Olivia Rodrigo has taken the music charts by storm this year, and it’s clear why. Given all the love she received for her song “All I Want,” written for Disney’s “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” which became viral on TikTok and earned 277,231,918 streams on Spotify, it’s no surprise to me that she has broken records with her debut album. Her debut single “drivers license” had the biggest first week for any song ever on Spotify and stayed at the top of the charts for nine consecutive weeks, which is entirely unheard of for a debut single from a relatively unknown artist. From there, she has gone from strength to strength with her next two singles, “deja vu” and “good 4 u,” also debuting at number one.
At 18 years old, her music has provided many cathartic break-up anthems for us to use in years to come. Not only that, her music has almost felt like a private love letter to my younger self, not in a “teen bop” kind of way, but it just feels very nostalgic. It definitely feels like more of an experience instead of an album. Olivia’s artistry and lyrical genius holds your hand and guides you softly, albeit sometimes painfully, through the stages of heartbreak: anger, grief, pain, regret and acceptance.
“I want it to be like, messy”
Olivia starts the album as she means to go on – messy, and evidently tired of society. The angry guitar strums, drumbeats and talk-like singing in “brutal” highlight the singer’s diversity as an artist, and proves my point about how the album is a whole experience rather than a bunch of isolated songs. She addresses capitalism in a way Karl Marx would be proud of by asking “who am I if not exploited?” and admits that she can’t even parallel park despite boasting about getting her driver’s license in her later song.
But as the song comes to a close, the drum beats start to slow down and decrescendo into an ethereal, yet simultaneously haunting violin tune, as she admits that she doesn’t “even know where to start,” clearly settling us listeners into her story of heartbreak and sadness as she moves onto “traitor.”
“Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor”
Olivia’s isolated vocals in harmony with a minimal instrumental behind her expose her vulnerability here, clearly showing how betrayed she feels by her ex-lover, who’s rumoured to be her co-star on the High School Musical series, Joshua Bassett. The pain and suffering caused are continued into the third and most famous track, “drivers license”, a song about a car journey through the suburbs that was once an exciting prospect, but is now painful as she instead “drives alone past [his] street.”
Dream-sequence melodies, car alarm sounds and crescendoing vocals make this the perfect song.
It’s clear in her next two songs, “1 step forward, 3 steps back” and “déjà vu,” that Taylor Swift is one of her major influences on this album. Not only does “1 step forward, 3 steps back” sample Swift’s song, “New Year’s Day”, the deep imagery present in Olivia’s lyrics and tingling keys paint a vivid picture like Swift, proving that Olivia is Taylor’s music daughter. The similarities continue as Olivia loves to leave little Easter egg hints for her fans, which allows her to appeal to Taylor’s fanbase alongside her own.
By sampling and crediting artists who have clearly inspired her, Olivia has bowed down towards the leaders of the music industry and shown that she is a true pop-punk-princess who knows her field. This continues with the song “good 4 u” which clearly shares the same DNA as Paramore’s “Misery Business.” The 2000s/Avril Lavigne vibes give Olivia an edge of the unexpected, as we see a new side of her when she enters her angry “screw you” stage of grieving an old relationship. This is one to jump around your room and dance to in a cathartic fashion to purge yourself of all pent-up emotions.
“Like a damn sociopath”
The mood dramatically shifts with the plucking of guitar strings and soft vocals in “enough for you,” “happier” and “favourite crime.” Evidently, the large juxtaposition between the dramatics of “good 4 u” and these solemn, toned back songs highlight how desperate she is to have “[herself] back.” The octave change in “favourite crime” solidifies her pain, and for me, her place as one of the best artists of this generation. The strain in her voice is representative of her pure, raw and unhealed pain, triggering an emotional and relatable response from any listener.
“Jealousy, jealousy” provides a new outlook on this album for me and distinguishes Olivia’s maturity as a musician. The lyric “I know their beauty’s not my lack” proves how the first heartbreak allows for self-growth, as they’re wise words spoken from an 18-year-old who has grown up in the digital media age. And of course, the shouted bridge reminds us of Olivia’s contemporary edge in modern-day pop.
Finally, the album ends on “hope ur ok” which really has no evidence of “SOUR”-ness or bitterness in it. It’s a magical way to close her debut album, despite being described by Pitchfork as “limp”. I could not disagree more. As Rodrigo sings to a victim of child abuse and to a girl made an outcast by her family due to her sexuality, she provides comfort and acceptance in moving on in an intimate “best wishes” type of way, closing her love letter to our broken teenage hearts as we have self-reflectively watched Olivia break and fix hers again throughout the course of this album. It’s a hopeful and satisfying ending to an album about bitterness and brokenness.
Though the album may not be for everyone, there’s one thing we know for sure: Olivia Rodrigo is the future of pop music, and I hope to see her win a Grammy soon!
Words by: Anna Duffell
Edited by: Nina Bitkowska