2021 • POP/ROCK • GEFEEN
Disney star Olivia Rodrigo’s debut record, SOUR, features catchy songs composed of nice sound and well-written lyrics, however, it doesn’t go beyond that.
“I want it to be, like, messy.” This is the first thing you hear when you listen to Disney’s pop star Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, SOUR. However, although Olivia wants you to think that she is like you — a rebellious and casual teenager who doesn’t even take herself seriously — only a few people on Earth can actually know how she feels. In early January, she was just an actress playing on Disney+’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. A few days later, she smashed streaming records with her debut single, “drivers license.” Since then, she is on an unstoppable upward curve that is scary even by today’s standards. After magazine covers, TikTok trends, and SNL performances, Rodrigo releases her first album, which, although simplistic, is really catchy.
Produced by Dan Nigro, who previously worked with Conan Gray, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Sky Ferreira, Rodrigo’s SOUR features catchy songs with 2000s-pop-rock-oriented sound and lyrics that seem to come straight from Olivia’s diary. Taking her last break-up as the basis for all the songs, the album features Oliva on many faces, from a romantic sufferer to an empowered vindictive. “I want to be super versatile,” Rodrigo told Nylon about SOUR, “I love the tonality of alt-rock. Obviously, I’m obsessed with pop and pop artists.” Although it is not yet a perfect debut and has flaws, it remains a great first step into a golden path.
The direction that Rodrigo took on this record is kinda unexpected. While other singers are focusing on more low and darker sounds, almost what Billie Eilish has been doing to connect with the younger generation, Olivia bet on something more vintage. Playing with the influences of her favorite artists, Rodrigo brought back the mixture of pop, rock, and punk that was very popular back in the early 2000s. But, even more impressive is how she managed to get people into this sound that is kinda against the tide. The opener, “brutal,” is the best track on the album. Although only two a half minutes long, the track is extremely catchy, fun, well-produced, and well-written. It starts with an orchestra that breaks into hard and heavy strings when she sings, “I want it to be, like, messy.” Further in, she describes an adolescent mental state of an outsider. She sings, “I’m so insecure, I think/That I’ll die before I drink,” and continues, “I’m so sick of seventeen/Where’s my fucking teenage dream?”
Unfortunately, not all the tracks on SOUR have this more free and ambitious sound. “good 4 u” is the second-best track mainly because is the only other track that has 2000s pop-rock energy. Although sometimes it sounds like a song from some generic and simplistic teen movie, it still pretty captivating and delivers very nice instrumentation. But, that doesn’t mean that the other styles that Rodrigo chose to work on are bad. “deja vu,” for example, has a dreaming atmosphere that connects very well with the theme of the track. While synthesizers create an immersive experience, she sings, “Do you get déjà vu when she’s with you?” Finally, the smash “drivers license” mixes pianos that play like the headlight of a car with claps and powerful vocals. On each hook, when she sings, “Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me,” she looks like she’s going to pass out, out of breath.
But, not everything in SOUR is golden. In the second half of the records, Olivia presents more lukewarm tracks, and although they are not necessarily bad, they don’t seem to be as special as other tracks here. “enough for you” features this powerful lyrics — “You always say I’m never satisfied/But I don’t think that’s true/’Cause all I ever wanted was to be enough for you” — however, has forgettable sonority. Meanwhile, in the same way, “happier” presents some pretty interesting lines — “I hope you’re happy, but don’t be happier” — but doesn’t has a lot going on the sound, and “jealousy, jealousy” sonically seems to be the pop-rock version of Taylor Swift’s “ME!” For last, “favorite crime” works just like a bridge for the last track.
The influences that had an impact on Rodrigo’s life are clear on SOUR. According to Olivia herself, singers like Taylor Swift, Alanis Morissette, and Kacey Musgraves are the main inspiration for her songwriting process. However, you can still see other influences like Lorde and Billie Eilish on her sound. The pop-ballad “traitor,” for example, seems to be Swift’s lyrics being sung on top of Eilish’s instrumentation. Or “drivers license,” which has a pretty Lorde-ish bridge. “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” in its turn, features a sample from Taylor Swift’s 2017 reputation’s “New Years Day.” However, even with the undeniable inspirations, Rodrigo was able to put her personality on each track, with the first one being a beautiful ballad; the second, of the catchiest tracks of the year; and the last one, a well-written poem about giving everything you have for someone that doesn’t give you the same.
However, even though Rodrigo delivers a fun, catchy, and pretty well-produced record, is not more than just a breakup album. At the same time, you can analyze and see that Olivia did really well using her influences, you also can see that she is kinda behind her main inspirations. While Billie Elish, for example, has been talking about things like depression, suicide, and chemical addiction since the beginning of her career, Olivia’s album has only one song that focuses on it — “hope u ok,” which talks about the life of Rodrigo’s childhood friends. Lorde, in its turn, always painted herself as the most different kind of outsider, while Olivia is kinda the generic one that has an idealized plot twist. And Taylor Swift, who was always seen as the music girl about ex-boyfriends, already had ideas about life when she was 17 — as she sings in Fearless’s Fifteen, “I didn’t know who I was supposed to be at fifteen.” Olivia Rodrigo needs a lot of practice yet, but that doesn’t mean she won’t get there.