Olivia Rodrigo's 'SOUR' Captures the Beautiful Chaos of a Teenage Brain
Published May 25, 2021Olivia Rodrigo is not a one-hit wonder. After the breakout success of "drivers license" earlier this year, the 18-year-old has released her debut album, SOUR, a mere four months later— and she's ready to tell us exactly how she's feeling: "God, it's brutal out here," she mutters on the opening track. From this moment, listeners are catapulted into Rodrigo's vignettes of heartbreak and insecurity, solidifying her voice as one of this generation's most honest pop singers.
SOUR is adventurous for Rodrigo, who was a relatively under-the-radar Disney actor until a few months ago. But this newfound fame doesn't seem to have gone to Rodrigo's head: the album is filled with angst and self-doubt, which feels representative of who she currently is as a songwriter. When you're young, every moment feels significant and Rodrigo manages to be extremely vulnerable and relatable while describing the rollercoaster of emotions she has experienced in her adolescence.
Despite her youthfulness, Rodrigo is a very specific songwriter. She writes with great detail and paints a vivid picture for listeners. The hypnotic "deja vu" displays the nuances of young love, as Rodrigo is nostalgic for eating strawberry ice cream and watching Glee reruns. On "favorite crime," she hauntingly sings about a relationship that felt akin to being lawless. This distinct storytelling feels reminiscent of Taylor Swift, whom Rodrigo has cited as an inspiration. Through these narratives Rodrigo creates a special world for her listeners.
As SOUR progresses, some of the themes get repetitive, as Rodrigo spends most of the album's runtime singing about someone who broke her heart and quickly moved on with no remorse for their actions. It's hard to fault Rodrigo, who was deeply affected by this breakup. She seems to be singing from lived experiences, rather than curating dreamy narratives she can't relate to. She manages to turn her unhappy moments into succinct songs that feel universal for anyone going through heartache and feeling insecure about themselves. The strongest tracks from this narrative are the piano-driven "1 step forward, 3 steps back," and the acoustic ballad "enough for you," where Rodrigo is at her most raw and grappling with the aftermath of a turbulent relationship.
While the majority of the tracks are soft ballads, SOUR is lightly sprinkled with moodier moments like "good 4 u," a cheeky tune that sounds like a nod to early 2000s pop-punk with its punchy drums and shouty, echoing vocals. There's also "jealousy, jealousy," a track featuring a bubbling bass in which Rodrigo seethes about her envy on social media and society's unrealistic standards for young people. Rodrigo's lyrics are sombre, but these grittier, more upbeat cuts sprinkled throughout the tracklist feel like a break from her downtempo moments. This displays Rodrigo's versatility as a budding artist who is growing into her sound.
By the end of the album, Rodrigo has established her voice and showed listeners that she's not afraid to be vulnerable. SOUR is a strong debut that vividly illustrates the beautiful chaos of being inside a teenage girl's brain. (Geffen)