Release Date: May 21st 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- drivers license
- 1 step forward, 3 steps back
- déjà vu
- good 4 u
- enough for you
- jealousy, jealousy
- favorite crime
- hope ur ok
Throughout the history of this site, I have tried to expand my musical palate beyond which I guess I previously would consider to be music I would never listen to. I mean it wasn’t our intention to review only Christian content… but for the better part of 5 years (2014-2019), that’s what we did. It wasn’t because all other genres were ‘bad’; it’s just that Jon and I weren’t familiar with them. In the past, I previously thought I would never listen to country music, let along review any songs from that genre… but look at us now. The last few albums we reviewed were in fact country albums! Same with pop artists like Little Mix, Selena Gomez, Dua Lipa, Sabrina Carpenter, Shawn Mendes, Hailee Steinfeld and Demi Lovato to name a few. I previously thought mainstream pop was a genre where nothing good can come from it, but now I don’t believe that for a second- there are some good pop artists, and you need to know where to look. And so now here I am in 2021, and now embarking on a musical journey where no Christian music site has gone before. And probably where no other Christian music site will go again. And that is into the abyss and rabbit hole of up-and-coming rising singer and actor Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album SOUR.
So why oh why, am I diving deep into this artist where other Christian websites aren’t? Is it necessary? Well let me just say that the other month I took the plunge and listened to “drivers license” (and reviewed the song!) simply because the song was blowing up. I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. And then when I was listening to “drivers license” I just knew in my heart of hearts at that moment that I would review Olivia’s debut album when it released. Because don’t we all need a different perspective from time to time- and don’t I owe it to all of the young Christians reading Christian websites yet still being exposed to mainstream media, to write down my thoughts on one of the most popular artists this generation has seen?
I work really hard to be specific in my songwriting, as I feel like specific songs are the most meaningful. I’m just so obsessed with really story-driven songs. I grew up listening to a lot of country music, and country music is really specific and vivid, and I think I always was attracted to that as a young girl, which translated over into my songwriting. I always say you put out songs in hopes of making people feel more understood, but it also works in the reverse. All these people have said to me, I feel the exact same way, or this thing happened to me too. It makes me feel a lot less alone.
It’s been very go, go go, but in the best way possible. I literally feel like I’m living my dream every day. I feel so grateful, [but] I think after the album comes out, I’m going to take a vacation somewhere on the beach with a lot of sun. I think that’s super important, too. I was talking to somebody the other day, and they were like, 50% of our jobs is writing songs and the other 50% is living a life to write songs about, you know what I mean? You can’t just spend all of your time in the studio or on tour, because what are you going to write your songs about? You sort of become out of touch with reality. So I’m definitely trying to keep that in mind as I’m going into my second album.
If you haven’t heard about “drivers license”, then where have you been? Living life like a caveman? Seriously though, the song that is still the most popular and highest charting song of 2021, is a piano led ballad that speaks to the core of who we are as human beings. As Olivia, famous for being the lead starring role in the High School Music reboot TV series, fervently and emotionally relays to us her feelings and emotions of sadness, confusion, anger and sorrow when driving past her ex’s house, we are presented with a personal and honest story that could’ve been based on Olivia’s real life (I mean, read my review of Sabrina Carpenter’s “Skin”, and then you’ll know what I mean!). But regardless if it is or isn’t based in some form of reality, “drivers license” can and does extend its message into each one of our circumstances. With Olivia lamenting and relaying that ‘…I know we weren’t perfect, but I’ve never felt this way for no one, and I just can’t imagine how you could be so okay now that I’m gone, guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me, ’cause you said forever, now I drive alone past your street…’, we see a person not completely over her ex, and a reminder that in every lost relationship or a break up (whether romantic or platonic), these things hurt, and sometimes the only way to deal with them is to face them head on and talk the issues out. It’s clear that Olivia has done this in her song- opened herself up and been vulnerable beyond imagination; and as we look into our own lives to see whether there are people in our lives we need to hash our issues with before healing from seemingly unfixable wounds, let us remember that Olivia’s song of vulnerability is what the world needs. Not a song with no filter, but a song that teaches and reminds us that it’s ok to feel emotions, it’s ok to ask for help and it’s ok to heal in your own time. “drivers license” has blown up so, so much this year. It’s an honest portrayal of teenage love, or maybe beyond that the complexities of relationships in general. The song may be about always keeping your heart guarded from others so that it won’t be hurt again- but I see Olivia’s powerhouse anthem being about still taking chances and risks even though we have the ability to be hurt. That’s what being human and being a part of life on earth is all about, right? To feel and to hurt is to be alive? Well… enough of me being philosophical, does anyone here think this song is deep as I’ve made it to be? Or perhaps it’s just a teenage angsty break up and longing song?
