No one could have predicted it. In five months, Olivia Rodrigo has become a runaway force in pop music. With broken records and an unbelievable amount of streams under her belt, her songwriting has catapulted her to a near-universal level of adoration. What’s not to love?
For those her age, her first single “drivers license” speaks to the rite-of-passage heartbreak and struggles of the late teens with searing emotion. For those older, she reminds us of feelings we’ve all felt, things we’ve all thought. Now, she’s released her debut album, SOUR, and it is truly anything but.
The album’s power lies in its juxtaposition: expansiveness against subtlety; heartbreak against vitriol; condemnation of others against condemnation of herself; crunchy guitars against shimmering keys; belting vocals against muted whispers.
Naturally, some songs on SOUR are a little sweeter to the ear than others. Here’s my take on every track from Olivia Rodrigo’s debut.
11. “enough for you”
SOUR is full of excellent musical moments, and it definitely showcases Rodrigo’s versatility as both a vocalist and a songwriter. Here’s the thing for me with “enough for you”: the powerful vocals Rodrigo brings to the track outshines the barely-there acoustic guitar strums. I feel like it may as well be sung in A Capella?
10. “hope ur ok”
This one is tricky, because “hope ur ok” is the clear outlier on SOUR. The only track not explicitly written about herself or her ex-partner, it’s a tender anthem shining a light on the struggles of LGBTQIA+ people she once knew. It tangentially harks back to the themes of Fiona Apple’s Grammy-winning 2020 song “Shameika”, but for me, it lacks the power that made that song such an undeniable force. It’s a message Rodrigo clearly believes in, and one she delivers beautifully – with harmonies Lorde fans will love – but it does feel tacked on. SOUR shows the many faces of Rodrigo, but they’re predominantly faces made in response to one specific event. In that way, it’s almost a concept album. Meanwhile, “hope ur ok'' trails at the end, having little to do with Rodrigo at all.
In this sense, “hope ur ok” comes undone simply because it’s not about Rodrigo. It’s a message worth sharing, and it’s one that is going to resonate with countless young folk, and that’s crucial to remember. But I can’t help pondering that this was Olivia’s moment, and no one would’ve judged her if the closing song was as well.
There’s something so delectably twisted by delivering a warm toned, candle-lit, swaying ballad centred around a lyric like “I hope you’re happy but don’t be happier.” SOUR showcases the ability to make her pain palatable by clever use of contrast. Delivering a thinly-veiled “fuck you” over a song one can waltz to is just another example of that.
If there’s one thing to take away from the stories within SOUR, it’s that – as outlined by Olivia – her ex is a real piece of shit. Part of the appeal in the album comes from the feeling you get that Olivia may have written it just after a break-up, Taylor Swift style. SOUR has all the hallmarks of a messy split: there’s pain, heartbreak and, of course, bitterness. As such, Rodrigo’s not interested in being the bigger person yet, she’s letting herself feel all the emotions society is all too quick to associate with the juvenile or the immature. In reality, we all feel those feelings, and Rodrigo’s power is in her vulnerability to openly share hers. This is what “traitor”’s all about. It’s scorned and worn down, and Rodrigo wants us to feel the sting that her ex left in her.
Not to mention that absolute belter of a vocal run she pulls off toward the end.
7. “jealousy, jealousy”
“jealousy, jealousy” is refreshing. After so many songs about the ex who shall not be named, this track’s entirely about herself. She acknowledges her envy might be unwarranted, but she can’t help but indulge in those feelings. With keys that climb and fall over sirening guitars and a screeching middle-8, Rodrigo falls into a tornado of her own making, full of insecurities and second-guesses. We’ve all been there.
6. “deja vu”
It’s unfortunate for “deja vu” that it was never going to outshine the heartbreak of the single that preceded it (“driver’s license”) nor the wrath of the single that followed it (“good 4 u”) because it really is a perfectly good pop song. Sure, it’s not groundbreaking, but its brand of glittery emotional vengeance is petty and relatable. The delicateness of the twinkling piano keys breaking into fuzzy, jarring synths is just one of many examples of how Rodrigo’s penchant for contrasting within any given song, and the marching drum beat helps to tie it all together.
