It is indeed possible to get the big break and then turn it into a bigger break. And then hit the top. For Olivia Rodrigo, that is EXACTLY what she has done. Her first big break was the Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Then just as 2021 started to get going, drivers license came out, a melancolic yet lyrically biting pop ballad about a major breakup that got some fuel from the tabloids. And then last Saturday (May 14), Olivia got on the stage as the featured musical guest on Saturday Night Live, treating the nation to her Gen-Z take on what happens when you take Alanis Morissette, Liz Phair and Courtney Love and throw in Taylor Swift, My December era Kelly Clarkson and a dash of Paramore to spice things up.
This is very evident throughout her debut album SOUR, a messy, chaotic and elegant (something a past co-founder here liked to use) collection of breakup songs. Pay attention to the track order and you may realize it has been relatively designed and ordered to mirror the phases of well...a breakup. The first half is full of teen angst, some stark anger and plenty of sarcasm-laced mischief and yes, the kind of language that make execs in Burbank flinch (but hey, if the streaming world allows Star Trek to f-bomb its way, then this is absolutely OK too Mickey.). And that already starts on the first track, which starts innocently enough and then goes right into the matter at hand, fueling "brutal" into a portrait of the feeling of the core of Gen-Z at this time. The line "Where's my fucking teenage dream" perfectly encapsulates the sheer insecurities of the generation in 2021
Tracks like "traitor", the talked about "drivers license" and "1 step forward, 3 steps back" showcase that she is capable of holding back sonically without losing the biting, honest and starkness of her lyrics as she is clearly building towards the climax of the stages of breakup. It is interesting to note "deja vu" still manages to maintain remarkable restraint from the aformentioned sonic perspective even though the lyrics clearly sound angry and ready to build right into the next track. While we're on the subject of "deja vu," anyone feel an evermore
Taylor Swift vibe? This reviewer did and is perfectly OK with that.
And speaking of the next track, "good 4 u" starts somewhat restrained as well but right at the 30 second mark, goes right into the peak of the breakup feeling; the lyrics and sound break out at times into unbridled post-breakup anger. This reviewer can't specifically describe it but it is just plain wonderful and refreshing. Too oftentimes artists in that mode either underdo or overdo it and also start to word muddle; she
strikes the perfect balance, build-up and crescendoing with the right amount of sound, expertly crafted by producer Dan Nigro, the lead for emo-indie titans As Tall As Lions back in the early 2000s.
Then outside of a brief moment of fallback in "jealousy jealousy", the back half of the album goes into introspective mode highlighting the falsetto delivery of "drivers license," but now in a more
understated mode, sounding a bit more like her idol Swift. Call it recovery. Call it bridging the gap of teenage, Gen-Z fueled emotion with the wisdom of yes, a millennial.
Lest you forget that she signed up for a second season HSM:TM:TS,
now ongoing on the streamer, after spending various parts of the album saying things you're allegedly not allowed to say as long as do Channel business on or off, final track "hope ur ok" is as close as Rodrigo will get to honoring such things. It is almost sacrilege that a Disney star doing an album have to do an empowerment anthem, but unlike those before her who would be general about it, she hits for the real life, performing this to the abused, the outcasts and of love and acceptance at the end. It might seem a little out of place to someone who spent the first ten tracks looking into her psyche and her heart but "hope ur ok" offers yet another look at what she could do in the future, ending this elegantly messy, sarcastic, honest album to a very nice close.