Olivia Rodrigo Exudes Teenage Girl Excellence in Debut Album “SOUR” — In Depth Review

Maxine Thao
11 min readJun 4, 2021

If you were on the internet in January 2021, you might’ve heard something about this girl named Olivia who just got her driver’s license? Now all of a sudden, you know all about how the bridge of “drivers license” is breathtaking, the tricky relationship drama between the new era of disney stars, discovered that all of her songs are actually very good, and seeing that she is deservingly breaking records with every release? Well, join the club of livies (her fanbase name), who happen to average somewhere between teens to 20–30 year olds, all banding together to enjoy whatever this 18 year old girl’s got to write about.

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album “SOUR” was released on May 21st, 2021.

With the title of the album called “SOUR” and pre-released singles known beforehand, if you thought this would be a teenage girl trying to get over her first breakup, you would be right. However, the way she blends those expectations of honest hurt and subverts it with some interesting production choices and cunning lyric delivery does not fail to make an impact.

With the lead single “drivers license”, our first encounter of Rodrigo was diving into her most vulnerable state. Right off the bat, the intro of the car sound effect leading into the piano melody is genius and so immersive. Lyrically in this song, she faces the beginning of the end of her relationship. She hasn’t started reflecting, realizing all the red flags or how she bent over backwards too much for him, and barely mentions his new relationship. All she’s realized is that she feels empty without him and is haunted by their memories, while desperately exclaiming how in love she was. Also lyrically, the mirroring of the adolescence associated with getting your driver’s license and getting her first heartbreak is really smart. She also excellently uses the driving motif to signify the excitement of all the memories they were gonna make while going places together and to each other, and all of that now stopping (“red lights, stop signs’’) and only haunting her (“I still hear your voice in the traffic, we’re laughing”). The chorus building up with her filled with emotion and pulling a reverse drop to only piano with the line “‘Cause you said forever, now I drive alone, past your street”, mirrors the sudden ending he left her with. Of course the iconic bridge relieves all the emotional tension built up, and the final chorus ends the song with tired desperation in her voice. The last small detail I really love is the ending where she repeats the same line, but the very last note played ends on a minor note and musically does not sound resolved. While listening, it doesn’t feel totally complete, like how her relationship doesn’t feel complete with her lingering feelings.

Rodrigo then takes her heartbreak and ramps up her passive-aggressiveness and even teeters onto plain aggressiveness. Her second single, “deja vu” transitions her musical boundaries out of ballad territory. The song opens up with an innocent sounding piano melody, entering a sense of dreamy nostalgia as she sings about specific fond memories she shared with her ex, such as “Strawberry ice cream, one spoon for too / And tradin’ jackets / Laughin’ ‘bout how small it looks on you”. This feeling, with more wistfulness, lingers as she airily sings on the first chorus, “So when you gonna tell her that we did that, too?” About midway through the song it progresses to an alt-pop style with the addition of brash drums and a blaring guitar line. A simple and small detail that I became obsessed with the first time I heard it, is the subtle fourth wall break between the second verse and second chorus. There’s a whisper of Rodrigo saying “I love you”, in reference to the lyrics she just sang in the verse that goes “Now I bet you even tell her how you love her / In between the chorus and the verse”. That desperate sounding spoken three words really adds to the heartbreak behind the anger filled belting in the next chorus. All the passive aggressive anger that was boiling up to before the bridge and last chorus just spills completely as she repeats key memories they shared from the verses with now every bit of attitude with shouting and belted adlibs as the instrumentals go out with a bang. The switch up of the production and ear-catching imagery in the lyrics is what makes the song so excellent and what made expectations of her as an artist only grow.

