Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was only eighteen years old. Olivia Rodrigo, at the same age, has given birth to an album that nears itself to a pop-punk masterpiece with “good 4 u” and “brutal” high in rebel overtones. For those with a musically muted palette, Sour dishes a tasty menu. For 30-somethings and over, the album resurrects an age-aged out of the Gen-Z culture. For the teenagers, Sour is relatable; a neatly served plate of secondary school drama; a marker for millennial rebellion – those who “missed out on their 20s’ to the pandemic. Every track is Rodrigo’s own coming-of-age novella – a narration of her teenage moments – that predicate on the bitter aftertaste of a relationship; Sour arriving at us as a Swiftian symphony composed of break-up hits. Caught between adolescence and adulthood, Rodrigo’s wisdom seems stolen from someone considerably older. Her album is navigating into a grown-up world where love rejected all of her expectations. Her voice is Holden Caulfield-Esque with Phoebe Bridgers’s subdued balladry (“traitor”), grunge guitars (“brutal”) and Lorde’s melodrama (“good 4 u”) which envision her as an It-Girl-as-outcast pop icon. Like The Catcher in the Rye character, Rodrigo goes from a whisper to a clamour; her attempt to be listened to in a world that often fails to greet younger generations with seriousness. Not unlikely for Rodrigo with her exceptional rise from Disney stardom.
In January, she was playing in the celebrity Championships, the not-quite-18-year-old star of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. By January 12, the world wallowed at her debut single, “drivers license,” a piano ballad macerated with melancholy and malaise. Since then, Rodrigo has sung at the Brits, had social media love from Taylor Swift and become the subject of an SNL sketch – not to mention she made Sour. But we return again, living in the house Rodrigo built for heartbreak. “drivers license” covers a devastating breakup, the diameters of which are defined in her subsequent songs. For Rodrigo, the mundane act of driving becomes a residual reminder that she isn’t with the person she loves. A telling and terrifying metaphor that things aren’t the same. Her profanity leans itself into this song, with “Cause I still fuckin’ love you” and “But I still fuckin’ love you,” telling us that love doesn’t mean a precipitated relationship – one that is still a reality. We are tragically reminded that heartbreak doesn’t clean the sweet taste of love that lingers on our tongues. Many fans have made speculations, an extension of her Swiftian style, interrupting “traitor”, “favourite crime” and “happier” as not-so-subtle commentaries on a collapsed relationship with a fellow Disney star. Regardless of who the heartbreaker is, and it’s no one’s business, they’ve given Rodrigo the recipe for an album that has shifted her into the celebrity Premierships.
Over the years, Disney seems to round up several damsels that seek rebellion rather than rescuing, with few female stars escaping without a bad reputation. To those aware of Disney’s track record and the morality clauses that typically bind stars, then the profanity that plasters Sour is a Disney diversion. Rodrigo’s subversion of expectation has certainly given her a Caulfield kick. Because who is she but not exploited? In “brutal”, Rodrigo rattles about her outrages: self-doubt, replacement, expectations, her inability to parallel park. “Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” she rages, criticizing how pop culture romanticises youth. It’s not Disney appropriate and boy doesn’t Rodrigo care. She’s too busy challenging an idealism about the kind of sound she might be stereotyped with as a Disney star? That’s just part of her album’s magic. But there’s more to Rodrigo’s writing than rebellion. As a further It-Girl-as-outcast pop star, she, like her Swift, Lorde and Lana Del Rey counterparts has monetised her melancholy – her railroaded relationships. She laces her lyrics with self-aware specifics: the wearing of makeup because she thought her ex would like her better, the self-help books she read to impress him and the times they’d watch reruns of Glee together. There’s certainly magic to be found in Olivia Rodrigo’s misery with Sour leaving listeners nothing but sweetness.