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  • Writer's pictureKelly Lai

A look into Hollywood’s rising popstar, Olivia Rodrigo’s music career: from SOUR to GUTS

It took the music industry by storm when Olivia Rodrigo dropped her debut album, "SOUR", in 2021. At that time, the then 18-year-old Disney actress was most notable for her leading roles in Disney shows Bizaardvark and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Her music career kickstarted when she released "drivers license", the first single from her album. The song garnered immense popularity, topping the Billboard charts and was the most streamed song on Spotify in 2021.

On May 21, 2021, Olivia debuts "SOUR", her first studio album. The album was a major success, hitting top spots on music charts worldwide. Her unique style of aesthetics and songwriting skills shine throughout the entire album. From the 11 tracks in the album down to the visuals of her music videos, it was clear why the rising pop star had so easily captured the hearts of many teenage girls and boys across the globe.

Most of the tracks in "SOUR" comprised heartbreak ballads, which made sense, considering the drama surrounding her then. To set the context without delving too deep into the drama, it was between her High School Musical co-star, Joshua Bassett, and Sabrina Carpenter, a former Disney actress-turned-singer. Speculations arose that most of the songs on Olivia's album were written about Bassett, although never confirmed nor denied.

One thing that stood out in Olivia's songwriting skills was that it perfectly captured teenage angst. Writing from the point of view of an 18-year-old heartbroken girl, she poured her raw emotions into her music, attracting a community of people who found her songs relatable. Some of my favourite ballads on "SOUR" are '1 step forward, 3 steps back', 'happier' and 'favourite crime' (I had them on repeat for almost a week when the album dropped). Her lyrics are honest and brilliantly written; it is almost as if she sees English vocabulary in a different light. Lyrics are an underrated component of a song. People tend to listen to music for the tunes and how well they vibe with the genre instead of connecting deeply with the lyrics. We often find ourselves subconsciously memorising the lyrics to certain pop songs unintentionally because we enjoy the rhythm and flow of the music itself. However, Olivia draws attention to her lyrics, often using clever metaphors to insinuate emotional vulnerabilities in the different situations she talks about in her songs.

“One heart broke, four hands bloody” -favourite crime

This lyric encapsulates the persona of a girl getting her heart broken in a relationship. She uses a murder scene as a reference, and it shows how the girl played a part in getting her heart broken / willingly poured her heart out in the relationship, knowing it would backfire on her.

“And now I’m pickin’ her apart, Like cuttin’ her down will make you miss my wretched heart” -happier

One of my favourite lyrics in this song relates to how every girl would feel seeing their past lover with a new person. It shows the thoughts in our head and how we talk the new lover down to ourselves, knowing deep down that there is no wrong with the girl; it is just a way to make ourselves feel better.

“I’m the love of your life until I make you mad” -1 step forward, 3 steps back

“It’s always one step forward and three steps back” -1 step forward, 3 steps back

The lyrics talk about a toxic/abusive relationship. It shows how the abuser has absolute control over the relationship and how they treat their partner lovingly until something does not go their way, or they get mad at their lover. It also describes how the abused has no say or power and how painful/scary it can feel.

Not just sad heartbreak ballads, Olivia also talks about her teenage struggles and self-perception in her pieces. Songs of hers like this tend to follow a more upbeat tune, as heard in 'brutal' and 'jealousy, jealousy'. Her boldness to experiment with her music is also a huge selling point of her albums. Many have seen her as bringing back pop punk. Her style and aesthetic lean very much towards the 90s, and she shows that clearly in her music videos.

Fast forward more than two years later, Olivia announced the release of her sophomore album on September 6, 2023, "GUTS". There was much hype surrounding the release of her second album. Fans were excited for new music from her after a long hiatus, and the expectations were through the roof. Will "GUTS" live up to the success of "SOUR"?

Now, I cannot decide which album I love more. Olivia understands what her fans want in her music and delivers flawlessly. What stood out in the album to me was her vocal oozing confidence; the entire album showcases a happier and more carefree outlook on relationships and life. "GUTS" consisted of 12 tracks, and compared to "SOUR", this album had more upbeat punk songs than ballads. The lyrics were once again very relatable and perfectly captured teenage angst. This time, it was not so much about harping over heartbreaks but more about how she got over relationships in a much happier way. 'get him back!' is one of my personal favourites, and I have yet to get sick of it. It is such a fun, playful song to scream to. I specifically appreciate the layers she adds to her lyrics. She hints at wanting her previous lover back in a longing manner. Still, when interpreted differently, it also means getting revenge on her partner for how he treated her throughout the relationship. Her second album reflects her maturity and self-growth over the past two years as a young adult.

“But I am my father’s daughter, so maybe I could fix him” -get him back!

This song has fun and quirky lyrics, but this is my favourite. It describes how, despite knowing that a guy is not suitable for you / has done you wrong somehow, there is still that lingering thought that we may be able to change him for the better.

One of Olivia's strengths is her heartbreak ballads. Despite the evident spread in genre seen in "GUTS", her sad emotional pieces were written well (in my personal opinion), and dare I say, the lyrics are on an even more raw and heartfelt level compared to the ones in "SOUR". A few songs I've had on loop are 'the grudge' and 'logical'. Both pieces capture the essence of heartbreak and nuances of love, taking listeners on a roller coaster ride of emotions in the saddest yet best way possible.

“And we both drew blood, but, man, those cuts were never equal” -the grudge.

One of her most heart-wrenching lyrics encapsulates how there is no right or wrong in a relationship. Ending a relationship hurts both parties; however, she talks about how she feels much more emotionally than her ex-lover. She captured the feeling of unfairness perfectly with her use of words, and I adore this sentence.

“Two plus two equals five” -logical

Ironically, the lyrics show how illogical someone can be when they’re deep into a relationship. It shows how all rationality is thrown out the window when you’re completely obsessed with someone and how we accept our irrationality and think it’s normal.

However, her branding remains the same (which is a smart move on her part). She embodies the pop-punk concept well, adding a feminine twist to showcase her flair. She continues sticking to a retro, 90's theme concept throughout her music videos. Even in her music, she experiments with unique tunes and melodies and is not afraid to be bold, adding a refreshing and personal touch to her works. A perfect example will be 'all-American bitch’ because how often do you hear a singer screaming for ten seconds halfway through a song?

With this much success at only 20 years of age, Olivia's music career has vast potential, and I can see her becoming even more of an influential figure in the music industry. As a massive fan of her music since "SOUR", it is inspiring to see her growth as an artist. She puts out works she is proud of and is not afraid to be herself, and I am honestly so pumped for her future music.

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