Olivia Rodrigo does not miss. All these ‘Sour’ reviews are here to prove it
Olivia Rodrigo got her driver’s license at 17 and hasn’t taken her foot off the accelerator since.
In the whirlwind months following the record-shattering release of her viral debut track, “Drivers License,” the Disney actor-turned-global pop phenom has put out two more expectation-defying singles, performed live at the Brit Awards and been the subject of a Regé-Jean Page-starring “Saturday Night Live” sketch before appearing on the long-running sketch comedy series as one of its youngest musical guests of all time.
All that buzz and exposure has been building up to the teen songwriting machine’s highly anticipated debut album, “Sour,” which dropped Thursday night on the West Coast. Several hours later, the reviews are in, and the consensus is overwhelming: The fresh face of Gen Z pop does not miss. And she’s here to stay.
‘Sour’ is 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, following the chart-topping success of her first-ever single, ‘Drivers License.’
“Hot on the heels of ‘Drivers License,’ Rodrigo’s gloriously melodramatic power ballad that came out of nowhere to spend eight weeks atop Billboard’s Hot 100, ‘Sour’ might be the most self-aware pop record in recent memory,” critic Mikael Wood writes for the Los Angeles Times.
“Again and again across these 11 songs, Rodrigo measures her values and desires against those of others; she describes how her experience of a relationship differed from an ex’s and wonders why she’s not as psyched about being young as older people keep telling her she should be.”
Though it’s safe to say Rodrigo’s rising star has recently outshone her Disney beginnings, it hasn’t completely eclipsed them. Nearly every music critic has made note of the prominent fan theory that “Drivers License” — and the many other heartbreak tracks Rodrigo has released since — center on her “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” costar Joshua Bassett, who allegedly left her for an older and blonder Disney performer, Sabrina Carpenter.
How did ‘Drivers License’ become the song of 2021? By exulting in the power of teen-girl melodrama
Olivia Rodrigo’s swooning power ballad ‘Drivers License’ is the latest in a rich tradition of teenage melodrama in pop music, from the Shangri-Las to Taylor Swift.
But, as Wood suggests, Rodrigo’s talent transcends the juicy behind-the-scenes drama that helped fuel her overnight success.
“You don’t need to know anything about Rodrigo’s life — OK, Rodrigo’s lives — to enjoy the record, which uses shapely melodies and crafty textures to deliver stories about the emotional trials of late teenhood,” he continues in his review.
“Fully appreciating Rodrigo’s skill requires paying close attention; she sings like an actor and writes like a screenwriter, which sets her apart in a post-Taylor pop scene that’s gotten quickly crowded with the whispery likes of Billie Eilish, Tate McRae and Gracie Abrams.”
Diligent nitpicking from trade publications aside, 18-year-old Rodrigo’s first foray into the big leagues of music has been hailed as “nimble,” “remarkably potent,” “surprisingly strong” and downright “flawless.” Here’s what critics had to say about “Sour.”
“Like her seeming newness, [Rodrigo’s] earnestness, the heartbreak baked into her ascent, it’s one of the qualities that make her easy to root for,” Olivia Horn writes for Pitchfork. “In a way, the flattening effect of the internet has worked in her favor, allowing her — someone who has been on TV for roughly a third of her life and is signed with the biggest record company in the world — to slip into the role of the underdog.”
“As ‘Sour’ progresses, the ability to feel deeply and express herself becomes Rodrigo’s superpower,” Lindsay Zoladz writes for NPR. “‘Maybe I’m too emotional, or maybe you never cared at all,’ she sings on the searing bridge of ‘good 4 u.’ It’s not her, it’s him, she concludes, diagnosing an unfeeling ex as acting ‘like a damn sociopath.’ Rodrigo refracts the shattering experience of first heartbreak through a multitude of different moods and genres, and it’s a testament to her transfixing strengths as a songwriter and a vocal performer that it only starts to feel repetitive one song from the end.”
Rodrigo is “forging a path into an entirely new realm of pop, where she’s unapologetically and enthusiastically her own guide,” Angie Martoccio writes for Rolling Stone. “Just as ‘Deja Vu’ and ‘Good 4 U’ proved Rodrigo was going to be much more than a one-and-done phenom with a viral hit about careening through heartbreak, ‘Sour’ confirms this is just the start of her story, where she expertly rides the wave of teenage turbulence and emotional chaos down any road she chooses. God, it’s brutal out here.”
“Miraculously, the subject matter never seems over repetitive, but Rodrigo loses her nerve right at the end,” Rachel Aroesti writes for the Guardian. “On closing number ‘Hope Ur Ok,’ she turns her gaze outwards to sing about people she once knew who have experienced hardship in their lives. It’s as close to a palate cleanser as a song with such a cloying sentiment can get, but thankfully doesn’t overshadow the glorious myopia of ‘Sour’: a collection of polished, precociously accomplished pop that doubles as one of the most gratifyingly undignified breakup albums ever made.”
“Whomever the callow boy in question on ‘Sour’ may be, he’s obviously no great loss,” Carl Wilson writes for Slate. “That first torturous lesson in the art of losing, the unfixable fracture that shows you love and life will never make a satisfying whole — that’s the experience that matters. In the right frame of mind, hearing a young artist debut with a breakup record is a reminder that loss and severance of some kind is the origin point of anybody’s sense of self, one of the few things that are universal. Oh, and it helps a lot that she earns an A from the Taylor Swift School of Super-Dramatic Bridge Writing.”
”[A]s much as you might want to cheer on the steady flashes of maturity that show up in her songwriting, the finest lyrical moment might come in ‘Good 4 U,’ when she gets back to adolescent basics: ‘It’s like we never even happened, baby. What … the f—...,’” Chris Willman writes for Variety.
“She may someday put pen to sheet music with the eloquence of Joni Mitchell, but we might never love her more than when she’s a profane kid, bluntly and prosaically spitting a verse about the end of a relationship like it’s the end of the world, because, of course, it is. Until album two, which we can only hope is as ridiculously good as this one.”
“If the soppy adolescent despair on display here is not ‘the absolute, whole truth,’ it’s at least a believable paraphrase of reality, and that alone makes ‘Sour’ a landmark release in the teen-pop continuum,” Chris DeVille writes for Stereogum.
“It feels like one of those albums that, while too flawed to be hailed as a masterpiece, will linger as a generational touchstone, a time capsule from an era when blockbuster pop music veered toward folk, rock, and searing vulnerability.”
“Having full creative control has clearly worked in Rodrigo’s favor: Her debut record, ‘SOUR,’ will be a contender for best pop album of the year,” Tatiana Tenreyro writes for the AV Club. “There are no filler tracks on ‘SOUR.’ Each song represents a different side to Rodrigo’s artistry, embracing every influence that’s shaped her music, while still creating something fresh.”
“A lot of ‘Sour’ explores emotions that feel [illicit], skipping boldly into dark corners that young women are conditioned not to explore,” Rhian Daly writes for NME. “Rodrigo illuminates them brazenly, presenting a pinpoint accurate portrait of what it’s like to be young and female in the 21st century — but also, thanks to that power of relatability, in any age.”
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