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Review | Olivia Rodrigo Opens The Vault Of Teenage Insecurities In “SOUR”, Her Debut Album

We know she got her driver's license, used to trade jackets, watch reruns of "Glee", and already spent the night crying on the floor of her bathroom. Now, apparently, Olivia Rodrigo wants us to lay down and cry in ours too.

On May 21, the 18-year-old actress and singer released her first and highly anticipated album, “SOUR”. The eleven tracks in it had their names previously revealed, and the public had high expectations due to some acid titles and the three singles that were already out: "drivers license", "deja vu", and "good 4 u". With Dan Nigro as producer and a mix of guitar arrangements, piano-based tracks, and inspirations in Olivia Rodrigo’s favorite genres and singers/songwriters, “SOUR” is the intimate blend of tears and fears that we were all willing to hear.

[bf_image id="m5w3nsbr6cchbvv6t9nptjr8"] The album has a great beginning with "brutal", an energic song expressing all the agonies, pressures, and anxieties of facing the “golden years” of youth — that sometimes can be not so golden at all. Olivia sings: “ego crush is so severe, and I wish I could disappear”, and conquers the public by turning a relatable teenage feeling into a pop-punk melody to be sung out loud. 

Then we have the transition to "traitor", the second song of the album, and an important turnover of rhythm and lyrics. Billboard ranked this production as the best song and the best vocal performance of “SOUR”, not without reason. The singer slows the pace while confessing the feeling of being betrayed by a person she loved, even without cheating. This is where we start to get in touch with her inner feelings about the insecurities felt about a relationship that no longer exists, and all the effort she put into dealing with it. 

Following tracks, such as the hit "drivers license" and "1 step forward, 3 steps back", keep up with this thematic about the past and the feeling of being easily forgotten by her ex-lover. The subject is clearly not the end of the relationship, but a deeper perception of seeing the other person be happy with someone else so quickly afterward, while she is still facing the breakup. It highlights Olivia’s voice, with a less intense, but more emotive performance.

Talking about the musical references used to build the album, we can notice touches of Lorde’s alternative pop, on tracks like "drivers license" and in some parts of "favorite crime", a clear approach to Paramore’s 2010 pop-punk style on "good 4 u", and the use of samples from "New Year’s Day", by Taylor Swift, on "1 step forward, 3 steps back". Taylor has shown to be one of the biggest inspirations for Olivia Rodrigo, and she was also credited in the composition. The use of these references only makes the album more interesting, and must not be seen as a reason to underestimate it. The variety between the artists used also matches with Rodrigo’s vision that “music is becoming increasingly genreless”, as she says during an interview with The Face: ​“I suppose I’m considered a pop artist, but I’ve never felt like one”.

Another important point is that “SOUR” is the kind of album that we should listen to in order at least once, instead of randomly, so we can see step by step the process of Rodrigo getting a more mature vision about her thoughts and the love she lost. We start with a kind of denial, a first contact with the fact that it’s all over, and that her “teenage dream” is actually filled with complicated feelings, like selfishness, insecurity, jealousy, and sadness. Tracks like "deja vu" and "good 4 u" are really suitable to the album’s title, and, although their rhythm is not alike, both have lyrics full of resentment that marks the peak of the uneasy feeling in the production. 

But the table turns in the last five songs, with "enough for you" and "happier" coming right after the most “sour” part. These are some ballads that make us understand that “SOUR” is not only about a silly heartbreak, but a portrait of the process of doubting yourself, looking intensely for others’ approval, and other dilemmas that we face during our youth — surely potentialized by breakups and love disappointments. 

In "jealousy, jealousy", Olivia notices her selfishness and fights against the jealousy she feels when comparing herself to other girls. She sings through the bass and drums that “their win is not my loss”, but can’t help being consumed by social media and the perfect lives she sees there. Noticing that brings an essential maturity further reflected in "favorite crime", which calls the broken-hearted girl narrative again, but with a less intense approach. As the dust settles, the past seems more distant, the lack of her lover is still sad but more clear, and she understands every part of it — especially how it ended. 

Now, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never felt this kind of intense love before, or if you’re currently in a happy relationship that has nothing to do with this type of sorrow: you will want to sing this in the shower like you are literally feeling it. Prepare your bedroom floor for the tears! 

And if "brutal" is a great beginning, "hope ur ok" is the perfect ending. This is related to Rodrigo’s friends' life events and highlights again that “SOUR” is more than just about being mad with a boy who doesn't love you anymore. She puts the focus on stories about other teenagers facing hard issues with their families, abuse, prejudice, and real stuff she gathered from what she sees in real life. It is a poetic lyric, with beautiful verses like “address the letters to the holes in my butterfly wings,” and “I hope you know how proud I am you were created/ With the courage to unlearn all of their hatred”. It ends this path with a kind of hope that things will be alright for those who lived different and intense agonies that she did not face.

With the album breaking streaming records worldwide, we can see that “SOUR” is an open door to the teenage feeling mess that bursts into Olivia Rodrigo’s heart that we’ve all felt before. It is intensely relatable and delivers all the restlessness and sorrow that an 18-year-old girl living through insecurities, questions, and heartbreaks can feel, in a sincere and talented way. Olivia Rodrigo has launched her career in music, and we can’t wait to see her grow from now on. 

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The article above was edited by Laura Okida.

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