It only took Olivia Rodrigo the first seven days of 2021 to shake the internet to its core with her debut single “Drivers License”. The spot lit ballad was inescapable for the first month of this year, and for good reason. The track is gorgeously sung, features pristine production, and contains some truly impressive songwriting. Her follow up single was equally as impressive. “deja vu” pulled from many of the same sounds that “Drivers License” did, but featured a much more instrumental slated sound. The track boasts a snare roll type drum beat that is a direct call back to the likes of U2 and their smash hit “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Despite Rodrigo’s last two singles boasting a similar aesthetic, her latest track from her upcoming album Sour, is a wildly unexpected left turn. In “good 4 u”, Rodrigo trades balladry for power chords and early 90’s pop-punk energy. “good 4 u” is in large, a departure from Rodrigo’s two pop centric songs and effectively serves as her introduction into rock music.
“good 4 u” mixes the female centric pop punk of the 90’s Riot Grrrl movement with 2021 pop production in a surprisingly cohesive manner. The mix feels specifically fit for a teenager’s first romantic breakdown. Rodrigo’s delivery on the second verse of the track possesses energy that is very reminiscent of names like Avril Lavigne; a surprising but fitting pull from the former Disney star. With that being said however, the track does wear some of its more recently pulled influences on its sleeve a bit too prominently. The sporadic splashes of multi-layered falsetto harmonies that are peppered throughout the track’s runtime are a dead-ringer for the same technique that was used by Billie Eilish on her debut album in songs like “bury a friend” and “you should see me in a crown”. Those very harmonies appear quite regularly throughout the nearly three minute run-time of “good 4 u”. They are among the first sounds audible in the track, as they come between each measure of staccato bass notes within the intro. That same bassline persists and dissolves into what becomes the first verse. Atop it is placed Rodrigo’s vocal, then some muted and reverb snare drums, before the mix eventually evolves into the track’s hook.
The chorus of “good 4 u” consists of some punchy pop-rock drums and layered major chords. Eventually the song falls back into its more stripped back verse section, where we are again met with the opening bassline. Atop all this sits Rodrigo’s lyrics that are frankly a bit more elementary and childish than what we heard from “Drivers License '' and “deja vu”. This choice isn’t entirely unfitting though, the very genre that this track pulls from was built on emotional immaturity and coming of age. It is at this point where the track’s runtime meets one of its more interesting moments. All three of Rodrigo’s singles feature bridge sections that are written in a very specific and clearly intentional way. Each track places a clear emphasis and buildup to the bridge section that is placed directly before the rendition of the final hook. This creative choice was originally harnessed by Rodrigo’s producer Dan Nigro on their track “Drivers License”. “good 4 u” performs this slightly differently than “Drivers License” and “deja vu” however, as the bridge here is strictly instrumental. The same chords persist, but the strumming pattern changes and Rodrigo’s vocals drop out. After this bit plays out she begins back with a crescendo of chants stating “maybe, I’m too emotional”.
“good 4 u” is a far more predictable song than “Drivers License” and “deja vu”. Not to say that it isn’t enjoyable, because the track is rather fun, but it pulls from a set of sounds that is much more familiar than that of what came before it. This coupled with it’s occasionally dull lyricism does make the song less memorable than Rodrigo’s previous two singles; however the versatility this track has shown is wildly impressive. Acts like Olivia Rodrigo have and always will have to go the extra mile to try and convince outsiders that they possess legitimate creative prowess, and are not simply leeching off of a corporate music industry plan and a room full of songwriters. The same fools that discredit Billie Eilish based on the played out and misinformed arguments of “industry plant” and “Finneas does it all” will discredit Rodrigo’s creativity by virtue of her Disney Channel roots.
The problem with arguing that someone is an industry plant is that there is rarely a solidifying point of confirmation toward any sort of verdict. However, it is very easy to separate what Rodrigo has previously done while acting with Disney Channel and her output as a solo artist. Her debut record is slated to release on Geffen Records which is a subset of Universal Music Group, not Disney Music Group. Even beyond that, Rodrigo doesn’t sound like an industry peddled pop-star. With each passing single, she sounds more and more like a fully realized artist with legitimate artistic potential, despite the fact that she is only eighteen. Her music thus far has ended and began with her songwriting at its core; which is something that music elitist types will never be able to take away from her. “good 4 u” feels like a slight misstep, but it further provides evidence of Rodrigo’s very real creative vision. She is going to make what she wants, how she wants, and refuse to be held down by the constraints of genre or the assumptions of outsiders.