Brankin: The painful relatability of SOUR

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album contains songs that cut right to the core.


by Tara Brankin

As someone who is about to enter their final year of college, I have not spent a lot of time reminiscing about who I was at 17, because frankly, I think I was a little insufferable. But I vividly remember what music I listened to when I felt like the world around me was caving in or when I felt deeply misunderstood by my peers. Most of what I listened to were songs written and performed by men who whine about how not getting the girl they desired was tearing them up inside. However, the pain and anger in their voices were what I was relating to, not the lyrics. I also occasionally listened to Lorde, an amazing female artist, but her songs left me feeling more pensive and nostalgic than anything else. I did not realize it at the time, but I never came across a female artist who encapsulated the frustrations of being a teenage girl, at least not one who was actually a teenager while writing her songs. Then, at 21 years old, I heard “Brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo for the first time.

For those who have been living under a rock, Rodrigo is an 18-year-old songwriter and actress who first achieved fame when Disney cast her in the television series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” While appearing in the show made Rodrigo popular, I first heard of Rodrigo when she released her now renowned single, “Drivers License,” at the beginning of 2021. The song became a staple on my Tik Tok “For You” page, and not only was it stuck in my head constantly, but like many others, I became a little too invested in the petty teen drama that inspired “Drivers License.” Basically, Joshua Bassett, another actor in “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” broke Rodrigo’s heart by choosing to date Sabrina Carpenter.

While I am long past my teenage angst phase, the songs on SOUR, particularly “Brutal,” which explores the anger and anxiety that comes with being a teenage girl, resonated with me. The songs forced me to think about who I was at 17 and how, if SOUR had come out when I was in high school, it would have been all I listened to, particularly because I would have found it so relatable. From capturing the frustration with stupid teenage boys, to anxiety over not being good enough for peers and the world in general, Rodrigo can channel emotions that are difficult to vocalize effectively. While some may find Rodrigo’s songs immature, I think that they are incredibly accurate, and teenagers should not be expected to possess the maturity of people who have gone through their adolescence.

It is rare to find an artist who can vocalize teenage angst while also being a teenager themselves. As Pitchfork writes in their review of SOUR, “Like [Rodrigo’s] seeming newness, her earnestness, the heartbreak baked into her ascent, it’s one of the qualities that makes her easy to root for.” While Rodrigo is obviously a major celebrity and lives a life very different from mine at 17, SOUR proves that no one is too famous or too successful to avoid heartbreak, anger and crippling anxiety. I think it is clear that Rodrigo will have a very long, successful career, given how poignant and impressive SOUR is. And based on my TikTok “For You” page, I am definitely not the only one who possesses this sentiment.

Oh, one last thing, I think it would be best if Joshua Bassett stayed off the internet for a while.