The now #1 hit on the Billboard 100, “good 4 u” as the third single secured Rodrigo to nostalgic audiences who needed that early 2000s pop-punk fix. Her passive aggressiveness gets even more aggressive with this pop-punk modern anthem that uses the phrase “good for you” throughout to paint how well her ex seems to be doing after their breakup while she describes her situation with “Cryin’ on the floor of my bathroom”. There’s a nice prominent bass line throughout especially the verses that sounds great while accompanying her snarky voice and comments like “I guess the therapist I found for you she really helped / Now you can be a better man for your brand new girl”. The chorus becomes a wall of rocking guitars and banging drums matching her loud singing, where she emphasizes how she can’t fathom at all how her ex is acting so apathetic towards her. The second verse is easily my favorite part of the whole song, as the attitude and sarcasm drips from her voice. The slight giggle on “And good for you, it’s like you never even met me” shifting into teeth-grit anger with “Remember when you swore to God I was the only / Person who ever got you? Well, screw that, and screw you” and ending the verse with straight up yelling, is a perfect transition into the angry chorus. That part is where Rodrigo’s acting background shines through her music, with that ability advantage of being able to portray emotions so naturally through her voice. Lastly, she plays with the power of volume towards the end of the song. The bridge starts more withdrawn both in her voice and the instrumental but builds up to the final chorus, except the chorus pulls a reverse drop as it starts with just her voice with minimal instrumentals, but comes back in full force after she says the line “Like a damn sociopath”, strengthening the hit as the song ends.

Quite possibly being the greatest opening on a debut album of all time, Rodrigo opens up her full story with the rock track titled “brutal”. The track opens up with strings that sound fairytale-like, but there’s something about it that descends in a slightly unsettling way. Right when you’re about to process that feeling, it interrupts with a harsh and rugged guitar riff. She goes on to list every part about being this age that she hates, such as insecurity, being anxious, a growing responsibility to be a part of this unjust society, and maybe the worst of it all — being told to enjoy all of this. In the chorus, she wails while almost being swallowed by the heavy guitars underneath, about how she can’t win as a teenager no matter what she attempts and states something you can clearly picture with an eye roll — “God, it’s brutal out here”. The strings come back for the outro and it ends with her voice softer than the rest of the song; it adds up to her accepting that the “teenage dream” fantasy is completely crushed as she sings “And god I don’t even know where to start” in defeat.

Easily the most sonically experimental song on the album, “jealousy, jealousy” explores that unescapable feeling (as a person, but especially as a teenage girl) of suffocating jealousy from constant comparison. The song moving from just the bassline to the unexpected punchy guitar and accompanying piano embellished with drum hi-hats creates that sudden slightly unsettling feeling. The instrumentals of the bass, guitar, and piano are all on the deeper end of the musical scale, kind of creating the feeling of a deep pit in your stomach. This song does not stay the same for more than one section, as the second verse adds subtle yet effective light synths and an occasional screeching synth/distorted guitar. The bridge is a beautiful mess, as all the instruments come to play to create musical chaos that is heavily carried by the new almost atonal piano in the back. It’s more in the background as it’s bombarded with the other instruments, but as it moves further it becomes more and more prominent in the mix and the off-tone piano takes center stage. This whole sequence that also has Rodrigo sing-shouting; about the seemingly perfect life girls on the internet have by being so pretty, so happy with a boyfriend, money, friends…and of course how her jealousy causes her to want it all; allows you to directly feel the feeling of being unconsciously swallowed by the insanity that jealousy can drive you to.

Another notable soundscape that Rodrigo created on this album can be heard on both “traitor” and “happier”. Specifically for these songs compared to the rest of the album, the general instrumental creates a lot of space that allows for her voice to shine with her gorgeous high notes. Frequently on this album that I haven’t touched much on are the consistent playfulness of the harmonies scattered throughout her songs. She uses harmonies, for example, on a specific word at the end of a line to emphasize it or almost uses it as its own instrument to add body to the track. “traitor” is the star example of how the minimal instrumental of a background synth, echoey drums, and periodic acoustic guitar allows the harmonies to add heavily to the hazy atmosphere. To cut through that hazy atmosphere, she belts her way through the chorus, putting stress on the words “betrayed” and “sorry”. Moving onto “happier”, the classic old-school sounding piano melody with muffled percussion creates a lovey-dovey warm atmosphere that basically juxtaposes the coldness of her lyrics. She takes the well meaning phrase of wishing someone the best after a breakup, and passive-aggressively wishes to him, “So find someone great, but don’t find no one better / I hope you’re happy but don’t be happier”. She even ends the song with pretty “oohs” and strings, turning a very honest but unpretty emotion of bitterness into something sounding so pretty.

