July 15, 2024

No Sour Notes

A few weeks ago, I was sitting around a fire pit with my friends listening to Taylor Swift and I mentioned something that had been on my mind lately: Olivia Rodrigo could be the next Taylor. 

This is high praise, given the incredible levels of success Swift has reached in her career. Rodrigo had a solid hit thus far in “Drivers License” – a breakup anthem that inspired plenty of covers on Tik Tok – and had recently released her second single, “Deja Vu.” Then on May 21st, Rodrigo released her debut album, “Sour,” and the internet started to buzz even more. 

“Sour” and early Swift albums both play with similar subject matter – relationships, heartbreak, the struggles and identity issues that come with growing up. They are exceptionally catchy pop written by teens for other teens about being a teen. The Ringer’s Nora Princiotti noted in the “Every Single Album: Taylor Swift” podcast series that Swift’s early hits are made to be sung in groups. This element is also present in Rodrigo’s choruses. It may have been a few years since I was a teen, but I can imagine myself scream-singing “I know you get deja vu” alongside my friends. 

But the real head-turning resemblance is in the lyrics: like Swift, Rodrigo is a songwriter at heart. “Do you tell her she’s the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen? An eternal love bullshit you know you’ll never mean. Remember when I believed you meant it when you said it first to me?” Rodrigo sings on “Happier,” slicing through some dude’s games the way Swift has on many a song. The lyrics of “Enough for You” hit like a punch to the gut in a way that would fit in on many of Swift’s latest releases. Rodrigo even takes the words and turns them around at the end of the song in a way that feels very Swiftian: “You always say I’m never satisfied, but I don’t think that’s true. You say I’m never satisfied, but that’s not me, it’s you.”

It comes as no surprise then that Rodrigo lists Swift as an influence on her music. Her song “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back” even interpolates Swift’s song “New Year’s Day.” But don’t flatten Rodrigo down to “what if Taylor Swift but Gen Z.” Swift paved a strong, lucrative path for young women who want to be songwriters and storytellers in pop, and it has undoubtedly opened doors for women like Rodrigo to be taken more seriously, but there’s more to “Sour” than just that.

One stark difference you may have noticed in the previous paragraph: Rodrigo swears in her music. While many young, female pop artists shy away from the four letter words for a few albums until they and their fans have grown up more, about half of the tracks on “Sour” have explicit language tags, including all three singles. And who can blame her? After everything that this generation of teens has been through, good luck convincing them that, actually, saying “I still fucking love you” in a song is unbecoming and doesn’t slap. They’re not buying it.

In fact, the language is consistent with the attitude on the entire album. “Sour” as the title nails the vibe and pairs perfectly with the album artwork: Rodrigo sticking her tongue out, covered in stickers. The angst is so palpable you can practically feel the eye roll coming. The album also kicks off with “Brutal” – a guitar-driven track for blowing off steam with lyrics that let you know right off the bat Rodrigo is not playing with you: “And I’m so tired that I might quit my job, start a new life. And they’d all be so disappointed, ‘cause who am I if not exploited? And I’m so sick of seventeen, where’s my fucking teenage dream? If someone tells me one more time, ‘Enjoy your youth,’ I’m gonna cry.” 

From there, “Sour” gets vulnerable (“Traitor,” “Hope Ur Ok”) while still venturing back to sarcastic and hurt (“Good 4 U”). The moods and paces vary but always feel thematically consistent because they share a common thread: what it’s like to be a teen. 

If Rodrigo’s career is like Swift’s, there will be a lot of twists and growth to come and I, for one, cannot wait to see where she takes it. For now, this is one hell of a debut that has put everyone on notice.

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Nicole Gustafson
Nicole Gustafson 56 Articles

Nicole was born in Chicago and raised in Des Moines. She took her talents to The Iowa State University, where she earned a degree in journalism. You can find Nicole cheering on her favorite sports teams, hanging out with her dog, or finishing a Netflix marathon. Nicole is a big fan of #pitcherswhorake, fat guy TD's, and carbs. She's not a fan of mornings, winter, or vegetables and will complain to anyone who will listen.

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