In the first few seconds of her debut album, Sour, Olivia Rodrigo declares, “I want it to be, like, messy!” That shouldn’t be too difficult for a pop star who emerged seemingly out of nowhere in January, a Disney actress whose hit “Drivers License” ignited widespread interest in a love triangle between her High School Musical: The Musical: The Series co-stars. Rodrigo belted extremely relatable, heart-wrenching lines about doing something you were supposed to do with your partner but are now doing alone — and it gave us a glimpse of her songwriting potential. It’s only May, but “Drivers License” is already the song of the year. We’ve given Rodrigo the keys. We’re just lucky to be along for the ride.
Whereas most artists build to their breakup album, carefully laying down the foundations of their future devastation, Rodrigo has already skipped ahead to her Tunnel of Love (ahem, there’s even a song titled “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back”). In the same vein as “Drivers License,” the ballads here tackle heartbreak with grace — even when she’s parting ways with an ex, she resists the urge to tear their new partner down. “But she’s beautiful/she’s kind,” she admits on “Happier,” one of the record’s sparkly highlights. “She probably gives you butterflies.”
Just like she did with Billy Joel on the hypnotic “Deja Vu,” Rodrigo brings old musical references back into our consciousness, like an excited teenager relaying gossip on a rotary phone. “I’m so sick of 17/Where’s my fuckin’ Teenage Dream?” she asks on “Brutal.” If you felt old hearing Katy Perry sing about Radiohead on “The One That Got Away,” you’ll feel ancient hearing this.
Rodrigo wades through Sour free of any pretenses or protection, reveling in her insecurity and weaknesses. “I wore makeup when we dated ‘cause I thought you’d like me more/If I looked like the other prom queens I know that you loved before,” she sings on “Enough For You.” She grapples with the hollowness of social media on “Jealousy, Jealousy,” inhabiting the voice of any Gen Z teen comparing themselves to others on a screen: “I wanna be you so bad/And I don’t even know you.”
She also makes sure to sprinkle in some pop-punk stunners to balance out the sadness, particularly “Good 4 U.” It’s great to hear the track without the Petra Collins pyro-cheerleader video that was a touch overblown; here it’s simply a wild blast of bitterness, like Lorde covering a Dookie B side. She meticulously sharpens her fury down to rapid send-offs — daggers dipped in glitter like “It’s like we never even happened, baby/What the fuck is up with that?”
Rodrigo was born in 2003, making her the perfect age to be inspired by late-Nineties fashion (hair clips, skinny sunglasses, butterfly stickers) and proudly assume her place as a disciple of Taylor Swift (“Traitor” is the long-lost cousin of “My Tears Ricochet”). But she’s forging a path into an entirely new realm of pop, where she’s unapologetically and enthusiastically her own guide. Just as “Deja Vu” and “Good 4 U” proved Rodrigo was going to be much more than a one-and-done phenom with a viral hit about careening through heartbreak, Sour confirms this is just the start of her story, where she expertly rides the wave of teenage turbulence and emotional chaos down any road she chooses. God, it’s brutal out here.