Our Take: 4.5 Stars
Young love turned sour? Eighteen year-old Disney star-turned pop phenomenon Olivia Rodrigo just released the teenage heartbreak album of the year that puts everything about a tough breakup into words. With over 300 million streams within just one week of its debut according to Billboard, “Sour” is the second-biggest debut by any female artist and had the second-largest non-R&B/hip-hop streaming week ever, coming in close behind Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” in 2019.
Rodrigo’s music career and rapid rise to fame seemed to come out of nowhere and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Before releasing music, Rodrigo had been known on the little screen for her roles as Paige Olvera in “Bizaardvark” on Disney Channel and more recently as Nina Salazar-Roberts in “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” streaming on Disney+.
On January 8, 2021, Rodrigo dropped her surprise debut single “Drivers License.” The song and accompanying music video shook the internet and became an instant No.1 hit, kicking her musical career into full gear. “Drivers License” sparked drama on TikTok as fans speculated that it revealed details of the artist’s suspected romance with HSMTMTS co-star Joshua Bassett and potential love triangle with a certain blonde girl, believed to be singer-actress and fellow Disney star Sabrina Carpenter.
Not even five full months later, Rodrigo released “Sour,” and the whole world fell in love. The album takes listeners on a journey through the stages of a breakup — heartbreak, anger, sadness, jealousy, acceptance and everything in between.
As is characteristic of newer Gen-Z albums, “Sour” speaks for itself, and Rodrigo’s lyrics are raw and full of authentic emotion, leaving nothing hidden or understated for the listener. Rodrigo speaks directly to the hearts of teenagers across the world with themes such as driving in the suburbs, first love and insecurities that are relatable to the modern day teenage experience. The emotions explored in the album such as jealousy and sadness after a breakup are universal, but “Sour” narrows in on what those emotions feel like to a young person and amplifies teenage voices that are often looked down upon or not taken seriously.
“Sour” also blends genres that transition with the emotions explored in each song. The first song of the album, “Brutal,” has heavy, wiry guitar and fuzzy vocals that sound straight out of the 90’s riot grrrl era. The song is angsty and angry in all the best ways, and the brutally honest lyrics transport listeners back to the time of self-criticism and insecurity that is high school.
The next songs on the album are tearjerkers, focusing on how it feels to have a fast-moving ex while still heartbroken and thinking of all the things the relationship could have been. The heavy use of guitar and vocal reverb in these dreamy pop hits heightens the sense of individual loneliness. The chord progressions of “Traitor” and “Drivers License”, however, give the songs an anthem-like feel that emphasizes the universal experience of these feelings.
Besides “Drivers License”, “Good 4 U” is the biggest success on the album. This uptempo alt-rock hit is about jealousy over an apathetic ex-boyfriend that will have listeners headbanging in the car. With guitar and drums reminiscent of 1990-2000s era alternative punk rock, “Good 4 U” is the first rock hit to score No.1 on Billboard’s Top 100 charts in years.
The end of the album simmers down with uplifting, hopeful songs about things ending up okay and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. At this point, listeners have felt all the emotions of Rodrigo’s rollercoaster of a breakup journey and can now take a breath as the album concludes with a sense of self-reflection and acceptance.