“I want it to be, like, messy”
That is the first thing you hear when you play Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, SOUR, which just hit #1 in its first week on the Billboard album charts. If her album has taught us anything, it’s that it's brutal out here.
For Olivia, “here” is having your heart broken by a guy who has moved on, and not knowing what to do with all the emotions that come with that. “Here” can mean a lot of things, and that’s one of the reasons why her debut album has dominated the charts.
Although the album is a collection of breakup songs one after another, the versatility in styles, lyrics, and lenses has expanded her audience demographic. Olivia has cracked the code.
Despite Olivia’s many hats, there’s no denying that her overall style focuses on the gut wrenching, give-me-a-tissue-box-NOW, vibe. However, the rock influence on “brutal” and “good 4 u”, and the jazz drop-beat inspired “jealousy, jealousy,” gives us a look at her flexibility as a musician. Not to blow my own horn, but the three songs she released prior to the album made my prediction that the album would look a lot like this. None of these eleven songs is a repeat of themselves, which is also why I’ve nicknamed the album as the eleven stages of heartbreak. The album opening, “brutal”, is beautiful chaos. Intense electric guitar riffs, screaming, and bold music cuts. It’s a perfect opening for an album all about an emotional storm. This album has set her up for long term success, and she’s now gone from a girl who’s had one major hit to someone who could be a pop superstar for decades.
One of Olivia’s superpowers is being in tune to what people want and being able to provide. The reason why artists are able to elicit strong responses from people is because they can relate their emotions, so that these feelings become a collective, tangible experience. There are lots of singers out there who have insane voices, but the ones who create a pop culture stir are the ones who write lyrics anyone can connect with even years after they were sung for the first time - and/or years after those moments happened to the listener personally. Taylor Swift also has this skill and Olivia has found a mentor in Taylor; it turns out that Olivia got permission to remake some notes from Taylor’s “New Year’s Day” for her ballad, “1 step forward, 3 steps back”. Reports say permission to interpolate the melody ensured that Scooter Braun wouldn’t get any royalties he would’ve gotten if she sampled the song. Despite the obvious inspiration from Taylor, Olivia was able to make this her own through the different maturity levels between them. Olivia’s song chronicles the confusion that comes when someone is giving you mixed signals, which, in the end, doesn’t get them anywhere. Taylor has obviously had more life experience, and so the contrast between the confidence levels in this failed relationship Olivia sings about brings the personal touch that Taylor is famously known for.
Simple yet specific lyrics with a touch of artistic symbolism – this is becoming Olivia’s golden rule and social media ate it UP. Not only were there fans obsessing over the odes to other loveable singers, but people who weren’t a part of Olivia’s young demographic were picking up on it.
And even comparisons to other big names floated around, including...Karl Marx?
There’s no surprise that the drop of her album resulted in a TikTok takeover. However, it seems as though every song from the album is making big moves. The fights I’ve seen in TikTok comment sections about which song is superior are...intense. It’s like every song has a fan base of its own.
Also, whoever is head of her PR needs a raise because they went all out. It’s like they painted the world in purple and sour candy. The press kits, billboards, and merchandise for the drop looked awesome. Kim Kardashian took to her Instagram to show off her kit and I’m jealous.
And this is just her first album – her talent is just beginning to reveal itself. Bouncing from Taylor to Post Malone vibes on my personal favourite, “favourite crime”, gives her validity in the industry. Not only is she proving she is one of all trades, but she is showing her appreciation for the people that have influenced her talent. Her vocal range is impressive. Olivia is able to manipulate the tone, levels, and the mood of her voice in a way that allows her to shift seamlessly between musical vibes. And when you factor in the fact that she’s also a working actor, there’s another level of delivery on her songs, a reinvention for every track.
Last month, I mentioned how important it is for her to be able to become more than just the “drivers license” girl. The song was a stunning debut single and charted everywhere but it was connected to a Disney love triangle. The big question was whether or not Olivia was gonna be more than that. With SOUR, she’s shown that she isn’t here to play games. The girl can sing. She can create. She’s proven that she can attract all kinds of people. With the response this has gotten around the world, there should be a tour announcement soon. And looking ahead, what about industry awards? With the numbers she’s getting, I think it’s a huge possibility, certainly the Grammy for Best New Artist.