“1 step forwards, 3 steps back” and “enough for you” are super significant to the story of the album, as they are both stripped, acoustic confessional songs that reveal her ex’s shitty behavior in the relationship. These songs really give ground to all the sadness, disappointment, and anger she shows in all the other songs on this album. In “1 step forwards, 3 steps back”, Rodrigo lays out how her ex emotionally manipulated her by never being consistent in his treatment of her. It also happens to interpole the piano instrumental of “New Year’s Day” by Taylor Swift, which happens to be a direct juxtaposition about their kinds of lovers, as Swift sings opposingly about a person who will stick with her after all that glitters — the one who will help you pick up bottles on the floor. Rodrigo continues her journey of self reflection after the breakup with “enough for you”. Over only a finger-plucked acoustic guitar, she sings a simple melody slowly realizing that while she tried endlessly to please her ex, her failed attempts didn’t cause their demise, but his impossible standards did. While she starts the song off with wallowing in the failed trials for his heart, she delightfully realizes with how much love she gave to him, he wasn’t the one who was enough for her.

“favorite crime” brings the conclusion to their relationship, where she finally accepts their relationship for what it was. A purely acoustic track with gorgeous harmonies to fill it with warmth; she compares the death of their unstable relationship to a crime scene. While she admits that not only his destructive actions, but her willingness to comply with those conditions were what led to their relationship’s eventual end, she hopes they can both take something beautiful out of their time together. Whether it be their favorite memories or what they learned about themselves through this experience, she hopes she was his favorite crime. With all the sourness juiced out of her, the end of her grueling heartbreak reached a soothing finale.

Although the main subject of the album, her former relationship, has reached its conclusion, Rodrigo’s still feeling a bit emotional. I think we all know the feeling of after reflecting and trying to heal the emotions from our past, our mind naturally wanders to those we formed a close bond with. As how life is, how people come and go out of your life with both hard and no hard feelings, you can’t help but wonder about that person’s life now. The closer “hope ur ok” is a sweet ode to them, and although it lyrically doesn’t relate much to the rest of the album, it’s fine in my book because it’s by far the most touching. Guided with a soft strumming of an electric guitar, she sings a lullaby-like tale of two different kids she grew up with who suffered from a homophobic family. Something as pure and intimate as the lyrics, “Well, I hope you know how proud I am you were created / With the courage to unlearn all of their hatred / But, God, I hope that you’re happier today / ’Cause I love you / And I hope that you’re okay” is so universal that there’s no way anyone can listen to this with dry eyes. For me, very personally, I have not listened to this song without tearing up — and yes I really do mean every time.

While expectations for this album were high, the record breaking stats for “SOUR” put her in the ranks with the big pop girls. While it does seem that she became universally loved out of nowhere, with this kind of popularity, it’s only a matter of time where excess criticism steps in. Ever since “driver’s license”, the most common unsolicited diss towards her was her songwriting subject being about juvenile heartbreak. As a young girl myself, growing up seeing Taylor Swift being unabashedly harassed about her love life and seeing how up and coming female stars today still have to be subjected to the same comments is a little disheartening. However, the strength of female artists’ vulnerability is what keeps people connected. I love seeing how Olivia Rodrigo understands this as well, as she doubles down by making an album called “SOUR” and shamelessly spilling every ugly feeling in her own beautiful art form. Her confidence and skill are going to take her a very long way, as proven by all the potential seen just from one album. So yeah, as expected from a teenage girl, maybe she’s too emotional — but the way she wears her heart on her sleeve is something every adult repeatedly listening to this album desperately wishes they could do.

“brutal” — 10/10

“traitor” — 8.5/10

“driver’s license” — 10/10

“1 step forwards, 3 steps back” — 8/10

“deja vu” — 9/10

“good 4 u” — 10/10

“enough for you” — 7.5/10

“happier” — 10/10

“jealousy, jealousy” — 10/10

“favorite crime” — 9.5/10

“hope ur ok” — 10/10

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