Rising star Olivia Rodrigo dropped her debut album Sour on May 21. All eyes were on Rodrigo as the music industry wondered if she peaked with songs “driver’s license” and “déjà vu,” which were released on Jan. 8 and Apr. 1. But, if anything, the 11-track compilation of post-breakup anthems proves that this is only the beginning of Rodrigo’s time in the spotlight.
Rodrigo’s music thus far has taken listeners through the different phases of a breakup. First, the tear-jerker “driver’s license” detailed the sadness caused by heartbreak and the reminders of what could have been. Next, “déjà vu” told a story of jealousy laced with the painful reminders of shared memories. Rodrigo’s most recent single “good 4 u,” released on May 14, represents arguably the most passionate and empowering stage of a breakup: anger. The scream-worthy chorus is the climax of the song featuring the lyrics, “Well good for you / You look happy and healthy / Not me, If you ever cared to ask / Good for you / You’re doing great out there without me, baby / God I wish that I could do that.” This intense mix of hurt and anger appeals to listeners as Rodrigo is transparent about the fact that as much as someone may want to do their best to respect their ex, sometimes hatred is exactly what is needed to move on.
Elevating the intensity first introduced in “good 4 u,” “brutal” opens the album with edgy drum and electric guitar accompaniments and vocals that border on shouting. Rodrigo exposes how pop culture and the music industry romanticizes youth with the lyrics, “Cause who am I if not exploited? / And I’m so sick of seventeen / Where’s my f***** teenage dream? / If someone tells me one more time / ‘Enjoy your youth,’ I’m gonna cry.” Each word is full of bitterness as she lists her grievances and displays a new side of her emotions in this ballad. If Rodrigo’s career follows a path similar to that of her idol Taylor Swift’s, she is definitely in her Reputation-era with this track.
“Jealousy, jealousy” takes a comparative approach to describing the teenage experience as Rodrigo opens up about feeling like “all [she] see[s] are girls too good to be true / With paper white teeth and perfect bodies” and while she knows that “their beauty’s not [her] lack,” she can’t help but wish that she was like them. The song summarizes seeing glamorized aspects of people’s appearances and lives on social media and feeling the toxic combination of envy and insecurity, which many of her fans can relate to.
While the album begins on an energetic and aggressive note, tracks like “traitor,” “enough for you,” and “1 step forward, 3 steps back” take a melodic approach to reflecting on the suffering caused by a failed relationship. “Traitor” details the sadness and hurt caused when an ex goes to the one person they always told you not to worry about. Lyrics like “You talked to her when we were together / Loved you at your worst, but that didn’t matter / It took you two weeks to go off and date her / Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor” pierce the hearts of listeners as they are forced to reflect on their own past relationships and flings that ended on a similarly sour note. With a sample of Taylor Swift’s “new year’s day,” “1 step forward, 3 steps back” is a perfectly crafted mix of raw vocals and slow piano while “enough for you” has sweet guitar accompaniment that blends smoothly with the emotional vocals. The soft vocals and instrumentals in “1 step forward, 3 steps back” and “enough for you” both resemble the work of growing artist Lizzy McAlpine. The final track called “hope ur okay” displays maturity with a message of love and acceptance. However, this theme feels slightly disconnected from the rest of the album, making it a weak way to end, but beautiful nonetheless.
Sour was thoughtfully created and well-executed, but one critique about the album shines clear; besides the themes of heartbreak and insecurity, there is little that unites this album. The mix of mellow heartbroken misery and aggressive displays of anger are relatively incompatible. Each track could stand on its own as beautiful and meaningful pieces, but the composition feels messy when strung together. It is clear that Rodrigo is still in the experimental stage with defining her sound as an artist.
Despite a few flaws, Sour is a strong debut album. Rodrigo has stayed true to herself, and it is clear that each song is written from the heart. Honesty and emotion seep out of every track and show that while she is still establishing her identity as an artist, transparency and genuineness are important to Rodrigo, and she will continue to be real with her fans.