The rest of SOUR is as emotional, heartfelt and honest as the lead single. Album opener “brutal” is an unexpected pop/punk vulnerable look at the music industry and at teenage adolescence; and as Olivia is trying to navigate both in a world that is just as cruel as it is kind, this song is two-pronged, as the lyrics hit home no matter which way you slice it. As Olivia fervently cries out that ‘…I’m so insecure, I think, that I’ll die before I drink, and I’m so caught up in the news of who likes me and who hates you, and I’m so tired that I might quit my job, start a new life, and they’d all be so disappointed, ’cause who am I if not exploited? And I’m so sick of seventeen, I’m over this teenage dream, if someone tells me one more time “Enjoy your youth,” I’m gonna cry, and I don’t stick up for myself, I’m anxious and nothing can help, and I wish I’d done this before, and I wish people liked me more…’, we are met with one of the most vulnerable and teen angsty songs of the year- as we enter into Olivia’s psyche and see how stardom has treated her and her well-being. “traitor”, a piano ballad, is similar to “drivers license” in theme, with Olivia honestly singing to her ex and calling him a traitor after moving on from her so quickly; and it’s clear from this song that romantic relationships are the lyrical backbone of this album. “1 step forward, 3 steps back” is testament to this fact, as Olivia vividly details an abusive, toxic relationship (based in reality or fictitious!), as she has also said that “…I really loved that concept of “one step forward, three steps back”—somebody texted it to me once and I was like, “Ooh, that’s really interesting.” I’ve never heard somebody say something like that, so I thought it would be a cool way to describe this toxic, sort of manipulative relationship. But … it can apply to anything, it can apply to any relationship, a friendship, you know, a work relationship. There are so many people who are just wishy-washy and you can sort of get in your head and feel like it’s because of you, but it never is, it’s always them…”; while “déjà vu” has Olivia questioning the validity and the authenticity of her ex’s new relationship, commenting that the things he’s doing with the current girlfriend (movies, going out to specific restaurants, other places) is exactly wat he used to do with her. It’s the second single from SOUR and shows us that Olivia was very shaken and perturbed by her ex moving on with someone else.
“good 4 you”, the album’s third single, has Olivia channelling her inner Avril Lavigne, and rocking out to a pop/punk song, detailing to us through sarcasm and in more vivid detail about her ex moving on with someone else, that ‘…good for you, I guess you’re gettin’ everything you want, you bought a new car and your career’s really takin’ off, it’s like we never even happened, Baby, tell me what is up with that?, And good for you, it’s like you never even met me, remember when you swore to God I was the only person who ever got you? Well, screw that, and screw you, you will never have to hurt the way you know that I do…’, as we realise that trust and honesty and people devoting their hearts to one another are all extremely important concepts to her; while the acoustic guitar led ballad “enough for you” speaks in detail about the realisation that she’s never going to be enough for her ex, no matter how much she changes her outward appearance or changes how she acts. “happier”, similar to Ed Sheeran’s song of the same name, delves into begrudging acceptance of the dissolution of a relationship, and the hope that the ex is happy with the other person, but not happier than being with them. Olivia’s vulnerability is clearly on display on this song and others; and reminds us how talented she is in her songwriting- she is able to make you feel things and emotions even if you’re not part of the target demographic (like myself!).
“jealousy, jealousy” is a brilliant example of a vulnerable yet relatable melody, with Olivia diving deep into the concept of being envious of other people and their lives. When we see people flaunt their lives on facebook, twitter and Instagram, I guess it’s human for us to want their lives as we think it’s glamourous to be a celebrity and to be famous. But this song dispels some of those rumours- as we remember that jealousy and comparison will distort our emotions and feelings; and what we need to do is to compares ourselves to…ourselves. No other person as we each are unique. The acoustic guitar ballad “favorite crime”, the penultimate song on SOUR, depicts Olivia realising that she might have been complicit in enabling her ex to treat her badly, and then still holding him close just so say that she still has him; while the album ends on the explosive and intensely heartbreaking “hope ur ok”, whereby Olivia addresses former friends of hers (who are presumably LGBTQ+) and says that ‘…I hope you know how proud I am you were created, with the courage to unlearn all of their hatred, but, god, I hope that you’re happier today ’cause I love you and I hope that you’re okay…’– an inspiring message of gratitude and love, as we realise that people are complex and that no matter what we believe, if we show love like Jesus has loved us, then the world will see how different and loving Christians are.
I’m just so excited to see people in real life, you know? All of the success of ‘drivers license’ happened in a bubble. I was able to see the numbers on my phone, all the people who were streaming it and all that, but I never actually got to meet anyone who was actually affected by the song. So it’s gonna be so cool to see people singing along to it. I’m really stoked for that.
I wish I could be a teenager in the ’90s, because that’s my favorite music ever. I just feel like it’s so raw. I remember the first time I heard [Alanis Morrisette’s] Jagged Little Pill and I turned to my mom and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, wow, she really just said that.’ It’s so brutally honest to the point it’s almost shocking—they were things that I’d genuinely never heard before in a song. And that was super inspiring to me. That’s what really got me going and what made me excited to write my own story.
I’m just taking this day by day. It’s all such a whirlwind at the moment, but it all comes down to the fact I just really love writing songs. I’m always writing, because it’s the way I process my emotions. It never feels like work to me in that regard.
With Olivia Rodrigo being an artist who has so far written and sung about romantic relationships and their highs and lows, should SOUR be an album that resonates with all of us, or can resonate with all of us? I firmly believe that it is a testament to Olivia’s songwriting ability, because this album does resonate with me (more songs than others), as we are met with a young girl trying to find her way in the music industry in the age of digital content being available at a click of a finger. For all of the rest of you, you may not connect with SOUR, and that’s ok. But let me say that this is one of the most heartfelt and thought-provoking albums of the year. Despite the explicit language (which Olivia makes a point to rerecord in each of her clean versions rather than blank it out!) and the constant singing about her ex (which is a little too specific a niche topic!), Olivia has delivered a near-flawless debut album, as she is showing us maturity beyond her 18 years. Sure, there are some songs recorded with sarcasm and hurt as the thematic backbone; but this is a release not to be missed. One listen should be enough to form your own opinion, am I right? And what do all of you reckon? Who thinks I should review more pop songs and talk deeply about them?
3 songs to listen to: brutal, jealousy jealousy, drivers license
RIYL: Selena Gomez, Anne-Marie, Jessie J, Riley Clemmons, Dua Lipa, Ava Max, P!NK