The launch of Olivia Rodrigo’s album ‘Sour’ in May 2021 received an outstanding response. Perhaps it was the great songwriting or catchy melodies, but it’s most likely because Rodrigo has managed to compose an album that perfectly sums up the experience of many teenage girls. Her songs bring up prevalent issues of our time including social media, jealousy and the ‘brutal’ teenage experience.
Rodrigo also focuses on the feelings surrounding breakups and the complexities of emotions that are experienced during the time. In Rodrigo’s early music career, it is great to see these aspects of society being explored and these topics are truly important in the analysis of what some girls and women go through around the world.
The album explores the themes of social media and jealously incredibly well and it really gives an insight into how many of us have felt while using Instagram and the likes of Facebook and Twitter over the past few years.
In ‘Jealousy Jealousy’ Rodrigo makes reference to beauty standards and the difficulty of attainting the ‘perfect’ look. The line “cause all I see are girls too good to be true” really reflects how girls and women feel like their bodies do not look good enough. The song also focuses on the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) that many of us experience when using Instagram. Rodrigo sings “and I see everyone getting all the things I want, and I’m happy for them, but then again, I’m not”, and “I wanna be you so bad, and I don’t even know you, all I see is what I should be”, showing how it is easy to get wrapped up in the lives of others and what they have on social media. These ideas of FOMO are reflected in a study by Nottingham Trent University, which suggested that FOMO is driving up social media addiction. Indeed, frequent social media interaction is responsible for increasing feelings of inadequacy and isolation, thus affecting moods and worsening depression and anxiety. As such, it is no surprise that when women are spending more time on social media than men, issues of anxiety and FOMO occur, affecting mental health considerably.
We have known for some time that social media has been driving up mental health disorders for women especially and Rodrigo’s song reflects how looking online is one way in which insecurities can be furthered and become more harmful. In the technological world, it is easy to become lost in comparing yourself to others and seeing edited bodies on Instagram pushing a beauty standard that doesn’t always exist. Rodrigo strongly reflects what it is like to have the all-consuming feeling of jealousy and the constant comparison of yourself to others who may appear or be richer, or more attractive.
In terms of how difficult being a teenager is, Rodrigo’s song ‘Brutal’ also reflects how the teenage experience isn’t always as we expect. The teenage experience is often sold to many through the media, including films about girls’ teenage experiences. ‘Brutal’ does a good job of reflecting this, with Rodrigo singing lines like “I’m so over this teenage dream?”, and “they say these are the golden years, but I wish I could disappear” are examples of the difficulties of growing up, especially as specific ideals are often sold to girls (especially the ideals of a white, cisgender teenagerhood). Such lines offer a similarity to MARINA’s ‘Teen Idol’ with her lyrics stating, “I don’t know why but I feel conned” and her wishes surrounding being a prom queen but also how feeling ‘free’ when a teenager isn’t always what is realistic. Indeed, most lives do not reflect films or the ideal ‘golden years’, representing the unrealistic expectations that are easily had. As such, Rodrigo is able to string together the aspects of the teenage life of many girls, even though there is no one standard way to grow up.
Finally, Rodrigo’s album throughout focuses on the feelings of breakups, and the complexities of these breakups in terms of emotions. Songs focusing on the ending of a relationship like ‘Good 4 U, ‘Traitor’, and ‘Driver’s License’ bring out feelings of anger, but also feelings of sadness. These songs are all important reflections of the feelings you go through when change is occurring, but also the pain of another person leaving your life.
In ‘Traitor’, Rodrigo explores how an ex-partner can go off so quickly and be with someone else. While someone may not have been unfaithful, it is still difficult to come to terms with them moving on so quickly. This feeling changes to anger in ‘Good 4 u’ with the pain directed towards an ex-partner as they appear to have moved on while someone else remains in pain and is going through various emotions. What is important here is that these feelings, being written by someone so young, are key emotions of many other young girls – no matter if it is their first breakup or another. As such, Rodrigo perfectly puts together feelings that appear almost timeless when it comes to breakups, and they are so perfectly worded by someone who is so young.
All in all, Rodrigo has made an album that summarises many feelings of being a teenager and growing up to adulthood while highlighting the complexities that come with it, especially with social media being such a big part of most people’s lives. While singing about breakups, Rodrigo wonderfully curates a reflection of when someone goes through a huge change in their lives, where feelings are all over the place and not much makes sense. Indeed, it is important that the younger generation may find themselves in Rodrigo’s music and that it provides a place for individuals to have their experiences reflected in music within our current world.