Olivia Isabel Rodrigo came to prominence as an actor, appearing in Bizaardvark and High School Musical. She signed a recording contract in 2020, and quickly become a pop superstar. Debut single ‘Driver’s License’ debuted at number one on Billboard, while third single ‘Good 4 U’ also debuted at number one.
The success is justified – Rodrigo’s youthful enthusiasm is refreshing. There are clear influences like the confessional pop of Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey and the rock of Paramore. Yet the blend of Rodrigo’s theatre kid background and propensity for energetic guitar-pop provide a fresh spin on popular music.
Olivia Rodrigo Album Reviews
Rodrigo’s debut project was initially slated as an EP, but was quickly upgraded to a full album after the success of ‘Driver’s License’. Rodrigo is supported by producer and co-writer Dan Nigro, who’s previously produced excellent pop songs like Sky Ferreira’s ‘You’re Not The One’, Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘When I Needed You’, and Caroline Polachek’s ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’. Rodrigo’s only 18, and hasn’t necessarily found her own style. There are echoes of other 21st-century female artists like Paramore, Lorde, and Taylor Swift, while the bridge of ”Driver’s License’ sounds like Lana Del Rey. Sour is also brief at 34 minutes, and every song is seemingly about the same failed relationship.
But that’s the bad news – it’s easy to take Rodrigo’s side on these tales of romantic angst, as she’s a likeable and talented vocalist. There’s at least an EP’s worth of excellent songs. Along with the three singles, there’s a strong opening with ‘Brutal’ – like ‘Good 4 U’ it’s a guitar rocker with Rodrigo spitting out a laundry-list of complaints – “And they’d all be so disappointed/’Cause who am I, if not exploited?” ‘Traitor’ is also strong, a piano ballad that rhymes “date her” and “traitor”. The second half of the record is less memorable, making Sour a strong debut but not an all-time classic.
The singles of Sour made Rodrigo into an instant superstar, but she’d deliver a stronger record next time around.
There was a sense that Rodrigo’s instant success forced the release of debut album Sour before it was complete – it was brief, and there was a substantial drop-off in quality between the five singles and the deep cuts. The success of Sour made Guts one of the most anticipated albums of the year and Rodrigo’s delivered, using the time and space to create a stronger album. She’s back with producer Dan Nigro.
Following the success of ‘Good 4 U’, Rodrigo’s delved further into rock music here. It gives her an interesting angle, mixing her theatre kid background with relatively abrasive rockers. Opening track ‘All-American Bitch’ jumps from a mellow opening to headbanging punk rock. Rodrigo’s canny enough to pain herself as the underdog, making her forays into rapping endearingly dorky. While’s Rodrigo’s writing about teenage angst – justifiable when she’s barely into her twenties – she’s witty about it. ‘Get Him Back!’ is built around a pun – “I want sweet revenge and I want him again.”
The record’s dominated by guitar songs like ‘Bad Idea Right’ and ‘Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl’. In comparison, the piano ballad ‘Logical’ feels like an uneventful echo of ‘Driver’s License’. There’s also a fascinating change of pace with ‘Pretty Isn’t Pretty’, which sounds uncannily like Disintegration-era Cure.
Guts isn’t flawless – Rodrigo’s merely 20 and still learning her craft. But she’s one of the most impactful pop stars in the world right now, and it’s fun to have her personality-driven, guitar-driven rock in the mainstream.
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