Olivia Rodrigo’s meteoric success since the release of her single “drivers license” back in January has built up major anticipation for her debut album. The song, which talks about the bittersweet excitement of finally getting her license but not being able to enjoy the moment because of her breakup, became a viral sensation with the song popping up all over TikTok and became the foundation for a hilarious skit on SNL with host and star of Bridgerton Regé-Jean Page.
Now with the release of Sour, Rodrigo establishes herself as a musical force with the potential to surpass her own musical idols. While the album paints the heartbreak, betrayal, and the pain felt after the end of her relationship, it also beautifully articulates the realities of the teenage experience through her lyrical story-telling. In a recent interview with NME, Rodrigo talked about how she’s “always been such an over-sharer” and uses her songwriting as an extension of that part of her personality. It’s a stylistic choice that Gen Z gravitates to nowadays; music that’s authentic, raw, and honest, and that’s a part of the reason for Rodrigo’s wide audience appeal.
Rodrigo kicks off the album with “brutal,” which rips away the rose-colored glasses surrounding her teenage years, revealing her emotional turmoil and anxieties she experienced as a young person. Lyrics like, “I only have two real friends / And lately I’m a nervous wreck” and “I’m not cool, and I’m not smart / And I can’t even parallel park,” outline these struggles and also speak to the identity crisis she and so many young people face at this point of their lives. She directly questions the illusion of her “F****** teenage dream” promised by music and movies alike, lamenting that “They say these are the golden years / But I wish I could disappear.”
In “traitor,” Rodrigo directly addresses the pain of seeing her ex run off with the other girl soon after they broke up. She talks about protecting her relationship despite the warning signs, reflecting how “I kept quiet so I could keep you.” She continues to passionately sing about this betrayal of trust, reflecting that while he didn’t cheat on her, he constantly gaslit her in their relationship, remembering when “I brought her up / And you told me I was paranoid.”
Rodrigo’s musical influence from the late ’90s and 2000s era is prevalent through her production and songwriting. Sour’s third single “good 4 u,” which Rodrigo performed on her SNL debut, sounds like something pulled off a Paramore album with lyrical influence from Alanis Morissette, without straying from her personal sound and voice. She even samples the song “New Years Day” by Taylor Swift in the song “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” a subtle nod to the influence Swift had on Rodrigo’s own songwriting and business model.
When we’re young, there is a need to make sure that we fit in with our friends or significant others, but in becoming the person that others expect, you lose your own self-identity. The song “enough for you” beautifully depicts the pain of not only breaking up with the person that Rodrigo loved, but the emptiness of losing herself in that relationship. She dives into her own self-doubt and insecurity after her ex leaves her for someone else. She sings about how she believes that she’s “just not as interesting / As the girls you had” and talks about all of work she put in to change herself like knowing “your favorite songs by heart” and “reading all of your self-help books / So you’d think that I was smart.” But beyond the actual breakup, Rodrigo highlights the sharp recognition that he not only broke her heart, but that he “broke much more than that.” But towards the end of the song, she realizes that the problem was with her ex, and sings that “someday I’ll be everything to somebody else / And they’ll think that I am so exciting.”
The emotional ballad “happier” transports listeners right into the midst of Rodrigo’s emotional turmoil one month after the end of her relationship. This song is one of her most cathartic and honest on the album, acknowledging her worry of her ex being happy without her, even though she still wishes only the best for him. The tone of “happier” is similar to Harry Styles’s “Cherry,” where he sings about the pain of losing someone and the bitterness of seeing his ex with someone else while he’s trying to heal from his heartbreak.
Overall, Sour is a refreshing take on the adolescent experience, sprinkled with inspiration from modern pop music greats. Rodrigo intelligently articulates the struggle to find where exactly you fit in the world while figuring out your own personal identity. Social media especially has put so much pressure on teenagers and young adults to achieve certain milestones at set times, but life never works out the way we think it will. Sour pulls the curtain back on those expectations and validates the confusion, anxiety, self-doubt, and the growing pains of our youth.