Angst, intimacy and heartbreak abound on Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album ‘Sour’

Illustration of various Olivia Rodrigo scenes
Amanda Tsang/Staff

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

No pop star in recent memory has had a rise to stardom quite like Olivia Rodrigo’s. The Disney-actress-turned-singer became a worldwide sensation seemingly overnight after the release of her debut single, “Drivers License,” in January. The track blew up on TikTok, and it wasn’t long before it took the rest of the internet by storm: “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams in a single week and spent eight weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. After the success of “Drivers License,” all eyes were on Rodrigo as critics and fans waited eagerly to see whether she would live up to the high standard set by her debut. She quickly met that standard with her subsequent hits “Deja Vu” and “Good 4 U,” and with the arrival of her debut album Sour, Rodrigo has shown that she’s even more talented and multifaceted than we anticipated.

Throughout Sour, Rodrigo proves herself to be remarkably self-aware, introspective and mature; she manages to articulate complicated aspects of heartbreak and teen angst in a way that feels relevant to her teenage audience while still resonating with all listeners. The singer wades effortlessly between themes such as friendship, betrayal, jealousy and spite, and she addresses each of these topics with care and intention. Between her apt lyrics, varying musical styles and sweet voice, Rodrigo creates an album that feels both intimate and universal at the same time, all while being an enjoyable listen.

Each of the 11 tracks on Sour feels like a meaningful part of a cohesive whole. The album starts off with the angsty “Brutal,” a punk-rock-inspired track that laments the broken promises of young adulthood. Atop an electric guitar and powerful drums, Rodrigo explores the anxiety and frustration that come with being a teenager, singing, “They say these are the golden years/ But I wish I could disappear.” As she begins Sour by baring her insecurities and imperfections, Rodrigo perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album, affirming herself as the honest and relatable narrator of her own story.

The album then transitions to the ballad “Traitor,” in which Rodrigo reflects on the betrayal she felt when her ex-boyfriend quickly moved on after their breakup. The switch from the angsty “Brutal” to the poignant and cathartic “Traitor” demonstrates Rodrigo’s range, which she continues to illustrate on the next track, “Drivers License.” It’s easy to understand why the song has been such a smash hit –– it explores the struggle of moving on from a relationship when there are still unresolved feelings, and it embraces all the melancholy that comes with these feelings through intimate and honest lyrics. In both of these songs, Rodrigo utilizes the sounds of soft piano and dramatic synths to successfully immerse listeners in her emotional journey; between the emotive instrumentation and the singer’s powerful voice, the songs feel raw and heartrending.

On the slow, bittersweet tracks “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back” and “Enough For You,” Rodrigo continues to embrace the complicated aspects of young love as she considers the ways that she fell victim to her ex’s unfair expectations. Though these soul-baring breakup songs are highlights of the album, they aren’t all Sour has to offer. Rodrigo draws from pop-punk legends such as Paramore on “Good 4 U,” a sharp, sardonic track in which the singer expresses her spitefulness toward her ex. She moves between these themes and musical styles smoothly and effectively, showing her range and talent with each song.

Rodrigo rounds off the album by exploring topics other than heartbreak –– namely, she denounces the unrealistic beauty standards that young women are expected to adhere to in “Jealousy, Jealousy,” and wishes her old friends well on “Hope Ur OK.” Though these tracks tell different stories, they both tackle the difficulties of growing up with a signature sense of sincerity and intimacy. 

With that, Rodrigo ends Sour just as she started it: by exploring the complexity of coming of age in an unabashedly honest and self-aware way. And with such a stunning debut under her belt, Rodrigo will undoubtedly continue to impress us with her candor and sentimentality for years to come.

Contact Salem Sulaiman at [email protected].