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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Rate and Review: Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album proves to be cathartic rather than “SOUR”

Olivia Rodrigo’s album “SOUR” came out Friday and has already broken records establishing her presence in the music industry

As of Sunday, all 11 songs of “SOUR” are dominating the top spots of the Spotify Charts in the U.S., with only two songs in the top 13 not belonging to the album.
As of Sunday, all 11 songs of “SOUR” are dominating the top spots of the Spotify Charts in the U.S., with only two songs in the top 13 not belonging to the album.

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album describes a sour breakup, but fans are left with a sweet after-taste of nostalgia. The debut “SOUR” dropped Friday, and many people are reliving high school through Rodrigo’s teenage angst, pensive lyrics and relatable topics. 

The 18-year-old musician and actress rose to fame with her lead roles on the Disney Channel series “Bizaardvark” and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” After dominating the Billboard Hot 100 chart for eight weeks with her hit “drivers license,” she is suddenly one of the biggest pop stars who had groups of all ages anticipating her official debut. 

“SOUR” is an album about heartbreak and embodies themes of adolescence, self discovery, insecurity, jealousy and reflection.

As of Sunday, all 11 songs of “SOUR” are dominating the top spots of the Spotify Charts in the U.S., with only two songs in the top 13 not belonging to the album. 

When “SOUR” begins, we are introduced to fairytale-like strings that are reminiscent of her Disney Channel roots. The fantasy on this track, however, is short-lived. About 14 seconds into “brutal,” Rodrigo exclaims “I want it to be, like, messy,” and we are thrown out of dreaming and put into a fun, aggressive alt-rock beat. 

By the time the song’s hook “God, it’s brutal out here” is sung, the idea of the song is summed up. The track describes personal challenges and insecurities while growing up, her experience in the music and TV industry, and the expectations placed on her as a successful young woman.

She conveys this with, “and I’m so tired that I might/quit my job, start a new life/and they’d all be disappointed/cause who am I if not exploited?” and “I hate every song I write/and I’m not cool and I’m not smart/and I can’t even parallel park.”

As “brutal” wraps up, it returns to the tranquility of strings. During its last line, Rodrigo softly sings, “I don’t even know where to start.” 

Contrary to the lyric, it seems Rodrigo knows exactly where to start with the next heart-wrenching track “traitor.” The song begins with piano and layered harmonies.

The song details betrayal. “You talked to her when we were together/Loved you at your worst but that didn’t matter/It took you two weeks to go off and date her/Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor,” she sings. During the song, she reflects on the negative aspects of a relationship and while she feels betrayed, misses what they had. She admits to knowing he was talking to someone else while they dated but kept quiet in an effort to keep him.

Keys jingle and the rhythmic ‘opened car door indicator’ begins the next song, noting it’s time for the iconic “drivers license.” The moving ballad expands on “traitor,” and it describes the pain of doing something alone, which she hoped to accomplish with her partner by her side.

After four emotional minutes of “drivers license,” there’s a moment of peace when bird chirping  introduces Rodrigo’s next track “1 step forward, 3 steps back.” Some fans of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift may recognize the piano piece that shortly follows the birds’ singing. Rodrigo interpolated Swift’s “New Year’s Day” by rearranging the notes and using inspiration from the track.

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Rodrigo is known to be a superfan of Swift and said the star is one of her greatest inspirations for songwriting. During an interview with The Travis Mills Show on Apple Music, Rodrigo said, "She's totally my biggest idol and biggest songwriting inspiration. To have her blessing was really, really special." In addition, fans of Swift may recognize the nod to Swift’s lucky number 13 within the title.

The song describes the complicated nature of a relationship. The narrator finds herself in doubt of being enough. She doesn’t know whether she’s valued in the relationship. She sings, “it’s always one step forward and three steps back/I’m the love of your life until I make you mad.”

Similar to Swift’s “The Way I loved You,” Rodrigo is acknowledging the toxic aspects of a relationship as complicated and exciting. Swift and Rodrigo describe the ups and downs of love. As Rodrigo puts it, “and maybe in some masochistic way/I kind of find it all exciting/Like, which lover will I get today/Will you walk me to the door or send me home crying?” 

