If you ever want to feel humbled, inadequate, insignificant, or any of the above, look no further than Olivia Rodrigo. Feeling like an underachiever is a common result of listening to Rodrigo’s new album Sour, which came out on the 21st of May. 

With eleven tracks, the album is a powerhouse of soft love songs and surging bitter anthems. You don’t need me to tell you how good this album is – the records broken by this debut can do that for me. At only 18, Rodrigo’s first album has debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, and has topped both the albums and singles UK Official Charts. Rodrigo is the youngest solo artist to have ever gained an Official UK Chart Double. 

As a result, you’ll be hard pressed to avoid her recent single “good 4 u” that seems to be on every Apple Music and Spotify Playlist, and played every hour on the radio (although this is a medium most will probably miss). “good 4 u” is objectively a banger; the chorus is enough to get anyone shouting with the fervour of a pre-pandemic Fever night. I can personally vouch for this, as my neighbours were extremely effective in exemplifying the extraordinary decibel range the line “like a damn sociopath” can reach at 2 am. 

“driver’s license” has been with us for a while, and it has continued to be 2021’s anthem for the broken-hearted. There is nothing like feeling a heartbreak you’ve never experienced, while simultaneously lamenting the reality that you can’t actually drive. “deja vu” completes the trifecta of songs on the album that have become TikTok staples. Once removed from this TikTok trendsetting, “deja vu” slots happily (or not so ‘happily’) into the tone of lament that subtly saturates the album. 

In “good 4 u”, “brutal”, “deja vu” and “jealousy, jealousy” you get the more upbeat tracks of the album. All are anti-mood hoover tracks, and all are there for you if you want a mild crisis disguised by buoyant production. “brutal” has been followed by a slight millennial and Gen-Z crisis that’s got nothing to do with Rodrigo’s success. Lines like “I’m so sick of seventeen / where’s my f*ckin’ teenage dream?”, and “I’m not cool and I’m not smart / And I can’t even parallel park”, have sent people under the age of 35 into a stress spiral. I think the issue is that we all relate to Rodrigo a little bit too much.

Along with these bops are the softer tracks which provide the album with its depth. The album’s final track “hope ur ok” is crushing. Rodrigo delves into abuse, loss and self-consciousness throughout, but these are all seen most heartachingly in this final song. As ever, a song called “happier” cannot contain an inclination of happiness. Instead, it examines the feelings surrounding watching an ex be with someone else. Rodrigo handles this scenario much more maturely in her lyrics than we might have seen a decade ago. Not to point fingers, but you do have to somewhat suspend your feminism when listening to Taylor Swift’s “Better Than Revenge”. In “happier”, Rodrigo is aware of her misplaced anger directed at her replacement, and throughout the song, redirects it towards her ex. Most scathingly she sings, “And now I’m pickin’ her apart / Like cuttin’ her down make you miss my wretched heart”. Rodrigo stresses the “cuttin’” as a way of exaggerating her annoyance at the real object of her distaste. 

There is a matter that is seen in this instance, and that is continued throughout the album, which sets Rodrigo apart from her High School Musical: The Musical: The Series persona. Rodrigo broke into our lives on the series and with her single “All I want”, and since then she has become an honorary ‘child’ of Taylor Swift, and a heartbreak icon. Olivia Rodrigo has lived the life every Swiftie could dream of, and there is something sickening about watching other people living out your dreams. There are some that have criticised her as a knock-off version of Swift, or someone who is riding on the coattails of her success. I can see why people might think that, what with Rodrigo interpolating Swift’s “New Year’s Day” in “1 step forward, 3 steps back”, and the similarity of narrative trajectory in “hope ur ok” that is seen in Swift’s “epiphany”. But critics who take this line are missing so much of Rodrigo’s originality. In one album she seems to have mastered indie folk tones in “favourite crime”, traditional pop in “good 4 u”, and Billie Eilish styles of alternative in “jealousy, jealousy”. It would be a disservice and a discredit to Rodrigo to lump her in with the Taylor Swift legacy as a footnote to disappear as soon as Swift releases a new record.

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album Sour is an exceptional effort. It is not afraid to dip into the most sensitive of issues. “driver’s license” shot her to fame, and she has ridden the wave of her own success perfectly. If you’re looking for perfect pop, a strong narrative arc, and a heavy dousing of heartbreak, vengeance and acceptance, you need look no further. If you are not looking for these things, then go back to your Spotify algorithm – although, I doubt you will be able to escape it. If by the end of the summer you haven’t screamed “like a damn sociopath” at the top of your lungs, then I’m afraid to say… you probably are one.

Katharine Spurrier

Beyond her degree, Katharine enjoys reading both social commentary and culture reviews. This provision of both high and low insights helps to inform the articles she has written for The Oxford Blue which...