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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024
The Observer

The anatomy of a breakup: Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Sour’

Maggie Klaers | The Observer
Maggie Klaers | The Observer

On May 21, Olivia Rodrigo, formerly known as the “drivers license” girl, released her long awaited debut album, “Sour.” On it, she is moody, self-centered and petty with no filters. In a culture in which we’re all projecting more mature and put-together versions of ourselves she “wanted it to be like, messy.” “Sour” is the beautifully imperfect portrait of an insecure teenage girl who went through the worst thing imaginable: a breakup. 

The album opener, “brutal,” was an unexpected punch to the gut. The beginning of “Sour” sees her screaming accusations at life with self-deprecating lyrics detailing just how much of a lie the golden teenage years are. With pop punk instrumentation and a vocal performance Alex Turner would be proud of, we stand at the peak of her angst. This is the starting point of “Sour”

Listening to track 2, “traitor,” hurts. She is at her most vulnerable, betrayed and left alone to deal with the shipwreck of her breakup. “Don’t you dare forget about the way you betrayed me,” she sings. By the time “drivers license” comes around, she has exhausted the indignation and is left deeply sad, haunted by red lights and stop signs that remind her of her lover. This song launched Rodrigo into what is possibly the fastest rise to superstardom the world has ever seen, spending eight weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and leading to not one, but two SNL features. Her polished vocal performance, the sharp imagery and the legendary bridge birthed one of the best heartbreak ballads to hit the charts in years.

“1 step forward, 3 steps back” sees Rodrigo relay a stream of consciousness as she melancholically recounts her self-destructive relationship with both her lover and herself. With unembellished vocals and no energy for pretense, she is all cried out at this point. And yet, as we all know, the journey to healing is not a straight line.

Track 6, “deja vu,” sees Rodrigo revert to petty obsession, as she picks apart her lover’s new relationship, proclaiming it’s a cheap copy of what she had with him. She snarkily profiles his girlfriend choice, “another actress / I hate to think that I was just your type,” and mocks the girl too, “she thinks it’s special / but it’s all reused.” Sensibly enough, the next track, the snarky chart-topper “good 4 u,” sees her at her most bitter. 

On this track, she becomes unhinged. “Screw that, screw you / You will never have to hurt the way you know that I do” probably takes the prize of most immature moment on the album, but it’s that same immaturity that makes this song so endearing and relatable. At this point, skeptics have to concede that there is no facade to Olivia Rodrigo, because this song makes her sound like a self-involved brat. 

After wrapping up the pity party, she shrinks to the size of an ant on “enough for you.” The acoustic instrumentals reflect how little she thinks of herself, as she confesses she would’ve done anything to get her lover to stay. The next song, “happier,” is a sign that Rodrigo is starting to move on, as she bitterly accepts the breakup, singing “I hope you’re happy, but not like how you were with me.” She fights with the bitterness, though. She realizes she’s being petty by picking the new girl and the new relationship apart, but as the human being that she is, she keeps doing it anyway. On “jealousy, jealousy,” Rodrigo borrows the psychologist glasses from her dad and matter-of-factly recounts her woes, struggling between Instagram envy and self-love, between being petty and generous, featuring lines like “I’m happy for them, but then again I’m not.” 

Then finally, FINALLY, she moves on. On “favorite crime,” she retells the story of her broken relationship with sadness. This song sees Rodrigo personify Taylor Swift on “folklore," as she describes herself as a willing accomplice in her lover’s crimes, with the closing line, “Well, I hope I was your favorite crime.” There’s a magic in the song’s simplicity that almost makes it feel like a grandiose epic; with the haunting final harmonies, she exorcizes the pain out of her story, and turns the page. This is where “Sour” should’ve ended… but it didn’t.

For the last track, “hope ur ok,” it is evident where she was trying to go: This was the full-circle moment, when she finally broke free of her post-breakup tunnel vision and spread her wings in kindness and gratitude again. However, based on the album’s subject matter, it seems unnecessary, and it will rest besides Dua Lipa’s “Boys Will Be Boys” as part of the underwhelming final album tracks that tried to be deep but felt inauthentic. 

Except for this final track, Rodrigo’s effort feels cohesive, honest and meaningful. “Sour” is a solid album that deserves every last bit of the praise and attention it is getting. Watch out for this one; we just got a Sour™ taste of the next main pop girl. 


Album: “Sour” by Olivia Rodrigo

Label: Geffen Records

Favorite Song: “brutal”

If you like: “drivers license”

Shamrocks:  4.5/5 shamrocks