Olivia Rodrigo is turning heartbreak into hit song after hit song.
The 18-year-old singer-songwriter’s debut album “Sour” (out now) is raw, honest and catchy.
“Sour” brings to life the duality of the true savagery wrapped in innocence that Rodrigo embodies in her music. It’s sonically sweet, but it’s melodramatic and moody – and not in the condescending way adults tend to talk about teen girls and their feelings. There’s a Sour Patch Kids ethos happening (“First they’re sour, then they’re sweet”) with the album title and the cover art that plays on the same youthful nostalgia as the music.
Rodrigo is one of the first in a new generation of songwriters to emerge from the unofficial Taylor Swift writing-style boot camp, learning the Swift-isms almost through osmosis from more than a decade of listening to the country-turned-pop star’s music.
Some thought Rodrigo, the Disney darling heir apparent as the star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” would be a flash in the pan after the runaway success of her hit first single “Drivers License.” The power ballad debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and it stayed there for eight consecutive weeks, plus it earned the Spotify record for the most streams of a song in a single week.
The single also spawned scintillating chatter of a love triangle between Rodrigo, her apparent ex-boyfriend/”HSM: TM: TS” co-star Joshua Bassett and fellow Disney actress and singer Sabrina Carpenter, which took the breakup song into another stratosphere.
But then she followed it up with the dreamy “Deja Vu” and the pop-punk “Good 4 U,” and the trifecta of ear-worm singles didn’t hold back.
You can feel the emotions and hear the accompanying physical expressions, from the scoffing laugh at 0:48 on “Deja Vu” and the song’s vocal eye roll (“I bet you tell her how you loooove her”) to the frustrated thrashing of limbs on the “Good 4 U” chorus.
All three singles are on the 11-song studio album, on which Rodrigo either wrote or co-wrote every track.
The album kicks off with “Brutal,” an angrily insecure alt-rock tirade that ends in a whispered confession of self-doubt, a lá fellow teen pop phenom Billie Eilish. She’s laying it all out there, even if it’s not “pretty.” She’s clear that it doesn’t have to be: “I feel like no one wants me // And I hate the way I’m perceived // I only have two real friends // And lately I’m a nervous wreck.” It’s the gasoline to get the car started on the journey through a breakup, and Rodrigo travels through a range of emotions: Denial, anger, sadness, despair and acceptance.
Swift’s influences are felt most heavily on “Traitor,” “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back” and “Favorite Crime,” soft ballads with simple guitar accompaniments that tiptoe through the trappings of a relationship turned sour. (The two met officially in person at the Brit Awards this month, and Swift shares a writing credit on “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back” for its interpolation of her song “New Year’s Day.”)
“It took you two weeks to go out and date her // Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor,” Rodrigo sings on “Traitor,” the heartache reverberating through each verse. She paints a dramatic picture of a past love (“And I watched as you fled the scene // Doe-eyed as you buried me // One heart broke, four hands bloody”) on “Favorite Crime.”
And though she’s mourning about not being “Enough For You,” she’s also realizing things amid her self deprecation: “Nothing’s enough for you,” she sings.
“Happier,” like the rest of the album, is petty in the way that you would write your most honest thoughts in a journal and lock it away from prying eyes, only admitting those messy, mean and vindictive feelings to yourself. It’s OK if you’re happy, but not happier than you were with me, she croons.
The quietly thumping “Jealousy, Jealousy” is in the same vein, a page that could be ripped out of any high school girl’s diary (or really, any woman’s diary, if we’re being honest): “I wanna be you so bad and I don’t even know you // All I see is what I should be // Happier, prettier, jealousy, jealousy.”
“Hope Ur OK” is bound to become an anthem for the underdog, akin to Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” or Logic, Khalid and Alessia Cara’s “1-800-273-8255.” It’s a soft rallying cry: “Well I hope you know how proud I am you were created // With the courage to unlearn all of their hatred // God I hope that you’re happier today // ‘Cause I love you, and I hope that you’re OK.”
Some people won’t like the music or get the appeal, but the authenticity and universal emotions of the songs can’t be denied. Rodrigo is licensed to take the wheel of her career from its start, and the first destination – though “Sour” – is looking pretty sweet.
The downside to ‘Drivers License’:Olivia Rodrigo shows off the dreaded parking ticket