cry” sings Rodrigo with the urgency of a teen who can’t wait to grow up, over guitar and drums that build and build until a chorus that explodes with adolescent frustration, that reminds me so, so beautifully of Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’. I have not stopped thinking about this song since I first heard it when the album dropped at midnight.
The angst of ‘brutal’ runs into the hurt-laden ‘traitor’, a song that is closer to ‘drivers license’ but is still very much its own heartbreak. It explores the horrible feeling of seeing your ex quickly move on while you’re still in a place of hurt. “Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor” is sure to be a lyric many will cry along to. It’s a mood change for sure.
That change in pace and mood remains pretty much in place for the rest of the album, but it doesn’t make the angrier songs like ‘brutal’, ‘good 4 u’, or ‘jealousy, jealousy’ feel out of place.
In fact, Rodrigo jumps from genre to genre without missing a beat, using the album’s theme of adolescent experiences to tie the album together rather than sticking to one precise genre. It works surprisingly well too. The genre-hopping feels intentional, not only to display Rodrigo’s versatility, but to reflect the turbulent emotions that underpin adolescence so famously.
The debut album is definitely a break-up album. There’s no denying that, and it captures those conflicting emotions of wanting the person you still love to be happy, but also hating them for what they did to you. ‘happier’ sees Rodrigo wanting her ex to be happy within their new relationship, but not happier than he was with her, and acknowledging the selfishness in that – “so find someone great, but don’t find no one better.”
Another highlight of the album is ‘jealousy, jealousy’. The singer describes her obsession with comparing herself to others, and the jealousy it’s stirring within her. The song is another that uses that alt-rock vibe, with a powerful bass line vibrating throughout. It’s not as high energy as ‘good 4 u’; it’s laid-back but emotive, painting an extremely relatable tale of wanting what others have.
The album closes on a sweet note, rather than a sour one. In what is perhaps her most Disney star-themed song, ‘hope ur ok’ is a letter to people Rodrigo used to know, telling their stories and revealing that though they don’t talk much, she hopes they’re okay. The track neatly ties the album’s adolescence narrative up in a bow, feeling like the reflection of someone coming out of their teenage years, looking back on those who helped shape them. It’s a resolution, an acceptance, after an album of hurt and heartbreak.
SOUR is an incredibly exciting album, demonstrating Rodrigo’s immense capability as a young artist. Its intimate portrayal of youth is incredibly compelling and proves that the singer is far from a one-hit wonder. We are far from hearing the last of Olivia Rodrigo.
So, if you’re one of those people who didn’t like ‘drivers license’ or got tired of constantly hearing it, do yourself a favour and listen to the rest of SOUR. It’s a debut that shifts, but remains glorious from start to finish. It’s hard not to love it.
By Robbie Nichols
Feature Image Credit: Interscope Records, Geffen Records