I revisited SOUR on the way home from a breakup epilogue of sorts. The breakup was by no means as fresh or as tumultuous as the one Rodrigo portrays, but some of the emotions that bubbled from getting this closure allowed me to resonate with the album in a way I never had before.
SOUR came out while I was in a healthy long term relationship. I could appreciate it for its earwormy hooks, tight production, and Olivia’s developing songwriting prowess, but I simply couldn’t fully appreciate it for its emotional heft at the time. The few exceptions lie in what became my two favorite non-singles. Opener “brutal” is genuinely a fantastic punk song. Rodrigo’s vocal delivery is the perfect combination of dry, angsty, and sarcastic. And as the album came out when I was 17, screaming “I’m so sick of seventeen//Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” alongside Rodrigo was nothing short of cathartic. At first, I wasn’t fond of this track because I thought lines like that one were distinctly corny, but I came around to learn the unabashed angst has quite a lot of charm. The other track, “jealousy, jealousy,” explores the universal turmoil plaguing today’s teen girls: Instagram decimating our self esteem. Rodrigo acknowledges her irrational thinking, while still allowing her to feel her emotions through. “Their beauty’s not my lack” is a mantra that provides an important message to her audience that largely consists of teen girls.
That aside, my revisit to SOUR allowed me to acknowledge what the album does best: fulfilling its own goals. Olivia writing this album at the age of 17 is a feat within itself that is quickly written off simply because of the fact that she was a teen girl writing music for teen girls. Writing off the artistic merit of music and art targeted towards young women is a decades-long pattern that is rooted in the deep seeded misogyny that has plagued the music industry since music became a commercial product. Even The Beatles, now hailed as the most influential and well respected rock group of all time, was initially undermined because of their fanbase being composed of young women. Whether the typically middle aged male music critics like it or not, the demographic of 15-20 year old women historically have latched on to artists and bands that become legendary as they round out their careers. It is truly a slippery slope to dismiss what is ultimately the dominant block of music consumers.
Admittedly, SOUR is not doing anything particularly new, but it would be unfair to say that Rodrigo does not do her influences justice. Her childhood spent listening to the likes of Taylor Swift, Paramore, and Avril Lavigne is hard to miss on many of these tracks. Music doesn’t have to be particularly groundbreaking to be praised. Sometimes good pop music is really just undeniably good pop music. The instrumentation and production from Dan Nigro (other credits include songs on Carly Rae Jepsen’s EMOTION and Caroline Polachek’s Pang) is fresh and modern, but not in a way that would alienate the mainstream target audience.
Where this album really shines in my opinion is Olivia’s vocal delivery. It’s evident that she put her acting chops to use while recording this record. The snide and angsty performances from Rodrigo on “brutal”, “good 4 u” and some parts of “deja vu” immerse you into the mind of this seventeen year old girl going through what feels like every trial and tribulation in the book. Speaking of “deja vu,” what a feat of songwriting that is for Olivia. The hyper-specific details she puts in a song about the relatively universal experience of seeing an ex move on to someone else makes it so worthy of the success it gained upon release. The line “I bet you even tell her how you love her in between the chorus and the verse” is probably the best written on this whole project. That detail is so specific that it makes you want to hunt down Joshua Bassett for breaking up with her. The more emotional tracks also have stellar vocal delivery, notably on “enough for you” and “favorite crime.” On revisit, “favorite crime” made me want to scream and rip my hair out in the best way possible. It’s written fairly simple but by God Olivia sings her ass off on that track. The narrative of this track is engaging in how it takes you through the stages of grief she’s experiencing, especially anger. The experiences of heartbreak and rage that Rodrigo chronicles on this record are universal but also feel very isolating during the thick of the experience, and that is absolutely captured here. My revisit to the album felt like I was experiencing these emotions alongside her, which explains why the album really didn’t click with me as much upon its initial release.
SOUR also notably breaks away from what the public has come to expect from an Ex-Disney-Star debut, the most jarring being it’s self written. The debut albums from Ex-Disney-Stars like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez were not written by them at all, and had absolutely nothing to do with their lived experiences. Whether that’s a result of inability to write songs or to mitigate potential PR scandals is something we’ll likely never know for sure, but it’s probably a mix of both. Rodrigo’s case is exactly the opposite. On a label not owned by Disney and an already impressive pen game, nothing was off limits. Curse words a-plenty, public drama galore. Direct call outs to Joshua Bassett? She’s got 20! But who cares? Quite a lot of people actually. SOUR’s chart success was really unprecedented for a debut, and that’s because Rodrigo effectively defied these aforementioned expectations. Only time will tell whether it’s a net positive for her career, but I really don’t see why it wouldn’t be. Olivia has an incredibly long and bright future ahead of her… unless the best new artist curse is real then disregard everything I just said.