If there’s one thing that’s been taking the social media world by storm, it’s Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album “SOUR.” Since its release last Friday, the album has been endlessly streamed, praised and meme-ified.
“SOUR” isn’t only a social media zeitgeist, but also a commercial and critical success. It’s the first debut album in history to have two number-one debuts on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, has a Metacritic score of 83 and is already receiving Grammy buzz.
And it’s all for good reason.
Rodrigo’s “SOUR” is a near-perfect debut — the album has allowed her to distance from her Disney image in a way other artists expanding from their children’s TV roles have never been able to balance without seeming too earnestly edgy. The angst of “brutal” and the aching honesty of hit single “drivers license” prove that Rodrigo is honest, not a poser trying to shirk any Mickey Mouse associations or seem adult.
Her song inspirations, which span in their sound influence from other pop-punk hitmakers like Paramore to the lyricism of Taylor Swift are done tastefully, creating an eclectic album that is clearly made by a music lover that’s still seeking her own sound.
“brutal” is the albums’ opener, and “SOUR” is all the better for it. While Rodrigo has an undoubtedly beautiful voice, there’s something more special about the angry, pop-punk adjacent songs she does rather than her ballads and “brutal” is a perfect example of this.
Flawlessly produced by Daniel Nigro (as is the rest of the album), the track is a totally quotable slash rage dance-able, with a rousing beat and lines like “I’m so sick of seventeen/Where’s my f****** teenage dream?” (And, well, basically every other line of the song).
“traitor” takes a turn with a slower and sadder tempo, and though it can become a little lost when sandwiched next to certified bangers like “brutal” and “drivers license,” the song stands tall on it own, especially with Rodrigo’s vocals as a strong point.
The twice aforementioned “drivers license” needs no introduction or any more praise, and it fits as nicely in the album as it does as a standalone track.
“1 step forward, 3 steps back” is one of the stronger slow songs on “SOUR,” detailing a tumultuous relationship where Rodrigo is insecure and unsure of her partner’s affections. In fact, insecurity is a major theme explored throughout the album, from the infamous mention of "that blonde girl" in “drivers license” to the depiction of a teen love triangle drama in "deja vu" where Rodrigo expresses feeling forgotten.
But the real strength of “1 step forward, 3 steps back” is found in the fact that it’s reflective: It isn’t about someone else creating strife or drama, but rather Rodrigo’s lover’s inability to make her feel good enough for him. It might not carry as much of the theatrics — but it carries much more heart.
“deja vu” and “good 4 u” are Olivia Rodrigo’s other singles from the album, placed in direct succession on the album’s tracklist. “deja vu” was the forgotten middle child of Rodrigo’s three singles, but it gets a chance to stand out on “SOUR” by being the song that’s closest to straight up pop, and the first reintroduction to what Rodrigo does best on “SOUR” — faster paced, more heavily produced tracks.
This is also what makes “good 4 u” work so well and become such a fast hit and fan favorite. Rodrigo’s angst and attitude brings out the moody teenage girl in every listener.
“enough for you” is a quick slip back into slow songs, which would be disappointing after “good 4 u” if the song wasn’t so good. A return to the brutal (get it?) honesty of “drivers license” or “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” “enough for you” recaptures the latter's feelings of insecurity in a relationship and the two almost feel like companion tracks.
That being said, it’s debatable as to whether or not they should’ve been placed closer together or further apart to complete that notion.
Meanwhile “happier” takes a softer approach as a more empathetic take on her ex finding a new girl. When Rodrigo sings, “But she’s beautiful, she looks kind/She probably gives you butterflies” it shows her ability to delve introspective and address confront her jealous feelings — “I’m selfish, I know, I can’t let you go/So find someone great but don’t find no one better.”
Speaking of jealousy, “jealousy, jealousy” is a midpoint between the fast-paced songs and Rodrigo’s more vocally focused tracks, but it never sacrifices the merits of either to hit its stride. The track “favorite crime” is maybe the most stripped back on the album. The track’s gentle melody crafts a feeling of profound forlorn rather than heart-wrenching emotions, creating a beautiful penultimate song.
But unfortunately, after 10 songs with infinite re-listen potential, the closing track “hope ur ok” is somewhat of a letdown. While a song that’s beautiful technically and in content, unlike the other tracks, the song's storytelling isn’t focused on Rodrigo’s personal experience and seems stilted after an album full of songs that were profoundly personal.
It’s a song that works better as a stand-alone than it does framed in the context of the album. And while it isn’t bad by any stretch, it falls flat as a closer to an otherwise masterful album.
When “SOUR” is good, it’s great, and when it’s “bad” it’s still pretty damn good. From the high points of “good 4 u” and “1 step forward, 3 steps back” to the lower ones like “hope ur ok” it’s a fresh, fun and intensely honest snapshot of Rodrigo’s life and experiences — from the endearingly niche to the painfully relatable.