The Disney farm system pumps out stars. Olivia Rodrigo was a new name to my ears. The other week marked the first time I had ever heard of her. Apparently for the last couple years she played a key role in the latest High School Musical sequel. Yikes. Although I’m not a fan of cheesy children’s redundancies, I’m all for a break-away album. Rodrigo’s debut, Sour, lands Disney another solid ambassador. Let’s get one thing straight however. This is teenage music. And these are teenage issues. The success of Sour comes due to Olivia’s refined vocals and self-awareness. Album opener “brutal” matches the cover art and primary theme rather well. This pop-punk blend, while emotionally impressive, sets a tone the back half of the album fails to complement. We’ll get back to that later, though.
The first three tracks here sparked my interest. Despite Sour having an air of immaturity and blame-game tendencies, these factors express essential emotions of being 17. “drivers license” depicts Rodrigo reflecting on better times with an ex as she now drives past his old neighborhood. As a man closing in on 30, I honestly don’t care about teenage complaints. We all had them. And hearing about them at this point in my life doesn’t exactly bring me joy. Nevertheless Olivia’s transparent lyricism demands respect and attention. Tracks like “traitor” and “happier” highlight what bitterness truly sounds like. Picture-perfect pettiness, if you will. I’m here for it. Well, for the most part. As one goes down this tracklist, an overt slump arrives near the midpoint. Over time, Rodrigo’s influences wear too heavily on her sleeve for my taste.
Taylor Swift, Lorde, and Billie Eilish perform these styles much more effectively in my view. Rather than taking what her idols have done and improving upon it, Olivia settles for a damn-good emulation. In the grand scheme of things there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet considering the popularity of those artists, these styles are driven into the ground more often than not. Despite this, Rodrigo’s artistry stands firm with the winds of destiny at her back. “good 4 u” and “deja vu” round out Sour’s top-five tracks. Other than those, the album stagnates both lyrically and from an instrumental standpoint. Heartache and regret fuel this album. So if you’re expecting to feel bubbly after listening then you’re doing yourself a disservice. I give Olivia credit for really putting herself out there. Most artists at her age struggle with sounding authentic from my personal listening experience. Alas, Sour’s narrative grows tired quicker than I’d hoped. Rodrigo’s raw talent shines, though, regardless of the less-than-polished execution presented here.
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