The Filipina American singer-songwriter releases her highly anticipated debut to rave reviews and an army of new fans
IT’S the year of Olivia Rodrigo, and it’s best we all accept it.
On Friday, May 21, the 18-year-old singer-songwriter released her highly anticipated debut album “SOUR,” an 11-track journey that expertly explains the unexplainable, uncomfortable matter of teenage neurosis.
Before January 8, Rodrigo — who is half Filipina and hails from Temecula, California — was a mid-level celebrity, largely known among Gen Z as Nini on the Disney+ series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” But on that fateful day, Rodrigo released her debut single “drivers license,” a visceral bedroom pop ballad detailing teenage heartache that first went viral on TikTok.
The multifaceted hit ended up breaking new records. On Spotify, Rodrigo broke the record for the most single-day streams, which she achieved four days after the song’s release. The song topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, making the then-17-year-old the first female artist with a hit single debut at No. 1 since Lauryn Hill in 1998; she was also the youngest artist to debut at the top of the chart.
Social media virality, particularly on TikTok, is usually a prerequisite for hitmakers-to-be, and “drivers license” hit the zeitgeist so hard that it would have been a tough act to follow. But since the release of that sleeper hit, Rodrigo has proved that she is far more than a one-hit wonder.
The months that followed “drivers license” brought us the release of two more singles (which, along with “drivers license” appear on the album), “deja vu” and “good 4 u,” two strong showings from the 18-year-old that made the release of “SOUR” much more enticing.
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Now, Rodrigo is en route to pop stardom with “SOUR” — which was co-written and produced by Rodrigo and Dan Nigro, former frontman of the indie band As Tall As Lions and collaborator of Carly Rae Jepsen and Conan Gray — but calling her a pop star feels like a reduction of her range.
In an interview with the Rolling Stone, Rodrigo said, “I’m very emo. Dan was in an emo band, and he tells me I’m emo — that’s how you know you’re really emo.”
Rodrigo’s clear talent for emotive lyricism manifests itself perfectly in “SOUR,” which stands out among modern pop releases, especially in the midst of a slightly stripped down music industry that was not immune to the economic pitfalls of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Foregoing the standard EDM-inspired styles of current pop trends, Rodrigo takes it back to the aughts, effortlessly blending pop-punk tempers of Paramore and Evanescence and the delicate vulnerability of Regina Spektor and Ingrid Michaelson.
“SOUR” is a quick listen, capping in just under 35 minutes in total, but each song’s unique take on unrequited love, teenage angst and frustration and female jealousy make the album a deliciously repeatable listen.
The album opens up with the powerhouse grunge track “brutal” which calls out pop culture’s obsession with and over-romanticization of youth (“And I’m so sick of seventeen / Where’s my f*ckin’ teenage dream?”).
Unlike “drivers license,” in which Rodrigo belts out heartbroken desperation, “brutal” is a coarse, plucky anthem that preaches the age-old teenage tendency to buck unreasonable expectations and seek revenge from those who’ve wronged them.
But the duality of teenage womanhood is spotlighted when the album progresses to songs in which Rodrigo diarizes her own insecurities, like on “enough for you” where she sings, “I’d say you broke my heart / But you broke much more than that / Now I don’t want your sympathy / I just want myself back.” On “happier,” she openly struggles through jealousy and faulty female feuding: “And now I’m picking her apart / Like cutting her down will make you miss my wretched heart.”
Rodrigo is for alt-girls of a certain age who wanted to be Fiona Apple, Avril Lavigne or Hayley Williams, the girls in the back of the room teeming with the power of female teenage angst: a mix of mischief, bitterness, and misery. She is for teenagers and older members of Gen Z who are struggling to navigate a world marked by deceit, political and cultural divisiveness and social media algorithms that seek to make us feel worse about ourselves.
“SOUR” embraces this messiness of the often-trivialized narrative of teenage womanhood and the complicated changes and emotions that come with it. Rodrigo has been compared to other female pop powerhouses like Lorde and Taylor Swift (both of whom Rodrigo has listed as inspirations), and it makes sense; there’s the same tenacity in Rodrigo, a magical artistic authenticity that foretells that she is a mainstay of genre-bending pop music.