Olivia Rodrigo’s meteoric rise to fame was propelled off the massive success that was ‘drivers license’, which spent 8 weeks at no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. She was, of course, already well-known for her talents on-screen as a star on the Disney+ series “High School Musical: The Musical The Series” but ‘drivers license’ quickly made Olivia pop royalty. She kept her momentum going as a solo recording artist with singles like ‘deja vu’ and ‘good 4 u’ all leading up to her highly anticipated album ‘SOUR’ which did not disappoint.
‘Brutal’ kicked off the album with the same pop-punk energy as the last single ‘good 4 u’, but Olivia and producer Dan Nigro pulled off the production on this opening track way more seamlessly than they did with ‘good 4 u’. The vicious guitar riff carries almost throughout the song, with Olivia’s vocals complimenting it perfectly throughout. On the verse, she’s purposefully sloppy with her notes and despite her softness in terms of volume, the teenage angst that’s expressed through the lyrics is made apparent but underlying. The chorus is when she explodes both vocally and lyrically with the raw drum and electric guitar production making it the perfectly rebellious pop punk anthem to blast in your bedroom.
The heartbreak pop songwriting in ‘traitor’ is just as good as that in ‘drivers license’ while still keeping the song as a whole significantly different from the breakout single. The catchy pre-chorus and chorus make it perfect for any heartbreak pop playlist but one thing that’s missing from the song that made so many people connect to drivers license was how personal the emotions and scenarios were. That’s not to say that the lyricism, though more unspecific, was of any lesser quality though; the line from the bridge which repeats to close the song “God, I wish that you had thought this through/Before I went and fell in love with you” is definitely a tear-jerker.
With how commercially successful ‘drivers license’ was I don’t think it needs any introduction or even review for that matter. It’s just a brilliantly written and produced ballad with a bridge to cry to for hours and an explosive chorus that speaks to both teenage and adult heartbreak perfectly.
‘1 step forward, 3 steps back’
A 3rd consecutive piano ballad seems like it would be too repetitive for an album, and though listening to ‘1 step forward, 3 steps back’ after the previous two songs might get a little dreary, Olivia manages to make sure that it’s still well distinguishable. She does this through the stripped down production of just her vocals and piano throughout the song, and choruses that aren’t massive with heavy drums and synths but still can be told apart from the verses with its simple but very catchy melody. The lyrics are also extremely hard-hitting, speaking on the labyrinthine nature of a toxic relationship.
‘Deja vu’ was definitely a standout song on the record for me, with Olivia hitting her stride with something unique and refreshing. Though her stellar songwriting sets her apart from the rest, her songs aren’t usually what you’d listen to and feel like you’ve never heard something like it before, but ‘deja vu’ is an exception to that trend. The bell-like keys that play till the end of the first chorus give the song a feeling of nostalgia that compliments the lyrics as she reminisces on a past relationship and the switch to the raw upbeat drums and in-your-face main synth melody after the chorus perfectly characterises as ‘tongue-in-cheek’ as Olivia once described it. The lyricism expresses an interesting take on a relatable situation, associating the feeling of deja vu with that of watching an ex doing similar things with their new significant other that they did with you. Her Lorde and Taylor-esque vocals on the bridge with lines like “I know you get déjà vu” give the song a perfect finishing touch.
‘good 4 u’
On ‘good 4 u’, Olivia returns to the brand of pop-punk that she deftly opened the record with, but it’s not executed as well as it is on ‘brutal’. The production seems like it’s trying to put a twist to the generic pop-punk but I’m not sure of its execution, with the half-time drums on the second verse and her background vocals in the front of the mix. Even the chord progression and lyrics in the chorus seem very ballad-like and not as aggressive as I would have liked, but that’s just my opinion. Apart from that, the lyrics throughout the rest of the song effectively bring out some suppressed hatred towards an ex and the sarcastic ‘good for you’ that’s repeated throughout the song is weaved into the picture that the song paints quite well.
‘enough for you’
This song might be my favourite non-single song on the album, and it’s all thanks to Olivia’s lyrics. This is one of the few songs on which she is the only songwriter credited and she pulled it off perfectly. ‘enough for you’ describes the helpless feeling of simply wanting to be enough for somebody and through its lyrics Olivia proves that you don’t have to be specific to be personal. Her vocals crescendo to a climax at the bridge where there’s a sudden drop in volume as she begins to say that though she might not have been enough for the ex, she’ll be enough for somebody else some day and her vocal control paired with these lyrics make it heart-wrenchingly beautiful and it’s sure to bring out a tear or two whether you relate to the situation or not.
This is another well-written piano ballad, that speaks interestingly on watching a past significant other move on from a relationship. Olivia is vulnerable enough to express the selfish nature of this phenomenon, that generally goes unspoken as she says “I hope you’re happy, but don’t be happier” [than you were with me]. The sparse piano line, filtered & almost lo-fi drums and violins that come in on the second chorus accompany the vocals appropriately, but the instrumental bridge after said chorus could have been fuller in my opinion, to satisfy us with a grander climax.
‘jealousy, jealousy’, though it’s produced very well, doesn’t have much to offer in terms of structure and even lyricism. Though it talks about the important issue of feeling insecure in your skin and social status, there’s nothing really exceptional about the way the songwriting is pulled off here. The melodies and general flow of the song tries hard to be different but doesn’t pull it off very well. Though the bridge is nice with the aggressive octave-vocals, it’s nothing we didn’t already hear on ‘brutal’, ‘good 4 u’, and ‘deja vu’.
Though the guitar line probably characterises ‘favorite crime’ as just another generic pop song, Olivia’s melodies and clean harmonies keep the song interesting throughout. There’s nothing too interesting lyrically but the production is what really keeps the song going, though I’d wish for a bigger climax on the last heavily layered chorus. On first listen I thought it definitely should have been longer, but now the structure seems perfectly compact, as more bridges or choruses would have made the song boring and repetitive.
‘hope ur ok’
Olivia chose a perfect song to close the album with in ‘hope ur ok’. Olivia reflects on people who were a part of her life at some point and how, though she’s lost touch with them, she hopes they’re okay. Her and Dan’s lyrics bring out the stories of the individuals she talks about briefly yet perfectly and it seems like Olivia is reaching out to the troubled youth of today and comforting them through the relatable problems of the people she sings about. The production compliments the lyrics perfectly with a lush string section and tastefully layered vocals and Olivia’s Taylor Swift influence is made clear yet again with the spacey layered vocals on the bridge and simple, reverb-washed drums on the bridge and even with the guitar line at the base of the song.
I’d give the album an 8/10, with very few pitfalls and songs that flow pretty seamlessly into one another in the larger context of the record as a whole. Olivia definitely proved herself with this one and she’s definitely kept her fans well fed for a while with the well-rounded approach to emotions throughout SOUR.