Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘SOUR’ is more than a breakup album

By Carolina Garibay

Breakups suck. That’s something those who have ever broken up with someone or who have been broken up before can probably agree on. So why are we so drawn to breakup songs even when we aren’t going through a breakup or aren’t even in a relationship? Maybe because breakups lead to some of the most iconic songs ever written. Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” “I Will Always Love you” by Whitney Houston and “Someone Like You” by Adele, for example, are some of the most well-known songs ever made, and they’re all breakup songs.

More recently, though, Olivia Rodrigo’s “driver’s license” is at the top of people’s breakup songs playlist. The powerful and heartbreaking ballad was more than successful. Released in January, the at-the-time 17-year-old singer’s debut single opened at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for eight weeks. Since then, Rodrigo released two more singles, “deja vu,” which perfectly captures the anxiety that comes from watching your ex move on and “good 4 u,” a Paramore-like bitter song ridden with angst. Rodrigo also performed on Saturday Night Live and the Brits.

Oh, and she also released her debut album “SOUR” Friday.

Rodrigo has been a relatively well-known name on Disney Channel since 2016 when she starred in “Bizaardvark.” Then she played the female lead, Nini Salazar-Roberts, on “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” Disney Channel stars aren’t exactly known to be the most serious or edgy people when it comes to songwriting and music, but Rodrigo has been quickly changing this narrative, and “SOUR” proves that Rodrigo is both incredibly talented and serious about her music.

Rodrigo immediately establishes her individuality and deviation from the Disney norm in the album’s first song “brutal,” where she bitterly sings: “I’m so sick of 17 / Where’s my f—— teenage dream? If someone tells me one more time, ‘Enjoy your youth,’ I’m gonna cry.” Being a teenager is hard, and Rodrigo shows listeners why throughout the rest of the album.

“Traitor” is one of the album’s standouts that showcases Rodrigo’s talent for perfectly describing complex emotional situations that can’t usually be sufficiently described through words. She sings about an ex who quickly moved on after their breakup: “Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still, you’re still a traitor.” Her songwriting is reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s writing on “Red,” which makes sense since Rodrigo has very openly looked to Swift for inspiration.

Swift’s influence appears a few times throughout the album, whether that be through similar melodies and stylistic choices or interpolation from Swift’s “New Year’s Day” on “1 step forward and 3 steps back” and nods to “Cruel Summer” in the bridge of “déjà vu.”

Rodrigo cuts particularly deep with “enough for you,” which I consider to be the most emotionally tolling song on the album. She tackles the dangers of seeking self-validation through your partner and beautifully describes what can happen when you lose yourself in a relationship with someone who doesn’t appreciate you as much as you love them. She sings, “I’d say you broke my heart / But you broke much more than that / Now I don’t want your sympathy / I just want myself back.” To anyone who has experienced relationship anxiety or felt intense insecurities in a relationship: this song might hit differently.

“Happier” isn’t any easier to process, despite its deceiving name (“happiness” by Swift vibes?) She sings over a simple yet beautiful piano scale about how difficult it is to completely let go of someone after a breakup. She sings what we all think (whether that be secretly or not): “I hope you’re happy / But not like how you were with me.”

Of the themes Rodrigo weaves into her album, jealousy is one of the most prominent. Just in case you didn’t catch onto that theme by the ninth song, Rodrigo makes that clear in “jealousy, jealousy,” a rock-pop song where Rodrigo describes the messiness of social media and the effects it can have on self-image and confidence. She sings sassily: “Comparison is killin’ me slowly / I think I think too much ’bout kids who don’t know me.”

“Favorite crime” is a pretty acoustic track that features an extended metaphor about crime: her ex’s crime was taking advantage of her, while her crime was falling in love with him.

The final track of the album, “hope ur okay,” is a message of empowerment and affirmation to someone Rodrigo has lost contact with but wants to send good wishes. Fans on social media are saying this song could possibly be a message to someone of the LGBTQ+ community based on the lyrics’ implications (“His parents cared more about the Bible / Than being good to their own child”). Though this song doesn’t necessarily fit on the album thematically, it’s a powerful song that could be meaningful to many listeners, and that matters.

Rodrigo is 18, yet if you look on Twitter and TikTok, you’ll notice that many people posting about and praising the album are in their twenties. Nothing’s wrong with this at all, but it just shows how universal the feelings of anxiety, jealousy and heartbreak are, particularly in relation to dating and relationships, and that those feelings don’t go away when you leave your teenage years. We associate those feelings with teenagers since we’re given the narrative that you have to have yourself pulled together by your mid-twenties.

We’ve known that Rodrigo could sing, ever since her role as Nini on “HSMTMTS” and specifically with “All I Want,” a powerful ballad that her character sings in the show. But we didn’t have much of an idea about what Rodrigo would look like as a solo artist.

With “SOUR,” Rodrigo has proved that she not only knows what she’s doing but that she’s really good at it. This is just the beginning for Rodrigo, and the success and quality of her debut album make us wonder what themes she will tackle next and how exactly she’s going to do it in a way that resonates with multiple audiences the way “SOUR” does.