Olivia Rodrigo’s Debut is a Poignant Yet Bold Reflection on Heartache

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Millennials and Gen Z grew up accompanied by the budding music careers of actors central to the shows featured on Disney Channel.  

With the growth of streaming services, many of Disney’s programs have switched to their platform Disney+, with “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” garnering a dedicated audience since its release in fall 2019.  The series — starring Olivia Rodrigo — shined a light on the actress’ stunning vocals, paving the way for the May 21 release of her debut album, “SOUR.”  

The release adds her to the ranks of talented musicians with similar starts in Disney — appealing to both Gen Z and millennial audiences — through combining punk, pop and rock, with consistently meaningful instrumentals filled with delicate piano punctuated by strong guitar themes.

The Jan. 8th release of Rodrigo’s lead single “drivers license” propelled the now 18-year-old singer-songwriter into the forefront of the music industry, with the song inspiring Tik Tok trends and a sketch on Saturday Night Live. The song debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Rodrigo the first non-American Idol artist to achieve this with their debut single since Lauryn Hill in 1998.

The heartbreaking anthem begins with soft piano, introducing the singer’s strong voice as it shines through contemplations of betrayal and disappointment. Rodrigo marks the outro repeating the line, “You said forever, now I drive alone past your street.”

The first track off “SOUR” is a departure from the delicate “drivers license.” “brutal” kicks off the album with a sound reminiscent of the 90s pop-punk sound, mirroring the angst of the single “good 4 you.” Bold guitar and heavy drums back the song’s articulation of a coming-of-age struggle, caught between fulfilling expectations others have of her and enjoying her youth. The song grips audiences with its introspection on her inability to enjoy her youth because of the media and her idea of what youth is supposed to look like.

“And I’m so tired that I might / Quit my job, start a new life.” The singer-songwriter doubles down on the ways her career within the entertainment industry influences her as she adds, “And they’d all be so disappointed / ‘Cause who am I if not exploited?”

1 step forward, 3 steps back” shows Rodrigo navigating a rocky relationship amidst her partner’s unpredictable affection.  She samples the gentle piano instrumentals from Taylor Swift’s “New Years Day,” crediting both Swift and producer Jack Antonoff as writers on the track.  The Swift fan’s tribute to the artist serves as a reminder of the tenderhearted moments throughout the relationship, complicating her current feeling of tiptoeing around her partner’s feelings.

“Never doubted myself so much / Like, am I pretty? Am I fun, boy?” Rodrigo sings, showing her perspective on the influence of her partner’s view of her. “I hate that I give you power over that kinda stuff.”

The track “favorite crime” paints the guilt and responsibility the singer feels as she grapples with heartbreak. The song highlights the production of the rest of the album, with interlaced harmonies and instrumentals crescendoing into the song’s bridge.  Steeped in painful lyrics, “favorite crime” is a vehicle to showcase not only Rodrigo’s songwriting capabilities, but also the talent of the production team.

“And I watched as you fled the scene / Doe-eyed as you buried me / One heart broke, four hands bloody,” Rodrigo divulges, making clear the complacency she feels in her heartbreak.

“SOUR” is a quintessential exhibition of teenage emotion. Journeying between stages of heartbreak and rage, Rodrigo highlights herself as a talent to be reckoned with. This album will likely draw in listeners with the brutal vulnerability of this pain. 

The varied sounds and influences throughout “SOUR” flaunt Rodrigo’s versatility, with songs such as the powerful “brutal” juxtaposed by the despairing “drivers license.” Rodrigo’s debut not only displays her notable talent, but will captivate audiences to see just how far this young star will go.

“SOUR” is now available on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services.

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