Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR is an incredibly strong debut that knows exactly what it’s here to do. Every piece that makes it up is something either beloved or experienced by Rodrigo, all fitting together to create a portrait of what it’s like to be both seventeen and heartbroken. Through it all, Rodrigo’s songs are consistently raw and real, brimming with a sense of catharsis, this feeling that it is entirely necessary for her to get these words out in the world. A feeling that I and many others like me are intimately familiar with.
Running the gamut from pop-punk to acoustic ballads, SOUR captures all of the messy (sour) emotions that come with being a teenage girl, both sonically and lyrically. The opening track “brutal” is a perfect example of this, expressing all of the discomforts that come with being a teenage girl when it feels like the entire world including yourself hates you, made even worse in Rodrigo’s case by all the eyes on her thanks to her work as an actress in shows like High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. In “brutal”, Rodrigo is speaking out against a system that she’s been part of since she was twelve years old as she rages against the constraints of her position as an actress and the toll that position and all of the attention that comes with it has taken on both her mental health and her self-perception.
As previously mentioned, SOUR’s sound ranges from pop-punk to ballads. The pop-punk influence is perhaps best put on display in “good 4 u” as Rodrigo addresses her ex in a way that screams catharsis, it feels reminiscent of songs like Paramore’s “Misery Business” both in terms of composition and, in terms of the overall feel of the lyrics. “good 4 u” however, turns the ire towards Rodrigo’s ex rather than directing anger towards the girl that her ex moved on to after breaking up with Rodrigo by sarcastically expressing support for her ex as they move on from their past relationship. At the same time as it feels reminiscent of Paramore, the music video for the track is filled to the brim with references to The Princess Diaries, Jennifer’s Body, and even Takashi Miike’s 1999 horror movie Audition.
In terms of the ballad end of the spectrum, songs like “drivers license” and “traitor” express both the sorrow and anger that Rodrigo feels when she sees how quickly her ex has moved on while she’s still picking up the pieces, expressing those big emotions using bigger sounds than on the softer tracks like “enough for you”, a song that itself is concerned with the more personal insecurities felt in the wake of being left by someone who you have given so much of yourself to at a time when you’re still so unsure of who you are. Especially when that someone moves on so much quicker than you do.
One of the most important things that SOUR does is it never belittles Rodrigo’s feelings, she is consistently allowed to feel every emotion she expresses, never being told that she’s being over-dramatic or that these feelings will pass. As a young person who has gone through multiple messy, heart-breaking break-ups this is so refreshing. All of these emotions that are being expressed are so real and raw and relatable. SOUR is the kind of album that would have changed my life if it had existed when I broke up with my first boyfriend. SOUR is a very specific, but very necessary album and I am so happy for all of the people who will get to grow up with it out in the world.