I do not envy Olivia Rodrigo at this current phase of career. I mean, I’m sure anyone would love to have their first ever single reach number one and album that’s guaranteed a spot on the top ten if not number one as well, basically guaranteeing her a successful music career for at least five more years, but that level of overnight success for someone who literally just started - especially someone who is young, a woman, is enjoyed by young women, and has any industry ties at all - typically leads to skeptical listeners, overwhelming discourse, and listeners who are way too eager to completely dismiss anything the artist has going for them. This is probably especially hard when you’re young and it’s your debut, considering you go through the typical cycle of trying to figure out who you are as an artist when you’re not even sure who you are as a person - but now you have millions of people watching you as you stumble. So I want to take all of that into account while talking about “SOUR”; a decent but flawed album that is very typical for a debut that just so happens to likely be one of the biggest albums of the year.
I’ll start with some of my more negative criticisms because a few of them actually relate and lead to the more positive ones, and first thing I can say off the back is that “SOUR” is not an incredibly original listen. It’s not just because there’s a handful of very generic songs, perfectly designed to be added to a Spotify playlist and not be bold enough to make the listener switch to the next song, but it’s also because Olivia is heavily inspired by her influences, particularly Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, and ESPECIALLY Lorde, in terms of sonic palette and production choices, lyrical style, themes, imagery, and even the way she sings. Being inspired by those artists isn’t a bad thing, and I wouldn’t say Rodrigo is plagiarizing them or being derivative of them (though “Driver’s License” is still too close for comfort to me), but when you wearing your influences that much on your sleeve, it forces the listener to compare you to them, and Olivia isn’t as strong as any of her influences quite yet. Looking at her most instantly recognizable influence, while Lorde often wrote about being young and breakups, she approached it with almost a “wise beyond her years” approach, with maturity and cutting/clever lines. Olivia approaches writing about being seventeen during a breakup...like being seventeen during a breakup, with the clunkiness of a young writer and a little too much melodrama during what such he moodier moments (though I will go back to this point to show how it works to her advantage). These are problems most artists face during their earliest work, but unfortunately for Olivia most of them don’t have a Disney sized spotlight on them.
All that said, there are plenty of positives you can make about “SOUR”, enough that I’m actually excited to see where she grows from here. For one, Olivia is a great singer, not just on a technical level but emotional too. I definitely believe every word on “SOUR” is actually true, because she makes every emotion hit perfectly, from heartbreak to anger to sadness to bitterness and everything in between. In addition, while her influences do lead to the comparisons I mentioned earlier, it also leads to Rodrigo having more well written pop songs than most and at times more poetic and emotional. The real thing that I like about this project, however, are the moments where “SOUR” incorporates elements of 2000’s pop punk. First of all, all of the pop-punk tracks are well written and fun. Furthermore, they are the moments where Olivia feels the least like she’s trying to be like her influences or trying to have market appeal in favor of taking what she’s feeling, adding what she likes from all the music she’s enjoyed, and making it her own. Most of all, these are the moments where the more immature songwriting and the melodrama actually work best to her favor. Growing up when this style was at its peaks, I can tell you that part of this genre’s appeal was how melodramatic it could be, touching on that teenage feeling where everything mattered so much and even the smallest thing could feel like a big wave. When Olivia takes those aspects about her writing and adds her more emotional performances, that’s when I think the record is at its most enjoyable, and I hope she includes more songs like this whenever she releases her second record.
All in all “SOUR” is a flawed but enjoyable debut that actually shows a good bit of promise. While I don’t think it’s perfect by any means and think there’s a lot of hype for an artist that still has room to improve, I think it’s lead to her getting a lot more crap than she deserves. While “SOUR” itself isn’t a record that excites me, it does have me excited for Olivia Rodrigo’s potential and where she’ll end up going from here.