she's everything we're insecure about, or: why we love talking about why we love Olivia Rodrigo
With little else to unite us in conversation during a time of digitally-enhanced immediacy and isolation, I’m always obsessed with the mainstream headspace we devote to female pop stars, as if we’re a bunch of ancient Greek peasants forever inventing myths about our faves (I mean, remember The Powerpoint?). Especially right now, you’ve got all these fascinating cultural forces tugging at the seams: there’s millennials aging out of our zeitgeist authority; there’s the Me Too and the “Free Britney” effect casting a much-needed exacting lens on how we talk about successful young women, and there’s the splintered music scene where ostensibly everyone could be listening to entirely different things, except when we want to experience what everyone else is experiencing, and this past week, that was Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, Sour.
No wonder the conversations about why we* (* a very online subsection of the population) love talking about why we love Sour have largely overshadowed actual criticism over, well, what’s good and bad about a near-dozen pop songs. Because if Rodrigo’s approachable rise through the Disney machine coupled with the resulting institutional polish, bona fide Gen Z credentials, and generally solid body of work wasn't enough to capture our imagination at a current moment when we all feel like adolescents reemerging in the world ourselves, there’s of course the entire Cinematic Universe this 18-year-old has effectively constructed for us through the perfect alchemy of specificity, relatability, and a coy demurral of anything that might start, well, actual drama. It’s emotional edging, which is to say: pure teenage projection, bottled for your consumption. In rooting for Olivia Rodrigo, we are rooting for our younger selves — which has become the particular sticking point for countless millennials.
Through Sour and the surrounding discourse/mystique that Rodrigo has cultivated, we have a capital-n Narrative on the level of Ariana Grande’s superhuman resilience, Beyonce’s vision, and Taylor Swift’s chameleonic everygirlness. It’s not that Rodrigo is giving us something we haven’t seen before — heartbreak made catchy — but she’s serving it to us via an almost algorithmically-designed avatar of youth in 2021. That is, she doesn’t just do it by simply being a teen; she does it by letting her predecessor generation, as we confront our slipping position in the cultural tastemaking, to play-act being that young again, too, at least for 34 minutes and 46 seconds. Deja vu, indeed.
In addition to that Scaachi Koul piece on “Brutal,” for BF News, two other pieces that inspired me while reading about our new golden age of Rodrigossance:
In Pop’s Buzziest New Songwriter Knows Exactly What to Say, The Atlantic’s Spencer Korhaber situates Rodrigo’s impact alongside the long lineage of teenage chanteuses on heartbreak and delivers us perfect lines like “That riff becomes acoustic strums in the verses so that Rodrigo can charge up energy like an anime superhero between bouts in a battle,” and of the genius alliterative diss, you didn’t cheat but you’re still a traitor, crowns it “a good line that’s almost lawyerly in its delineation between the letter and the spirit of the rules of relationships.”
The Ringer’s Julia Gray on How Olivia Rodrigo Became a Canvas for Millennial Nostalgia, which deftly dives into the general Sour discourse as well as the larger feedback loop that millennial nostalgia forcing upon mainstream culture. This line killed me:
“None of this is to say “gotcha!” or assert that Rodrigo is some kind of poser who lied about watching a Fox musical-comedy-drama, but rather to reexamine our fixation with dated pop culture relics and the admiration we pour on young people when they mimic the art we liked as kids.”
That’s all I got for you today — have some news that I’m excited to share soon. DM me your favorite Sour line in the meantime?
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