REVIEW: Olivia Rodrigo - SOUR
Updated: Feb 6, 2022
Favorite Track: "jealousy, jealousy" Least Favorite Track: "brutal"
Disney Channel has always been a catalyst for producing some of the greatest pop artists of our time. Cultural phenomenon Britney Spears was once a Mickey Mouse clubhouse member who turned teenage pop music into one of the United State’s greatest exports after the release of “...Baby One More Time.” Miley Cyrus certainly raised some eyebrows after reinventing her mysterious, undercover rock star Hannah Montana character into the raunchy, wrecking-ball riding superstar who proved she was more than just a pop culture fluke. Even NSYNC’s Justin Timberlake went from being a Mouseketeer to a boy-band leader to a slick R&B/pop performer. Among countless more lies the High School Musical TV Series lead actress Olivia Rodrigo, who hit musical fame just a few days into 2021 with “drivers license.” This single specifically separated her from being a pawn in Disney’s industry peddled grip, and proved that she has so much more to offer with her own artistry. After releasing two more singles, Rodrigo’s full length debut album SOUR finally appeased a hungry pop culture fanbase, and introduced many hints on where her brilliance could take her in music.
SOUR’s main thematic focus is generic breakup, heartbreak, and failed romance songs.As expected, this theme incites a mountain of insecurities that poison her fragile, gullible mind. The opening track “brutal” is a prime example. Opening on beautiful and light strings, you hear Rodrigo yell “I want it to be like, messy,” switching the instrumental to an aggressive, grunge tone instantaneously. The emotional instability is captured in lyrics like “I feel like no one wants me” and “I’m not cool, and I’m not smart/I can’t even parallel park.” She even asks herself rhetorical questions that further feed those insecurities, opening the chorus lyrics with “All I did was try my best, this the kinda thanks I get?”; consequently, the “ego crush is so severe” and continues to derail her confidence and happiness. “enough for you” sees Rodrigo reminisce about the insecurities she had during the relationship, not just after. A soft guitar strum sets the perfect mood for her to croon how she “wore makeup when we dated” to try and look “like the other prom queens I know you loved before.” In a way, she is realizing all the effort she put into the relationship, such as knowing “how you took your coffee and your favorite songs by heart,” just to be wasting it on someone who didn’t appreciate or reciprocate.
Moreover, the thematic focus on doomed romance is a clear indication of Olivia Rodrigo’s musical influences, with the most obvious one being Taylor Swift. The way that she paints a clear-tale picture of the relationship is exactly what Swift does in most of her music. For example, the first verse of the hit single “deja vu” describes specific dates that the lovers would have, including “Car rides to Malibu/Strawberry ice cream, one spoon for two” and “Watching reruns of Glee/Bein’annoying, singing in harmony.” This links to the pre-chorus question “So when you gonna tell her that we did that, too?”, which is sort of a fourth wall break within the song that portrays the cutesy date stuff in the first verse as betrayal and unspecial. “Do you get deja vu?,” she asks, wondering if the romance he has now reminds him of anything that he and Rodrigo shared; an expert Taylor Swiftian song writing method. The band Paramore is another influence that helped create this album’s signature sound, and helped craft one of 2021’s most notorious songs, “good 4 u.” It isn’t so much that she has the same power or intensity as Paramore’s lead singer Hayley Williams, but her voice is still a clearly borrowed attribute in the song. The verse is relatively calm, as Rodrigo uses more of a speaking tone rather than a belting tone. It’s in the chorus where that Paramore influence bleeds through, with Rodrigo erupting “Well, good for you, you look happy and healthy, not me, if you ever cared to ask;” a very blunt statement that captures her emotional turmoil and blatant realism on the situation.
One of the most interesting points on SOUR is the mixed bag of instrumentals. Generally, teen bedroom pop breakup albums will have one instrumental focus, either being classic pop ballads or abrasive, unstable rock; however, SOUR seems to encompass these and everything in between. “happier” is an unmistakable, broken-hearted ballad, and one of the most gorgeous tracks on the album. A warm synth crescendos into the first verse, where Olivia Rodrigo serenades over simple, arpeggiated piano chords. The instrumental doesn’t add too much more, encompassing some suppressed bass drum and claps, strings, barely audible synths, and some more backup harmonies; all in all, it is the classic breakup ballad expected from a doomed teenage romantic. The songs “brutal” and “good 4 u” venture into grunge/pop-punk territory, and honestly don’t do the album much justice. In fact, if it wasn’t for Rodrigo’s superb lyricism, these songs would definitely be the weakest tracks across SOUR, solely because of the unworked instrumentals that distract from the albums main thematic material.
On the other hand, the most nurtured instrumental has to be “driver’s license;” the song that exposed Rodrigo’s genius to the world. Dramatic and programmatic, this instrumental takes us on a miraculous journey through the point of view of a troubled teenager driving in a melancholic mood on a solemn night. Car noises meld into a piano ostinato that introduces the verse, with Rodrigo painting a picture of driving “through the suburbs after she finally got her “driver’s license last week.” With more layers being added in, the track already hits a grandiose state by the time the first chorus hits; however, the peak hasn’t arrived. Leading up to the bridge, the second chorus incorporates heavy strings, bass, and drums, giving way to a beautifully reverbed and harmonized climatic bridge, Rodrigo crying how “I still fuckin’ love you babe.” “jealousy, jealousy” is very different from the rest of the album, but in a good way. For one, the beginning has a groovy, bouncing bass line; something that immediately captures the attention of anyone with a more instrumental mindset while listening to SOUR. Lyrics on how “Com-comparison” is killing her slowly set to a thick drumbeat, a strong guitar/piano medley, a groovy bassline, well-layered harmonized “Ooh’s, “Eeh’s,” and “Aah’s,” and tenacious synth sounds makes for an enthralling moment on a borderline unfocused album.
While SOUR lags in comparison to albums by other former Disney female pop stars, it is certainly a contender for one of the greatest debut albums by today’s young pop star crew. Olivia Rodrigo has laid out an amazing foundation for herself to build upon, as she continues to modify her sound and knock down any commercialized Disney music industry barriers she may encounter. In all honesty, it would be interesting to take a break from the preconceived depressed, heartbroken teenager; and instead, see a transformation into a confident, self-loving woman who uses her incredible artistry to revolutionize pop music for future generations. Ultimately, the world will be waiting in speculation on what she will do next.