The fifth song “deja vu” is the second proper single Rodrigo released that debuted in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100. Rodrigo is the sole artist to debut her first two proper singles in the top ten on the chart. The familiar single describes how her lover has moved on and is having the same experiences with a new girl. Rodrigo asks her past lover if he gets “deja vu” when he reuses their jokes and sings her the same Billy Joel song.

By the end of “deja vu” Rodrigo is shouting, which makes sense, as the next track “good 4 u” is ready to embrace the intensity of watching your past lover move on.

Similar to “brutal,” the song is full of teenage angst and so unapologetically honest it may be cathartic to those who listen. Rodrigo is moving on from being completely heartbroken to being a little petty, and we love to see it. Heavily driven by guitar and drums, the pop-punk beat changes the pace. Five lines into “good 4 u,” Rodrigo hits listeners with the sassy line “I guess the therapist I found for you, she really helped/Now you can be a better man for your brand new girl.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for Rodrigo to fall back into self-doubt. The seventh track “enough for you” switches an electric guitar for an acoustic. If you’re a sucker for fingerpicking, this is particularly for you. 

During “enough for you,” Rodrigo details her insecurities. “I wore makeup when we dated ‘cause I thought you’d like me more/If I looked like the other prom queens/I know that you’ve loved before,” she sang. She questions if she’s as interesting as the girls her lover previously had.

“Enough for you” is relatable and devastating, and just when you think it may get cheery based on the title of Rodrigo’s next track “happier,” you’re still in for an emotional rollercoaster. 

Similar to Ed Sheeran’s “Happier” and Swift’s “happiness,” there is clearly a misunderstanding of the word happy. Rodrigo’s track “happier” is laced with piano and sad lyrics, bound to rip the hearts out of many. She sings, “I hope you’re happy but don’t be happier.”

Rodrigo expresses her hopelessness in a genuine way and admirably not tearing down another woman while speaking out of vulnerability. The self-awareness shines through on lyrics like “and now I’m pickin’ her apart/like cuttin’ her down will make you miss my wretched heart/But she’s beautiful, she looks kind/She probably gives you butterflies'' and “I’m selfish, I know.” 

Jealousy is a theme she’s going to elaborate on for a few minutes. In fact, what can be more straightforward than “jealousy, jealousy,” the next song’s title? Comparison is the thief of joy–Rodrigo knows the pain all too well, and she’s laid it all out on a bouncy, hypnotic track. 

Rodrigo describes the weight of unrealistic standards that are pushed on young people. She describes how she can’t help but compare herself to girls she sees on social media who are “too good to be true” with “paper-white teeth and perfect bodies.” By the bridge of the song Rodrigo is chanting about all the things she strives to be. 

In my opinion, this song can offer a breath of fresh air to listeners who may struggle with comparison; most of us can relate to occasionally feeling insecure in some way or another.

Next, the song “favorite crime” brings us back to the comfort of a stripped-down acoustic melody. The soothing vocals almost make us forget she’s describing the troubles of codependency. It’s the last song about heartbreak on the record.

“I let you treat me like that/I was your willing accomplice, honey,” she sings.

The last track of the album “hope ur ok” is the heart-warming affirmation needed after the previous 31 minutes. While delving into past friendships, Rodrigo reflects on a boy she knew when she was younger, who had blonde hair, eyes of salt and played in the marching band. He had parents who “cared more about the Bible than being good to their own child.” 

In a similar matter, the second verse reflects on a friendship she had in middle school. She had a friend who had to raise her brothers on her own and wasn’t accepted for her sexuality. 

The chorus of “hope ur ok” details how Rodrigo hopes, despite the challenges, her cherished old friends are doing OK. In my opinion, this song is a sweet way to end a “SOUR” album.

Although the debut can be an emotional listen for some, critics are describing the album as an incredible first soundtrack from Rodrigo. 

“Half wallow, half messy I-don’t-need-you-self-care, Sour is the perfect first breakup soundtrack from a hugely promising new talent,” a critic from The Guardian said.

If you’re ready to unpack your high school heartache and delve into the anxiety that comes alongside our youth, Rodrigo has you covered with this record breaking debut album. 

My Top 5 Tracks:

1. “brutal”

2. “deja vu”

3. “good 4 u”

3. “traitor”

4. “favorite crime”

5. “enough for you”

Overall Rating: 9/10

Contact Karter at knancy@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @writtenbykarter.

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