Olivia Rodrigo is 18 years old and she first found fame in 2019 when she was cast in the leading role in “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”. I’m not quite sure what all those colons mean.
“Sour” is her first album which was released on May 21st 2021. It reached Number One in the charts of 16 different countries, including the U.K. and the U.S.A. All eleven tracks were released as singles and they were all in the Billboard Top 30 on June 5th. In its first week, the album was streamed 385 million times on Spotify which is, apparently, equivalent to selling about 250,000 albums (about half of the sales of “With The Beatles” in its first week in 1963). The album also received critical acclaim from many reviewers. For example, Kate Solomon, in the “i”, wrote that the album is “a surprisingly accomplished package” and “a stunning portrait of adolescence”.
The last song to be recorded for the album was “Brutal”. Olivia Rodrigo was determined to make this the opening song on the album and had to persuade her “team” that it was the best way to start her debut release. How does her “team” work? I can’t imagine that Joni Mitchell had a “team” when her first album was released apart from a coked up David Crosby who was simply wondering how to get her into bed. “Brutal” certainly gave me a false impression of what was to follow – it’s an aggressive sound and the lyrics reveal a woman doubting her place in the world, feeling unable to cope with social situations and wishing that she was older. “It’s brutal out here” she sings during a brief silence between the aggressive grunge rock of the music. This song gives no indication of the subtlety and emotional impact of the rest of the album.
“Traitor” is much quieter and better showcases the range of her voice. At times she adopts a demure, almost submissive, girly voice but the words are direct and forceful. Her ex has a new girlfriend, two weeks after the end of their relationship. I especially like the line “God, I wish you had thought this through before I went and fell in love with you”. It’s a good pop song, described on Wikipedia as an “indie pop ballad”. The internet is awash with rumours as to who the song is “about”, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a good song.
“Drivers License” starts with a pinging sound, reminding Olivia Rodrigo to fasten her car seat belt. It’s another song that expresses bitterness after a relationship has ended. She bluntly states “I still fucking love you”. Musically, it’s just a great pop song, good melody, varying degrees of intensity and emotional singing. This was the first single to be released from the album and reached Number One in the charts of 23 countries (including the U.K. and the U.S.A.). Her “team” used social media to promote the single and the TikTok hashtag #driverslicense achieved nearly 900 million views in one week. Anyone that knows me will realise that I am inclined to dislike something simply by virtue of its popularity. I would rather listen to Strangelove than The Stranglers, David Ackles is better than David Bowie and Peter Case is more interesting than Peter Gabriel. However, if I’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that hugely popular artists such as Taylor Swift, Lana del Ray and Ed Sheehan make perfectly crafted pop music. A writer called Chris Deville, who writes for “Stereogum” wrote that Olivia Rodrigo represents a style of music that he calls “bedroom pop” which is “challenging hip-hop’s dominance”. It’s certainly easier to listen to this song (and the whole album) than most chart music that I occasionally catch snatches of. While I pretend to like a full range of music, I’m still rooted in Sixties pop music and, apart from the occasional Eminem song, I can’t listen to rap. As far as hip-hop music is concerned, I end up sounding like my Dad when he first heard The Who and said “Its just a noise”.
“1 Step Forward 3 Steps Back” is a quiet romantic ballad and is another song about a problematic relationship in which Olivia Rodrigo wonders which lover she will find when they meet? Will she be greeted warmly or sent away? The song includes an “interpolation” of “New Years Day” by Taylor Swift which has resulted in the writing credits for the song being Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff. I obviously love being pedantic and as someone who used to teach Statistics, I’m railing at the use of the word “interpolation” which is commonly used to estimate an unknown piece of data by using other closely related data. Sadly, Google has told me that the word can also be used to denote the insertion of something different. Oh well. It’s a lovely simple song.
“Deja Vu” was the second single to be released from the album and starts with a quiet verse before the drums kick in to raise the intensity and produce a chart friendly vibe. Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” gets referenced as she wonders whether her ex plays the song to her new lover. Olivia Rodrigo would like to remind her ex that it was she, Olivia, who taught the song to her ex. I’m being very careful here not to assign a gender to Olivia Rodrigo’s ex in all these songs as she doesn’t do this in her songs but it makes some of these sentences a bit clunky.
“Good 4 U” is obviously a song whose title annoys me. The following track is “Enough For You” so it’s not as if she doesn’t understand the correct use of English grammar. Mr. Mitchell would have had a fit if I’d used abbreviations like this. On second thoughts, he was a very liberal minded, fair minded, uncurmudgeonly sort of guy so maybe he wouldn’t have minded. I’m digressing into trivial pedantry. The song is brilliant and much more up tempo, grungy and electric than any of the previous songs on the album, apart from “Brutal”.
Most of the songs on “Sour” are co-writes with other writers. Daniel Nigro is one of the co-writers on every song apart from “Enough For You” which Olivia Rodrigo wrote on her own. After the intensity of the last song this is a simple and very effective song which was inspired by a breakup video on TikTok. I have no idea what that means. How long is a breakup video? Do both people in the relationship appear in it? Dan Nigro, former lead vocalist with New York indie band, As Tall As Lions, also produced the album.
I really like “Happier” which is an intense ballad in which Olivia Rodrigo hopes that her ex is happy, but not happier than they were with her. She wants her ex to find someone great, but not better.
In “Jealousy, Jealousy”, which is a good mid tempo song which develops its intensity, Olivia Rodrigo loses all credibility by expressing her frustration at seeing other girls with perfect bodies.
“Favourite Crime” was inspired by a phrase that Olivia Rodrigo wrote: “I loved you so bad that I let you treat me badly”.
“Hope Ur OK” finishes this fine album and apart from the terrible spelling, is very enjoyable. It’s the only song that doesn’t specifically concern a breakup and is, according to Olivia Rodrigo, a song about some fictional friends. It’s enjoyable but doesn’t spark my interest in the same way as the rest of the album. The other songs about unhappiness, sadness, misery, anger, unfaithfulness and betrayal that permeate this album are inherently fascinating, enjoyable and interesting.