Olivia Rodrigo – great voice, horrible songs


M.H. Noman, Contributing Writer

These days, anything can make a teenager’s heart flutter but also break. Most teenagers try to release their stress and anxiousness by listening to moody music that they think is related to them. However, according to a study published in the Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, “certain musical styles (such as sad and upsetting music) can have long term effects on the brain. Anxiety and neuroticism levels were higher in teens who listened to moody music as a way to vent their emotions”. Olivia Rodrigo, a teenager that rose to fame because of her self written songs that relate to teenegers and an incredible influencer on Generation Z, has marvelous vocals. However, her songs are dark and have a negative influence on teenagers. 

Her recent album “Sour”, contains 11 songs written from personal experiences that Rodrigo faced. The 11 songs contain different perspectives of a broken hearted teenager, complaining about a single storyline of a terribly failed romance. Rodrigo explicitly characterized the themes of insecurities, anger, and revenge using immensely specific lyrics showing her vulnerability. However, these themes seem to be exceedingly an exaggeration compared to the real life of teenagers. During her interview with Zach Sang on the Zach Sang Show, Rodrigo explained that her album explores her “perils and discoveries as a 17-year-old. Sour is referring to the sour emotions young people like me experience but are often criticized for, such as anger and unhappiness”. However, her songs have a wide gap that separates their message from reality. 

The first song in the album is “brutal“, which Rodrigo described as angsty and uptempo. When listening to it for the first time, the song sounds enjoyable, with angrily insecure lyrics mixed with playful and easy pop-punk that attracts teenagers.  However, this song is horribly toxic. The lyrics are overly dramatic, and don’t in any way relate to teenagers. The first verse starts with “I’m so insecure, I think/ That I’ll die before I drink” and goes to the chorus with “They say these are the golden years/ But I wish I could disappear/ Ego crush is so severe/ God, it’s brutal out here”. Since Rodrigo has a heavy influence on teenagers, lyrics like these bring them down mentally and they would start thinking negatively about everything. Then comes the concept of “ego crush”. Rodrigo expanded on this phrase on Zach Sang Show saying that an “ego crush is when you feel inadequate and inferior and get angry that your entire identity is gone. It’s something that I definitely felt and something that teenagers feel like I suppose as they’re growing up.” Although the feeling of inadequacy and inferiority is a problem that everyone faces, Rodrigo could’ve portrayed it in a different, non aggressive way. High school is stressful for many, so Rodrigo could’ve mentioned something about academic stress that teens face on a daily basis. 

Traitor” is the second song in the track. The song talks about a relationship gone downhill, a common theme present in most tracks on “Sour”. In “traitor” Rodrigo refers to her ex-partner as a traitor since he left her for another woman. Well, right off the bat, we can see where the exaggeration and the huge gap between reality comes; when did teenage love become a serious issue to the point where the label traitor is thrown? In the first verse, she sings “Brown guilty eyes and little white lies/ Yeah, I played dumb but I always knew/ That you’d talk to her, maybe did even worse/ I kept quiet so I could keep you.” Then in the chorus, devastated, Rodrigo sings that all the times she has been there for him did not matter in the end. Even if he didn’t cheat on her, Olivia says he is still a traitor. Rodrigo wrote this song as if she had practically gone through a divorce crying about “the bed (she) made” with her significant other and all. But again, the lyrics she wrote are not realistic to her age since the song treats high school romance as a serious issue when it’s really not. Her argument is invalid since high school romance isn’t serious. Yes, teenagers date and get their hearts torn, but not to the extremes of accusing someone of being a traitor. High school romance isn’t an important topic that an influencer should be focusing on, because high school has more problematic, serious issues. Now whether she’s speaking to a more mature, comprehensive reality than what she has personally experienced, is a different story. 

Third on the track is “driver’s license”, Rodrigo’s top hit song. Many of her fans liked the song since it was imitating Taylor Swift’s album “Folklore”. However, “drivers license” isn’t a Swift imitation, it’s a Frankenstein version of the past decade in modern pop. The song is dark and gloomy, with Olivia Rodrigo symbolizing her driver’s license as a devastating, useless factor. That it has no meaning now since the guy she so badly wanted to be with isn’t with her any more. “I got my driver’s license last week/ Just like we always talked about/ ‘Cause you were so excited for me/ To finally drive up to your house/ But today I drove through the suburbs/ Crying ’cause you weren’t around”. The entire song lyrics are centered around a heartbroken teenage girl, trying to get over her ex-boyfriend who has moved on with a new person. Now, although this song may seem as if it resonates with every person of every age group who has dealt with heartbreak at some point in their lives or pined for someone they loved, it actually isn’t very relatable to reality in general and this song is different than the majority of the songs in the album. To simply phrase it, this song is whiny. It for sure shares the same dread, gloomy vibe; however, Rodrigo  here sings about wishing that she was driving with her past loved one while the other songs are exaggerated. It seems like Rodrigo was lacking ideas for “driver’s license” because the song itself is repetitive with the impression that the poor girl is devastated because her ex isn’t next to her. Rodrigo could’ve made this song into an advertisement for teens to find happiness without relying on someone else, that happiness shouldn’t necessarily be connected to someone. 

Sixth on the track is “good 4 u”, the song that went viral shortly after its release. In the music video, Olivia portrays a heartbroken, innocent cheerleader who tries to get revenge towards her unbothered former ex. This cheerleader transformed her appearance from innocent to monstrous as she appears to destroy his bedroom, and sets fire to her ex’s belongings to remove her stress that has ruined her life. The lyrics are full of sarcastic remarks, which is a different vibe compared to the entire album containing slower songs about heartbreak. sings sarcastically about being happy for an ex who has moved on from her in them. In the chorus she sings, “Well, good for you/ You look happy and healthy/ Not me, if you would have cared to ask/ Well, good for you/ You’re doing great out there without me/ Baby God I wish I could do that”. Other than the gloomy lyrics, the music video was dark and had ominous undertones. It’s very negative and conveys a spine-chilling, false image for teenagers. In the video, Rodrigo sets her ex’s belongings in order to relieve stress portraying false coping mechanisms. This may seem like a creative idea for a music video; however, it is so far away from reality. Getting revenge on someone by bringing their things isn’t really realistic and doesn’t usually occur. The image of revenge was poorly demonstrated here and could’ve been shown in a different picture. It would’ve been a great idea if  the girl, in the music video, takes revenge on the guy by living her life to the fullest, getting better academically and socially. 

Rodrigo is the first young artist in history to debut two #1 songs on Billboard’s Global 200. Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u,” debuted at number one after her other track, “driver’s license”. Mental health is an important topic that should be looked at seriously; however, it won’t improve in teenagers if influencers ruin the image of a healthy life. Olivia Rodrigo is no doubt a great singer with incredible capabilities, she is an influencer to many. And because of that, she should use her influence positively. Instead of writing songs that have terrible messages, why not write songs that actually relate to reality and will help teenagers, not break them? Although Rodrigo’s vocals are unique and well executed, the concept that she conveys isn’t as important as she makes it out to be.