Every now and then, perhaps once a month, left-wing social media voices adjacent to media will agree on something – whether it’s a movie, news item, or a particularly striking Central Park duck – and Twitter Take Factory will turn around harmoniously. Bridgerton excites us, the chorus sings. Lady Gaga is reborn in A star is born, and reborn in memes and GIFs many years later! Bowen Yang is the real star of Saturday Night Live! Put Phoebe Bridgers on every magazine cover!
Olivia Rodrigo released her hit song “Driver’s License” earlier this year, earning weeks of hype on Twitter. The song immediately switched to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and broke Spotify’s record twice for most daily streams of a non-vacation song. It even inspired a SNL sketch where a group of men playing pool find themselves crying over the troubles of a teenage girl: “Red lights, stop signs / I always see your face in white cars, front yards.” And on May 21, Rodrigo’s debut album, Sour, has consolidated its place in the Twitter Hype Hall of Fame.
“If this Olivia Rodrigo album had come out when I was in high school, I would have been escorted out of the English IB in fucking handcuffs,” one tweeter lit.
Tweets escalated as an army of new Rodrigo fanatics flooded the timeline. Some called her “spiritually early augts daughter” while making comparisons with Avril Lavigne and Regina Spektor. Other rented his “class consciousness”, compare the line “Who am I if not exploited” in the work of Karl Marx. (A Twitter search for the words ” Olivia Rodrigo MarxWill take you down a long scroll.) Rave reviews and hyperbolic headlines followed to step:
“For ‘geriatric’ millennials who love Olivia Rodrigo, it’s brutal here.”
“Help! Am I too old to feel so seen by Olivia Rodrigo’s new album? “
“Olivia Rodrigo is a revealing new pop voice on ‘Sour’. Do with it. “
The album is good, even great. Her list of songs examines the coming-of-age genre and emulates her most touching moments. Glimmers of Hot Topic punk, grunge guitars and riot grrrl stompers bleed into teenage pop “Not a girl, not a woman yet” and post-Lorde glitter and darkness. Rodrigo goes from a whisper to a trembling cry, a neat portrayal of angst at 18. But a lot of the albums are good. The O. Rod news cycle, still in full swing a week later SourThe release date of, appears to be fueled by other factors. This satisfies our concern for the youth. The ongoing conversation calms the desire of older generations to participate in Gen Z culture. There is also a sense of nostalgia, growing pains and an emotional roller coaster, for a time when it all felt like fire. , for the comfort of a song you’ve heard a million times.
Sour it’s hating your classmates and overwhelming your ex, feeling like no one understands you and failing at everything from love to math class to parallel parking. Rodrigo takes inspiration from the It-Girls-as-outcasts pop canon with Swiftian songwriter styles, the languid balladry of Phoebe Bridgers, Lorde-esque melodrama and pop-punk melodies, a la Paramore. For teenagers, Sour is relatable, yet ambitious in its sleek high school drama packaging. The album is an equally appealing soundtrack to millennials who “Lost his twenties” pandemic, seizing the vitality of the Disney star. It’s a convenient entry point for people who don’t typically engage with new music, or for those in their thirties who have aged outside the discourse of youth culture. Olivia Rodrigo has become an inescapable enigma: who is she, where does she come from and why is everyone screaming? Sour validates the fact that the criticism is based on young artists who “have” bygone rock and pop traditions (at the beginning). Rodrigo’s Rise is a treat for a culture that devours displays of adolescence and prodigies that have “potential”. Yes, Rodrigo deserves praise for his impressive debut, but the nostalgic threshing machine deserves skeptics.
Olivia Rodrigo arrived as a fully formed pop avatar with a ready-made story, the story of a high school hero. After carving out a name in the tween sphere with roles on the Disney Channel show Bizaardvark and the High school music derivative series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, she signed a deal with Geffen Records in 2020 and released “Driver’s License” in 2021. At the same time, dating rumors circulated about Rodrigo and his Disney partner Joshua Bassett. Fans have interpreted singles like “Driver’s License” and “Deja Vu” as not-so-subtle comments about their supposedly ruined relationship and Bassett’s new adventure with “that blonde girl,” who is considered another idol from Disney.
Whether these stories are true confessionals or just part of an insightful marketing strategy doesn’t matter. It’s fodder, content to absorb and dissect in the fandom vortex of social media. Gossip describes a carefully edited teen soap opera for our eternally adolescent digital age. SourThe mood board is more on stage, soothing us with familiar pop voices, bringing us back to getting our driver’s license and throwing “Misery Business” on the way to school.
Sour does not try to hide his inspirations, he almost advertises them. The album says: “If you liked X, you will love Sour“And” Do you remember that song? Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” and Paramore’s “Misery Business” are so surprisingly similar that many fans have created YouTube mashups. Their videos don’t condemn her for scamming “Misery Business”, they celebrate the fact that there is now of them “Affairs of misery”. (Who could blame them?) Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff have writing credits on “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” which interpolates Swift’s piano melody. Reputation closer to “New Year’s Day”.
They are strong and complementary influences, and Rodrigo has the vocal range and expressive demeanor to distill them into a true pop tour de force. But while his performance is impeccable, the audience never sees behind the curtain. As new pop begins to look more and more like old pop, the modern pop star is reduced to a vessel for our nostalgia, obscuring any uniqueness or style.
On a dark day, TikTok can feel like a psyop that makes adults idolize teens and trains kids to become little social media editors. Calling Rodrigo’s album a psyop is a bridge too far, but nostalgia bends to the question raises questions. Rodrigo embraces the 2000s pop culture strain that has come back in fashion in recent years. Her face is covered in Lisa Frank stickers on the album cover. The video for “Good 4 U” credits Devon Lee Carlson, Z-millennial-cusp influencer turned model, for her girly Y2K style. Check the name of the lyrics of the hit TV series 2009-15 Joy on “Deja Vu. (Rodrigo later admitted on an Instagram Live that she hadn’t actually watched the show.) None of that means “gotcha!” Or claim that Rodrigo is some kind of poseur who lied while watching a Fox musical drama, but rather to reexamine our fixation on the outdated relics of pop culture and the admiration we have for young people when they imitate the art we loved when we were kids.
As Coaching Britney Spears clearly, we don’t know how to deal with female pop stars. Teenage pop sensations have historically been exploited, meant to maintain sex appeal and a veil of virginity, and torn to shreds when they inevitably fail. The general praise Rodrigo has received is, of course, better than the paparazzi harassment. But he falls into the same trap, painting her as a spectacle rather than a musician worthy of criticism. The alternative to exploitation doesn’t have to be worship, and it’s fine for a young woman to make music that resonates without being hastily presented as the voice of a generation. In Rodrigo’s case, the Sour the buzz drowned out any criticism and eclipsed the pop star herself. You don’t see Olivia Rodrigo for who she is as an artist, but who she is when you project yourself onto her.
Julia Gray is a Brooklyn-based music and culture writer. His work has appeared in places like the Washington Post, Playboy, Fork, and Stereo eraser. She makes chaotic tweets at @juliagrayok.