No question about it, the arrival of Olivia Rodrigo has shaken the pop world’s status quo. Age 18, she is thoughtful, relatable and down to earth. There is now another alternative to dying your hair blue and cutting bangs when facing emotional turmoil. Her debut album Sour does not disappoint. It is the record 2021 has been waiting for.
Sour refuses to play it safe
Frankly, I expected an extremely linear approach to Rodrigo’s debut. Sour could very easily have been a couple of ‘Drivers License’-sounding songs strung together. It could have explored a few slightly different topics while not pushing the envelope too far. The massive success of Rodrigo’s debut single ‘Drivers License’, not to mention the love triangle from which it came, would easily have made it one of the most-listened-to albums of 2021.
Sour is so much more. Rodrigo is versatile. Even before the album’s release, its first three singles – ‘Drivers License’, ‘Deja Vu’ and ‘Good 4 U’ – formed an epic trilogy of heartbreak and betrayal. Each focused on a different aspect of the extreme emotions she felt after a difficult breakup.
‘Drivers License’, ‘Deja Vu’ and ‘Good 4 U’
First came ‘Drivers License’. Olivia’s blockbuster single captured the initial bewilderment and sadness that comes with loss. Rodrigo documented her refusal to accept reality as she shared her delusions of driving to her ex’s home.
After this, ‘Deja Vu’ explored her envy. Rodrigo showered her bitterness on her ex’s new lover. She unleashed her pain while expressing her partners’ newfound lover would soon be replaced like her.
Calling back to the pop punk of the early 2000s, ‘Good 4 U’ knocked things out of the park while suggesting Rodrigo was on the road to recovery. This third single showed anger. It was blaring, an adrenalin building tune just asking to be played at full volume in your car while cursing the day you met your ex. Olivia was literally setting fire to her ex’s belongings.
The world’s newest punk track, it seemed like the mutant spawn of Paramore and Avril Lavigne. We all want those black gloves (and have no idea why). Her third single was the perfect appetizer for Sour. It left us not knowing what to expect.
The cover of ‘Good 4 U’.
Olivia Rodrigo takes listeners on an emotional journey
The best part about Sour is that Olivia continues to takes her listeners along for the ride. She reveals inner monologues as she faces her changing emotional seasons. And by seasons I mean extreme mood-swings. These are the kind of gut-wrenching emotions we feel after experiencing loss. Frankly, Sour is a pretty neat way of showing the different stages of grief.
Sour gave us exactly what we wanted starting with ‘Brutal’, another punky ransom note like ‘Good 4 U’. After all the ruckus of ‘Brutal’, ‘Traitor’ and ‘1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back’ emerge. Both bear strong similarities to Taylor Swift songs. In fact ‘1 Step’ was so directly inspired by Taylor Swift’s ‘New Year’s Day’, Rodrigo gave her a songwriting credit. This makes a lot of sense considering Taylor Swift’s new role as Olivia’s mentor. Here Rodrigo shows that, like Taylor, she has her own gift for poetic lyrics.
‘Enough For You’ is another stylistic jump. It has all the soul of a Mumford and Sons track, and it was well executed for the most part. ‘Happier’ and ‘Jealousy, Jealousy’ are also decent additions. Both concern the timely topic of comparison with others.
Olivia Rodrigo poses for a promotional image.
Olivia Rodrigo speaks openly about difficult feelings
‘Happier’ again circles back to Taylor Swift. But this time Rodrigo touches Swift’s newer material from recent albums Folklore and Evermore. In terms of fragility and somber acoustics, Rodrigo can hold her own.
To put it all into perspective, Sour has a variety of tracks for almost every breakup mood. I love the variety of negative emotions Rodrigo explores while drawing on a wide range of genres. A less spoken about element of Olivia’s music is her openness. As an artist she writes songs alluding to anger and jealousy which can easily be framed by others as being “crazy” or “obsessive”. Olivia shows these are real. She shines a light on these less glamorous feelings in a unique and genuine way.
‘Hope Ur Okay’
Sour cannot be discussed without mention of the gravity of its final track. ‘Hope Ur Okay’ takes a sweeter turn rather than the rest of Sour. Before the album closes Rodrigo shows what she has learnt from her experience while supporting someone else suffering with extreme trauma. This ballad is bound to comfort many among Rodrigo’s fanbase. Of all things, ‘Hope Ur Okay’ is a sweet love letter to them.
“Well I hope you know how proud I am that you were created” Rodrigo sings softly as the album draws to a spectacular close. It is a truly beautiful ending to an album that mainly focused on negative emotions. Olivia knew Sour would resonate with fans dealing with harsh circumstances, and this final song was an excellent move and an excellent final note.
Overall, I rate the album nine out of ten stars. I love the journey we took with Olivia. Sour is well made and super cathartic to follow through from start to finish. Rodrigo has turned out to be such as self-aware pop star. She knows what her audience is drawn to and has worked hard to give us an ending which will leave us touched.