Thursday, June 24, 2021

Track by Track Review: Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Sour’

Contributors: Jules, Rachel

In just a few short months, Olivia Rodrigo has gone from being a Disney kid to a bona fide pop superstar, riding the success of her surprise hit “driver’s license.” Part of that surprise came from how Rodrigo deftly defied the expectations of what an artist coming directly from Disney Channel is capable of. But some of that surprise came from Rodrigo’s age, which was just 17 at the time the album was written. Her age is her greatest asset, however, giving her a fresh perspective. The lovesick ballads and angry rants are so youthful, it immediately drags listeners back to being that age, while the skill displayed in the songwriting will have listeners convinced Sour was created by someone decades older.

With Sour, Rodrigo definitively proves that she is more than one incredible single. Showcasing a range of genres from contemplative ballads to emo pop rock, Rodrigo emerges as her generation’s Lorde, mixing stunning lyrics with musical hooks that are sure to dominate airwaves for months to come. Check out our track by track breakdown of the album below!

“brutal”

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The puncturing one syllable “brutal” dangles as a live capture of the formative collusion between the fairytale complex media tries to whisk teenagers into and the reality perched in a faraway kingdom reigned by their parents telling them to “quiet down.” It’s the minutes between the electric guitar chord is haphazardly ripped from its socket; a lone vintage 2000s skateboard acts as evidence underneath the crumbling garage door, full of bubblegum chewing spite and resentment and shade. Rolling one’s eyes, muttering, “Where’s my f****ing teenage dream?” Collecting stacks of romanticized drawn heads of Disney princes to replace with the realistically narcissistic view her ego crush has now woken to. Therefore, it is the perfect opener for the bottle-fizzed explosion to what falling out of love without a last-minute airport dash truly feels like. 

“traitor”

On a Sunday night, tripping into the burn book early at 8 a.m. Belonging to cramped high school hallways is a girl smudged with mascara. Anxiously hitting send on her contribution to the 60 seconds confessional TikTok trend spliced with PDA-packed videos of her “traitor” until the final shot spills tea in white Arial 12 sized font of what transpired. To scroller-bys, it’s a revenge-driven clap back, but to her, the person who lazily eats a roll-up as gossip ricochets against lockers, banging shut-eye and stalking her ex’s hand slipping into the girl’s he said never to be worried about is a deep violin-tranced dive into how devastated she is. Bitterly exclaiming, “Ain’t it funny? Remember I brought her up, and you told me I was paranoid.”

“driver’s license”

It’s the song that started it all. “driver’s license” was the world’s introduction to Rodrigo as a solo artist, and what an introduction it was. It’s devastating to listen to, and Rodrigo’s specificity in her lyrics is her strength. It’s so clearly personal, and yet anyone who has experienced a blindsiding breakup will instantly relate to it. Memes and Saturday Night Live sketches aside, “driver’s license” perfectly captures the world-ending feeling of being a teenager experiencing heartbreak for the first time.

“1 step forward, 3 steps back”

Never has Taylor Swift’s influence on Rodrigo’s songwriting been more obvious than it is here. “1 step forward, 3 steps back” directly samples Swift’s song “New Year’s Day,” but the confessional tone is the more important homage to Swift. The introspective song features Rodrigo asking herself why she stays with someone who keeps her wondering if they even love her. Rodrigo’s brilliance as a lyricist comes into play again in couplets like “It’s one step forward and three steps back/And I’d leave you, but the rollercoaster’s all I’ve ever had” and “And maybe in some masochistic way/I kind of find it all exciting/Like, which lover will I get today?” Listening to “1 step forward, 3 steps back” feels like intruding on a private diary entry — much like listening to a Taylor Swift album.

“deja vu”

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There’s the summer appetizing croon blaring from a white and pink zebra-striped van circling the neighborhood, with a melting taste of “deja vu” until being hypnotized into having another scoop; only in this creatively spun track, the boy is a master manipulator to its skinny-legged, artistically girlish market. His ice-cream disher shovels crunched up jokes neatly parceled with paper-thin tags noting exes’ names, sprinkled with recycled relationship milestones such as trading tightly fitted articles of clothing. The music video plays on this; a perfectly synchronized chain now having his new ‘client’ mimicking the twitching, loved-up grin of the formers through a security camera den.

