Olivia Rodrigo – Sour

I’m not going to make a habit of this, but when you’re wrong about something and for the dumbest of reasons, there should be a mea culpa, even if you’re the only person who knows you were wrong. There is integrity in being honest, even about internal failures.

Stay with me, because I’m going to find redemption before I type -30-. But I really only listened to ”Sour” because of the plagiarism allegations.

When “drivers license” came out of nowhere, I played about 30 seconds of it on Spotify, decided it wasn’t for me and moved on. I heard more of it in an SNL skit, which was fun, but didn’t really force me to pay attention to the song. I don’t know why I resisted so strongly. The idea of the song – and the made-for-TV drama behind that – certainly was a factor. Female singer-songwriters are one of my musical sweet spots (just this week I discovered Macie Stewart and Nilufer Yanya, and you absolutely should be listening to Mitski), but when they are super young, they seem to either be idealized (isn’t she amazing?) or disregarded (she’s manufactured) or, much worse, infantilized (isn’t she cute?). I’ve done it myself – I’m still sort of resisting Billie Eilish, and I will totally get to work on that soon.

But then I read about the plagiarism claims, and rubbed my hands together with Scrooge-like glee. Especially because one of them involved Elvis Costello. Now, Elvis was a complete gentleman about it, acknowledging the debt his own work has owed to others. What he didn’t say was if he liked the record or not. So now I had to check it out.

Well, shit.

It’s a bit awkward, being 57 and therefore old enough to be her grandfather or maybe father with a much younger wife, to admit how much I like this record. The opener, “brutal” (which owes an unavoidable debt to Elvis’ “Pump It Up”) and “good 4 u” are high energy rockers with irresistible hooks. 

But it is the ballads where she shines. They have a recurring theme of girls who love too desperately and too openly. Maybe this partly struck a chord because I’ve been caught up in the teen angst of “Never Have I Ever”. But I really think it’s because Rodrigo is so plugged in to how it feels to be young and heartbroken, and she just lets it all out in that direct and unfiltered way that only teenage girls can. Her narrators have such innocence and vulnerability, that comes from believing every idiotic thing that comes out of the mouths of the boys they love like breath itself. Though the theme is repeated, each dead or dying relationship seems distinct.

All that sadness becomes a bit much, and I don’t love the record – it might be a bit weird if I did – but I respect it, and that might be a bigger deal for Olivia’s long-term career prospects. This is a good album, and I hope she has more to offer as her artistry matures. I also hope she never holds back telling us how she’s really feeling about something. Because those songs are the ones that just might leave you in a puddle in the corner, and there really isn’t enough music like that in the world.

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