Cruising from the worldwide success of smash hits “drivers license” and “deja vu,” 18-year-old singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo released her debut album “Sour” on May 21 to immense fanfare.
Due to a pre-existing fanbase from her role in the Disney+ series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” and notorious entanglement in a heavily publicized love triangle — a rite of passage for Disney starlets — Rodrigo’s release faced unusual anticipation for an artist’s introduction into the music industry. In any other case, the said album would be destined to fail — unable to meet the high expectations of the public, overwhelmed by the hype surrounding the release. However, Rodrigo’s 11-track-long offering presents a brief peek into the singer's sardonic songwriting chops and undeniable “it” factor, leaving listeners desperate for more.
The heart of “Sour” lies within the quintessential teenage nature of the project — Rodrigo being only 17 years old when writing the recorded songs. The album opens with a bubbly, adolescent non sequitur, where Rodrigo declares, “I want it to be, like, messy,” ushering into the garage-rock headbanger, “brutal.”
Songs like “brutal” and “jealousy, jealousy” are riddled with teen angst, with Rodrigo lamenting she’s “so sick of 17” and how she “can’t even parallel park,” along with detailing insecurities regarding comparing oneself to the “too good to be true” social media highlight reels. While these song topics are guaranteed to get eaten up by Rodrigo’s tween fanbase, they’re also endearing toward an older crowd as well, reminiscent of the awkward adolescence they’ve already survived. On the night of the album’s release, a tweet pondering “does Olivia Rodrigo know she has a small army of unhinged college students who would die for her no hesitation” went viral, solidifying an older sibling-esque role for Rodrigo’s older listeners.
Rodrigo holds nothing back lyrically — taking note from her diaristic contemporaries, like Lorde and Fiona Apple — with the majority of the album confessing intricate details of her alleged, short-lived relationship with “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” costar Joshua Bassett. The songwriter details a masochistic rapport between her and a lover on the song “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” which additionally samples the piano riff from the song “New Years Day” by Taylor Swift — one of Rodrigo’s main musical inspirations and co-signers.
Thinly veiled messages toward exes continue in the song “good 4 u,” a Paramore-inspired, puckered-faced diss track that’s impossible to not sing along to, with lyrics aimed toward Rodrigo’s ambivalent ex who has the the apathy of a “sociopath.” The song “enough for you” illustrates further toxicity in a relationship, with Rodrigo hyper-specifically detailing how she changed herself to fit in a relationship, including wearing more makeup and reading self-help books.
“I'm a super specific songwriter,” Rodrigo said in an interview with Nylon, commenting on the public speculation of who her songs are about. “[A lot] of the time, people will fill in the blanks with details from their own life. If they don't want to, they can fill it in with details of my life and if that's what makes it impactful to them, that's fine. As long as the song means something to you, it’s all good.”
While an impressive debut, “Sour” isn’t without flaws. The album is decidedly a breakup album, and the topic feels overdone and tired by the time the album is over. However, Rodrigo tactfully remedies this, closing out the album with the tender song “hope ur ok,” an optimistic ballad about wishing old friends well.
“Sour” is an exciting introduction into Rodrigo’s vocal and songwriting abilities, undoubtedly cementing itself as one of the best debut albums in recent memory. With a vast variety of fans and undeniable talent, it’s no wonder why Rodrigo’s career is kicking into overdrive.
Contact Jake Dodohara at email@example.com . For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.