Awards

Expect Olivia Rodrigo’s First Grammy Experience to Be Anything But ‘Sour’

Olivia Rodrigo
JMEnternational for BRIT Awards/Getty Images

Olivia Rodrigo poses in the media room during The BRIT Awards 2021 at The O2 Arena on May 11, 2021, in London.

If Rodrigo is nominated in each of the Big Four categories, she would become the second-youngest artist in Grammy history to pull off that feat.

The rave reviews for Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, Sour, are just one more indication that the 18-year-old pop star is likely to do very well in the nominations for the 64th annual Grammy Awards, which are expected to be announced in November. The California native is likely to wind up with nominations in each of the Big Four categories – album, record and song of the year plus best new artist -- and several more categories besides.

Rodrigo’s breakthrough smash, “drivers license,” is almost certain to land nods for both record and song of the year. Rodrigo cowrote the midtempo break-up ballad with her producer, Dan Nigro. Billboard called it “a brilliantly detailed tearjerker” in a cover story on Rodrigo in the May 15 issue. The smash logged eight weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, longer than any other song which is competing in this still-unfolding Grammy eligibility year (which runs from Sept. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021).

Sour, which has a strong 84 rating at Metacritic.com, the review aggregation site, is well positioned to land an album of the year nod. Jason Lipshutz, Billboard’s senior director, music, gave the album a rave review in his First Stream column on May 21. “Rodrigo had lofty expectations to meet thanks to “drivers license” summarily conquering the world earlier this year, and her first album exceeds them, thanks to the Disney star’s combination of songwriting panache, sonic adventurousness and impossible-not-to-love charm; unabashedly and effectively, Sour stakes its claim as the pop album of the year so far.”

And Rodrigo is sure to be nominated for best new artist. Rodrigo, in fact, seems a shoo-in to win in that category, though one doesn’t want to burden her with front-runner status.

If Rodrigo is nominated in each of the Big Four categories, she would become the second-youngest artist in Grammy history to pull off that feat. Billie Eilish was just 17 when she was nominated in all four categories in November 2019. (She had turned 18 by the time she won in all four categories on Jan. 26, 2020.)

Just 12 artists in Grammy history have have been nominated in each of the Big Four categories in one year. Strikingly, nine of the 12 artists who have accomplished this feat are female solo artists -- Bobbie Gentry, Cyndi Lauper, Tracy Chapman, Mariah Carey, Paula Cole, India.Arie, Amy Winehouse, Eilish and Lizzo. Just two male solo artists (Christopher Cross and Sam Smith) and one group or duo (fun.) have achieved the feat. Grammy voters seem to feel extra enthusiastic about promising young female artists.

Rodrigo wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs on Sour. She also co-produced two tracks, played piano on one and contributed the vocal arrangement on one. That’s the kind of breadth of talent that often impresses Grammy voters.

Many of Rodrigo’s favorite artists have been Grammy favorites, including Lorde, who is the youngest song of the year winner in Grammy history (she was just 17 when she won for co-writing “Royals”), and Taylor Swift, who was for a decade the youngest album of the year winner in history, a title now held by Eilish (Swift was 20 when she won for Fearless).

If “drivers license” wins the Grammy for record of the year, this would be the third year in a row that a teenager has won this award. Eilish was 18 and 19 when she won for “Bad Guy” and “Everything I Wanted,” respectively. Prior to Eilish’s first win, the youngest record of the year winners were Smith (for “Stay With Me”) and Kimbra (as featured artist on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know”). Both artists were 22 when they won.

Rodrigo would be the third-youngest artist best new artist winner. LeAnn Rimes was just 14 when she won the 1996 award in that category. As noted above, Eilish was 18 when she won. Rodrigo will turn 19 on Feb. 20, 2022, three weeks after the Grammys are presented on Jan. 31.

If Rodrigo wins best new artist, she will surpass her one of her musical inspirations, Swift, who was nominated in that category at the 2007 awards but lost to Winehouse. Swift and her frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff have co-writer credits on “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back" -- a Sour track which interpolates "New Year's Day,” the album closer from Swift’s 2017 set Reputation.

In other categories, Rodrigo is a strong bet for nods for best pop solo performance (for “drivers license”) and best pop vocal album (for Sour).

Nigro, Rodrigo’s producer and songwriting partner, would share in the nominations for record, song and album of the year. These would be the first Grammy nods for Nigro, 39, who has worked with such artists as Conan Gray, Carly Rae Jepsen, Sky Ferreira and Lewis Capaldi.

Sour is the first debut album to include two singles that entered the Hot 100 at No. 1 – “drivers license” in January and “good 4 u” this week. The only previous albums to include two singles that debuted at No. 1 were superstar releases -- Carey’s Daydream, Drake’s Scorpion and Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next. (Those were, in each case, those artists’ fifth studio albums.)

“Déjà vu,” the second single from Sour, entered the Hot 100 at No. 8, which made Rodrigo the first artist to enter the Hot 100 inside the top 10 with each of his or her first two singles. She extends that record to three singles this week.

Remarkably, Rodrigo’s only previous music release was from her acting and singing role on Disney+'s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. “All I Want,” which Rodrigo wrote and performed for the series, briefly made the Hot 100 (debuting and peaking at No. 90) in early 2020. Rodrigo’s camp entered "All I Want" in the Grammy contest for best song written for visual media, but it failed to receive a nomination.

The recent history of Disney stars at the Grammys isn’t all that impressive. Jonas Brothers were nominated for the 2008 award for best new artist, but Miley Cyrus wasn’t nominated in any category until Bangerz in 2014 and Demi Lovato wasn’t nominated until Confident in 2016. Selena Gomez, inexplicably, has never been nominated for a Grammy. But Rodrigo is closer musically to such artists as Eilish and Lorde, who are proven Grammy favorites. And while these other artists remained with the Disney machine, signing solo deals with Hollywood Records, Rodrigo blazed her own musical trail, signing with Geffen/Interscope.

Rodrigo did not appear on this year’s pandemic-delayed Grammy telecast on March 14. She wasn’t nominated this year, but the Grammys have been known to book a performance of a hot new single that won’t be eligible until the following year. This year's show included performances of several songs that may be competing with "drivers license" at next year's Grammys -- Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open," Bad Bunny & Jhay Cortez's "Dákiti," Cardi B's "Up" and Taylor Swift's "Willow."

Instead, Rodrigo made her awards show debut May 11 on the Brit Awards, where she sang “drivers license” (which was an equally big hit in the U.K.; The song logged nine weeks at No. 1 on the Official U.K. Singles Chart). Rodrigo appeared on Saturday Night Live four nights later, singing “drivers license” and “good 4 u.”

In an era when many artists have been sharply critical of the Grammys, Rodrigo is an unabashed Grammy fan. In the interview for her Billboard cover story, Rodrigo said, “I love the Grammys. I always said that February is my favorite month of the year, first because of the Grammys, and second because it was my birthday. So I've always been obsessed with the Grammys, and it would be really cool to go this year.”

In all likelihood, Rodrigo will not only get to go this year, she’ll be the star of the show.

Even at her young age, Rodrigo seems to have a healthy perspective on awards: They’re great, they’re fun, they’re exciting, but they should never be the driving force (no pun intended) in an artist’s career.

"I would love to win awards and love for it to chart, but to me being proud of the art I made is the only thing I really think about often," she said.

Additional reporting by Andrew Unterberger.