By Staff Writer Sakshi Umrotkar
Teenage pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo released her debut album SOUR on May 21 following the release of her record-breaking single “drivers license” earlier in January. With SOUR’s three singles, “drivers license,” “deja vu,” and “good 4 u,” all faring incredibly well on Billboard charts and receiving press on shows and award ceremonies such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, and the BRIT Awards, Rodrigo met listeners’ anticipation with an album that exceeds expectations.
Rodrigo flaunts her versatility with SOUR’s tracklist, dabbling in a range of genres with punchy pop songs, soft ballads, and pop-rock hits such as “brutal” and “good 4 u,” which are reminiscent of grunge rock. She uses a combination of nostalgic early 2000s guitar riffs and tirades about teenage insecurities to create satisfying angst-filled tracks. “They say these are the golden years / But I wish I could disappear / Ego crush is so severe / God, it’s brutal out here,” Rodrigo sings in “brutal,” backed by electric guitar riffs and percussive beats that add to the relatable theme of young adulthood’s brutality by creating a messy, grunge-inspired rhythm.
SOUR also provides a raw look at heartbreak through its no-frills depiction of post-breakup sadness. Through her album, Rodrigo discusses her insecurities about being imperfect in a relationship. In songs such as “enough for you” and “traitor,” she paints a picture of sadness and betrayal with her expressive and detailed lyrics. Similarly, with tracks such as “happier,” in which Rodrigo sings, “So find someone great but don’t find no one better / I hope you’re happy, but don’t be happier,” the singer-songwriter conveys the conflicting nature of coming to terms with an ex moving on. Rodrigo uses a wide range of lyrical styles — from vivid descriptions to chaotic lists of complaints — to describe the multifaceted nature of adolescence.
Despite SOUR’s critical and commercial success, the album’s reception has been riddled with controversy. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Rodrigo opened up about her opinion on sexist remarks in reviews that trivialized her work and claimed that she was “only writing about boys.” Rodrigo initially had reservations about the album’s breakup songs due to the fear of being pigeonholed as someone who writes only about her exes. In addition to SOUR representing Rodrigo’s attempt to destigmatize the idea of women feeling emotions such as envy and sadness, the album’s multifaceted themes deserve to be acknowledged as commendable for a debut album.
Some tracks, however, fall flat in terms of music production, sounding dull and lackluster when compared to the rest of the album. In songs such as “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” whose piano melody was sampled from Taylor Swift’s 2017 track “New Year’s Day,” the backing music fails to complement the lyrics well and ends up making the track sound generic. Some of the softer ballads that sound more like acoustic versions in terms of the production are unable to match the tracks’ meaningful lyrics with equally intuitive music, losing the potential to be as impactful without more complex music production.
With a tracklist that depicts the envy, sadness, and hopelessness that many teenagers grapple with, the album provides a perfect blend of coming-of-age lessons and playful tracks filled with angst and frenzy. SOUR ends with “hope ur ok,” a sentimental homage to LGBTQ+ teens that speaks against the hostility they are often forced to endure. Rodrigo weaves stories about the ostracization many teenagers face with her message of support and solidarity, singing, “Well, I hope you know how proud I am you were created / With the courage to unlearn all of their hatred,” and enhancing the lyrics with her signature soft vocals. Her message of hope shines through at the end of the album, serving as a positive conclusion to her coming-of-age portrait. By providing listeners an unfiltered look at adolescence, Rodrigo has succeeded in conveying the modern teenage experience with genre-bending tracks and authentic lyricism in her latest album, SOUR.