Reviews by mars
Olivia Rodrigo's SOUR review: Disney star turned pop princess delivers a stunning debut filled with cathartic savagery and self-reflection (8.5/10)
Olivia Rodrigo: a name that only six months ago was relatively unknown by the general public yet carried weight amongst the tween audiences of Disney’s Bizaardvark and the hilariously titled High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Today, Olivia Rodrigo has cemented herself as pop’s newest princess with her meteoric - and unprecedented - rise to superstardom.
Her life-changing debut single, “drivers license,” became an overnight sensation as Rodrigo went from delightful Disney darling to breaking all-time streaming records in just a matter of days - deservingly so. “Drivers license” is the debut single that past and present popstars dream of: a soaring power ballad that, on first listen, you instantly knew is a bonafide classic. Inspired by Rodrigo’s greatest inspirations, “drivers license” taps intelligently into the teen's biggest musical influences: vocal production à la Lorde and finely specific storytelling à la Taylor Swift. Since “drivers” debuted in January, Rodrigo took the stage at the BRIT Awards, had an SNL skit dedicated to the song, and later performed on that very show - all before even graduating high school.
Many could have written Rodrigo off either as a one-hit-wonder or as just another major label creation with little artistic vision of her own. Then came “deja vu,” a stunning follow-up to “drivers license” that showcases her musical flexibility, and then the early 2000s, Paramore-infused “good 4 u.” Each subsequent release somehow manages to one-up its predecessor in a 1, 2, 3 knockout that hasn’t been seen in quite some time.
SOUR (released May 21, 2021) is Rodrigo's debut studio album and a stellar introduction that takes listeners through the journey of overcoming teenage heartbreak. Listening to Sour and then quickly catching yourself that this is a debut is almost inconceivable - how can an 18-year-old write lyrics so raw, so relatable, and astonishingly mature? This is the moment when the clouds clear the stormy sky, and your “ah-ha” moment arrives - these expertly crafted lyrics and non-existent creative boundaries are what separate Rodrigo from her new pop peers. Yes, the young woman who went from the heart-wrenching “drivers license” is also captivating listeners with the alt-rock thrill of “jealousy, jealousy,” the folksy “favorite crime,” and the grunge of “good 4 u.” And yes, she is able to miraculously pull it all off.
Rodrigo is ushering in a new generation of pop musicians, those who grew up absorbing every bit of knowledge from the Swiftian School of Music. Taylor Swift’s ability to both genre-hop throughout her 15-year-long career and create intricately clear, yet coded songs have left a lasting impact on present and future pop music - and this marks only the beginning. “Deja vu” wisely expresses that discontent when your ex starts dating someone new but is simply recreating what made that prior relationship so special - think Rachel Green dating Russ over Ross. The brilliance of “deja vu” shines in its bridge delivery, an homage to Swift’s sing-shout bridge in Lover’s “Cruel Summer.” Rodrigo takes the Swiftian influence one step further in “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” which interpolates the piano melody from reputation closer “New Year’s Day” (also important to note how the combination of those two numbers is 13, Swift’s well-known lucky number).
On album opener “brutal,” what begins similar to the Disney-esque strings on Ariana Grande’s Positions quickly collapses as Rodrigo states, “I want it to be, like, messy!” It’s made evident just 14 seconds into Sour that this is no perfectly manicured Disney debut, but rather a blunt thesis statement: Olivia audibly eye-rolling herself through confessions of dissatisfaction and self-doubt. In fact, the calm before the storm introduction of "brutal" perfectly symbolizes the serenity of her former relationship and the mess left upon its end. “I’m so sick of 17, where’s my fucking teenage dream? / If someone tells me one more time ‘enjoy your youth’ I’m gonna cry,” she runs with yet another clever homage to the days of pop culture’s past. With each runaway confession, Rodrigo further shows her unwillingness to adhere to any musical or historical boundary. She’s inspired by marrying both the timeless and the modern.
At just 18-years-old, Olivia Rodrigo managed to create a body of work so uniquely her - and it’s truly that good. When streaming success favors the formulaic, wide appeal hit with either a featured rapper or a non-existent bridge, Rodrigo drives passionately down the road in the complete opposite direction. Sour succeeds because of this boldness. She’s energized by crafting lyrics so brutally honest and detailed that nobody else could have authored them as anyone attempting to cover the hurt of “drivers license” will likely come across like an unwanted American Idol audition. It is this authenticity that allows Rodrigo to shine brightest - self-awareness beyond her years, charm and complimentary sass purely Olivia. Now, it’s time for her to enjoy her newfound freedom and to continue embracing the magic within the messiness.
NY-based, 26-year-old, music-obsessed and loves to write about it.