5. “favorite crime”
In a break-up album rooted in pain and anger, “favorite crime” offers a rare respite where Rodrigo laments the good times she had with her ex, even if they appeared disastrous to everyone else. A strange Romeo and Juliet/Bonnie and Clyde hybrid, Rodrigo reminisces on how she exhausted herself for her ex-lover, and ever so gently tiptoes with the idea of acceptance. She’s not ready to move on just yet, but that’s clearly her next step. Where “enough for you” fell flatter in its use of the acoustic guitar, the warmth Rodrigo sings with on “favorite crime” prevents it from falling under the same curse.
“brutal” is a wonderful way for Rodrigo to open her debut album. While most of SOUR pertains to one horrific-sounding break-up, “brutal” is Olivia Rodrigo trying to make sense of her place in the world – and how draining that process is as at 18 years old. The orchestral, almost Broadway-inspired opening and closure erupting into crunchy and grating guitar tones is itself a perfect metaphor for Rodrigo’s public persona: a glossy and glamorous exterior, wielding a Disney Channel wand, but within is an angsty, confused, messy young person. And Rodrigo thrives in her search to clean it up.
3. “1 step forward, 3 steps back”
To say Olivia Rodrigo’s music has been influenced by Taylor Swift would be an understatement. Rodrigo is a Swiftie through and through and, if it weren’t for those iron-clad Disney contracts, I’m sure she’d be running a stan account in her spare time. Instead, Rodrigo pays homage to her fave in other ways – like interpolating Swift’s 2017 song “New Year’s Day” for “1 step forward, 3 steps back”. This is a song that sees Rodrigo reflect on the toxicity she endured in her past relationship – “maybe in some masochistic way, I kind of find it all exciting / Like ‘which lover will I get today?’ when you walk me to the door and send me home crying.” This one’s interesting because Rodrigo refrains from using the belting voice as she does on the majority of SOUR. In “1 step forward, 3 steps back” she’s muted and broken, giving her inner turmoil the spotlight it deserves.
PS. Olivia is clever. By interpolating “New Year’s Day” (playing the melodies herself) as opposed to sampling it (using Swift’s audio) Rodrigo makes sure all the royalties go straight to Swift and never to Scooter Braun. What’d we tell you? Swiftie through and through.
2. “drivers license”
Very few artists manage to transfix the entire world with one song. Even fewer manage to do this on their debut. Enter, “drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo and Dan Nigro. “drivers license” is a once-in-a-blue-moon kinda song. Unconventional in its structure and unrelenting in its emotion, “drivers license” does what Lorde’s “Royals'' did before it: capturing the innocence of youth and pairing with the tumultuous emotions that comes with growing up. Young love is heartwarming, but it pales to the magnitude of young heartbreak, and Rodrigo manages to encapsulate both in under four minutes. The song has already broken records, will go on to win Grammys and will stand as a song that defined a generation. Thank god Olivia Rodrigo learned how to drive.
1. “good 4 u”
Now, “drivers license” will always be the defining song of this album, but there’s something about “good 4 u” that makes it stand out above the rest. Maybe it’s the unexpected turn Rodrigo made into an unapologetically pop-punk sound? Maybe it’s because it harks back to a sound those within Rodrigo’s age group missed in the mainstream? (Avril Lavigne forever.) Maybe it’s because Olivia Rodrigo has so spectacularly captured the essence of sarcastic, venom-tipped well-wishes that we’d love to deliver someone who has hurt us? In all likeliness it’s a mixture of all those things. On “good 4 u”, Rodrigo has never sounded more authentic or relatable – two traits she clearly holds dear. There’s a lot of easy, sound-a-like comparisons to make, and that’s valid, but none of it could ever take away from the fiery magic Olivia Rodrigo bottled here.
Listen to Olivia Rodrigo’s first album, SOUR, here.