“good 4 u”

Rodrigo may have been in preschool when Paramore released their monster hit “Misery Business,” but it’s clear she took lessons from the pop punk era after one listen to “good 4 u.” This song has bite, going for the jugular in every line and snarl of Rodrigo’s voice. It’s a far cry from the ballad that put her on the map, and it demonstrates her versatility as an artist. It’s also a blast to listen to (and sing along with), with Rodrigo truly letting loose all her rage. Her incredulous delivery of “You’re doing great out there without me, baby/Like a damn sociopath!” is a highlight of the album as a whole, and no one listening to the song will be able to resist its charm.

“enough for you”

Soft, anti-lullaby “enough for you” is the sort of locked-in high school hierarchy tune Glee’s Rachel Berry would’ve belted out in a perfectly timed karaoke musical stave. A subtext guitar-strummed plea is barely audible underneath the twisting of choir chairs slotted between school coordinated pom-poms belonging to those other prom queens discussing the weekend an HSP was left out of. Her supposedly bulky letterman jacket-wearing boyfriend is flirtingly tossed into each bathroom tale just like the perfectly crooked robbery smirk she plays in her head, with him spotting just who’s about to take her place. Only to be hit with the realization the only person she has to be enough for is herself. And well, this jerky ex? He’ll take her place as the eavesdropper to her new healthy teen romance. 

“happier”

“happier” is a slow dance with a raw vulnerability to it. Rodrigo’s voice is fragile as she wishes that her ex’s new girlfriend is making him happy … just not as happy as she made him. She also draws comparisons between herself and the new girl while never putting the other girl down, with one incredibly self aware lyric standing out: “And now I’m picking her apart/Like cutting her down will make you miss my wretched heart.” Anyone who remembers the ache of low self esteem as a teen will immediately feel it again listening to this song.

“​jealousy, jealousy”

One of the few songs on Sour that isn’t focused on the ending of a relationship, “jealousy, jealousy” shifts to examining the pressures of being a 17 year-old girl in 2021. Rodrigo has lived her life online, and she is a member of the first generation to reckon meaningfully with that impact. She worries over how she compares to her peers on Instagram, then worries about worrying about it: “I think I think too much/About kids who don’t know me.” Like “brutal,” “jealousy, jealously” perfectly captures the crushing insecurity of being a teenager, especially in this era.

“favorite crime”

“favorite crime” is the flowery-fisted bloodbath of a tryst gone wrong, couples splitting the chaotically spoiled red cup floor before there’s any sort of police engagement. Aimlessly walking down streets back to their houses with arms slung around the other, laughing amicably about the bittersweet damage. Knowing despite the treachery laid out the minute the music faded, they would’ve still done it all over because for a blind-altering moment, it was the teenage dream she was promised. She doesn’t defend what he did; there isn’t any twisting of the narrative to let the student leadership team cuff her in suspension; rather, it’s her bid at closure. She may hear sirens whenever her body instinctively reminds her of him, but there’s still a smile on her face.

“hope ur ok”

Tied to a heart-strung letter posted to her musical heroes’ Grammys tables was the Easter egg drop-off hint to this thank-you-noted mosaic of students once filed into classrooms. “hope ur ok” symbolizes graduation, one could presume. Except in an otherwise eye-worthy lineup from the girl chewing the tip of her pencil in maths to the water-thrown shake of curls after the top athlete has won another trophy are those missing, the ones with holes in their butterfly wings. For once that happens, they’re unable to be patched up. Still, they must learn how to love themselves even with the unfair blemish, and god, we all hope they’re okay.

Rodrigo’s debut album Sour is a close to 35-minute explosive revolution of poetically versed bangers hidden in a sticker bedazzled backpack bestowed with the warning of “teen angst.” One only has to be daring enough to tug open its zipper or otherwise click onto streaming platforms such as Spotify or Apple Music.

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Jules
I am a nurse and dedicated nerd from Boston, MA. When I'm not at work, I'm rewatching old favorites like Supernatural or discovering my new obsessions (too many to count!). When not fangirling, I can be found reading, writing, or listening to a true crime podcast. You can find me on Twitter @juleswritesblog for more nerdy nonsense.

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