On May 21, Olivia Rodrigo released SOUR, her debut album that reignited the spark of sad girl teen angst in literally all of us by tapping into the pure emotions of teenage heartbreak. If this album hasn’t made you cry, think about your ex, or feel nostalgic to the point of texting them, you probably haven’t heard it yet. Grab a tissue or two and prepare to be transported to your post-breakup era of side bangs and smudged eyeliner because something about SOUR just hits different.
SOUR tugs at every heartstring, including the ones you didn’t know you had. Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” captures every post-heartbreak emotion à la Gen Z with a dash of Paramore. “hope ur ok” has me running through a list of people I wish I could hug right now, and “1 step forward, 3 steps back” literally made me cry on an airplane last week. To my seat neighbor, I’m sorry. You deserved to enjoy your tiny pretzels in peace.
Rodrigo’s debut album is equal parts playful, painful, and honest. It’s nostalgic and reminiscent of simpler times, yet it appeals to listeners ages sixteen to sixty. It’s like coming-of-age meets teen heartbreak meets modern-day reality check, including the devastating reminder that you (still) can’t parallel park. Rodrigo gives us every emotion and more in this album, all while seizing the opportunity to call out her ex on nearly every track. Whether you’re going through a breakup right now or reliving your feels from ten years ago, you can bet SOUR will remind you of something, somewhere in your past. But why? What is it doing, musically, that hits all of the right notes?
“‘SOUR’ tugs at every heartstring, including the ones you didn’t know you had.”
Board-certified music therapist Sylvia Földes-Berman says that listening to certain songs or albums can often make for an intense experience. “Music interacts with all parts of your brain, not just hearing and auditory processing,” she tells Her Campus. “It really does trigger a lot of memories, especially when you’re listening to something so raw.”
“Raw” is the perfect word I’d use to describe SOUR, which has also been referred to as “delightfully messy” and filled with “melancholy and mischief” — AKA teen heartbreak in a nutshell. “Music is very powerful,” Földes-Berman tells Her Campus. “A lot of times we put on the radio and listen to our favorite song — cry through it, laugh through it. Music speaks to us. You feel it in your body.”
In her work as a therapist, Földes-Berman uses music therapy as a tool to help people process and work through themes like grief, loss, and terminal illness, among others. In clinical work, this can look like helping elderly patients reminisce about the past using music as a medium, or explore memories and emotions through singing, songwriting, and self-expression. She tells Her Campus, “There was a man who I worked with in oncology who wanted to write a song for his daughter, so she could have a memory of him [after he passed]. At the time, he was going through active chemo, but the prognosis wasn’t looking positive. We wrote a song to help him [process]…I typed it up, we did it together. He won’t heal from the [illness], but emotionally, this prepared him and helped his daughter grieve and process.”
For adolescents and younger populations, Földes-Berman shares that therapeutic interventions can look quite different. “With adolescents, there’s a lot more screaming and cursing,” she says.
“Music speaks to us. You feel it in your body.”
While music therapy can be used among a variety of settings and populations, the intervention helps underscore the important link between music and our emotions. This powerful connection helps explain why you get choked up listening to “enough for you” or why your face suddenly gets hot during “driver’s license” as you’re cruising through your hometown. Whether it’s a friend breakup you never got over or remembering your toxic ex, albums like SOUR serve as a reminder that music can help us process hurtful experiences.
For Kat, 26, listening to SOUR is cathartic. “I have listened to the album at least fifty times,” she tells Her Campus. “It’s very nostalgic to me. Although I’m in a very happy and healthy relationship right now, I feel deeply connected to the album with my past relationships. I have definitely cried to it multiple times — Olivia hits the nail on the head.”
Ingrid, 21, can tell that Rodrigo is about to shape the way her generation processes emotion. “I think Olivia Rodrigo is a super important and prominent figure,” she tells Her Campus. “She’s like the Gen Z Taylor Swift in a lot of ways.” And while we could certainly debate the connections (and potential future collabs) between Rodrigo and TSwift, Rodrigo is proving that she stands out in a league of her own.
Even weeks after the album’s release, messages flood my phone with reactions to Rodrigo’s album, which has been owning the charts. “Getting ready to work out to Olivia Rodrigo!” one says. “I can’t stop listening,” says another. And upon hearing “driver’s license” for the first time, a friend messages me: “I had to pull off the side of the road when she hit ‘red lights/stoplights.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
Földes-Berman puts it best. “Maybe that’s why we’re all connecting to SOUR — because it’s so simply put. We’re all just grasping onto a feeling.”
Expert source: Sylvia Földes-Berman, MS, LCAT-LP, MT-BC
Studies cited: Aalbers, S., Vink, A., Freeman, R. E., Pattiselanno, K., Spreen, M., & van Hooren, S. (2019). Development of an improvisational music therapy intervention for young adults with depressive symptoms: An intervention mapping study. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 65, 101584.
Istvandity, L. (2017). Combining music and reminiscence therapy interventions for wellbeing in elderly populations: a systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 28, 18-25.
Johnson, K., & Heiderscheit, A. (2018). A survey of music therapy methods on adolescent inpatient mental health units. Journal of music therapy, 55(4), 463-488.
Malchiodi, C. A. (2020). Trauma and expressive arts therapy: Brain, body, and imagination in the healing process. Guilford Publications.
Sena Moore, K. (2017). Understanding the influence of music on emotions: A historical review. Music Therapy Perspectives, 35(2), 131-143.