It feels like a lifetime has passed since the unexpected crash landing of Olivia Rodrigo’s record-breaking debut single “Drivers License” in January, a song that has already gathered the social capital of a classic. The 18-year-old singer’s sticky follow up “Deja Vu” swatted away concerns of such a massive debut swallowing her career whole. Her third single, the venomous pop-punk rager “Good 4 U,” tapped into the sweltering annoyance that bubbled under the surface of her apparent sweetness. Now approaching the halfway mark of her breakout year, Rodrigo has released her highly-anticipated debut album Sour.
Produced by close collaborator Dan Nigro (with Rodrigo credited on a few tracks), and written almost entirely by Rodrigo and Nigro, the 11-song collection serves as a key to the mind and soul of one of the most exciting new figures in pop music as she navigates heartbreak, coming of age, and the unstable landscape of Gen Z’s social media upbringing. In some moments, she draws from lessons taught in the singer-songwriter school of Taylor Swift to understand the inner turmoil of her heart. In others, her only catharsis comes from screaming out her emotions over roaring guitars and quaking basslines.
Below, Billboard ranks every track on Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album Sour.
11. “Favorite Crime”
“Favorite Crime” centers on the examination of glaring red flags that only appear in their true colors through the lens of hindsight. As Rodrigo works through the aftermath of heartbreak in real time, the thinly veiled Bonnie and Clyde-type metaphor of the song loses its grip. No matter how much she shares in the name of working through the end of a relationship, she still holds some cards close to her chest, not ready to lay them all out just yet.
10. “Jealousy, Jealousy”
If the mind of a teenager with an Instagram screen time of more than two hours were to be digitized, it would pretty much look just like the scene Rodrigo lays out on “Jealousy, Jealousy,” co-written with Nigro and Casey Smith. Over a plucky bassline and a prowling piano build, the singer — who often finds herself obsessed, for better or worse — makes sense of the incessant, toxic cycle of social media. Strangers become game pieces in a nonexistent mental competition of who can curate the most perfect online life, and Rodrgo can’t stop playing. She knows it isn’t real, but that doesn’t mean she’s willing to lose.
9. “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back”
Rodrigo articulates the impact of inconsistent, and even unhealthy communication within a relationship with impressive maturity on “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back.” The sharp edge of the confession, “And maybe in some masochistic way/ I kind of find it all exciting/ Like which lover will I get today?/ Will you walk me to the door or send me home crying?” is cushioned within a simple piano melody. The track interpolates Taylor Swift’s Reputation closer “New Year’s Day,” with another appreciative nod to her idol in the song’s title, which hides Swift’s favorite number, 13.
8. “Hope Ur Ok”
With a title stylized in the manner of a quick text message, as though it’s the only fully encompassing collection of words, “hope ur ok” is an exercise in songwriting. Unlike the album’s ten other tracks, Rodrigo’s own narrative takes a backseat on this Sour finale to the subjects of secondhand stories the singer has collected from friends. She’s a writer that opts for specifics in place of vague recounts when introducing her characters, even as she tries to fit as many flashes of fading memories into a verse before heading to the next — without a chorus present to seperate them. The song builds to a more generalized bridge that could be easily susceptible to the trap of overreaching relatability, but the care with which Rodrigo writes and delivers each lyric is grounded in genuine sympathy.
“Happier” is one of the few songs Rodrigo previously previewed as a demo on Instagram to make it onto Sour. Sonically reminiscent of Rihanna’s simmering “Love on the Brain,” the piano-led track reads like a love letter and a resignation wrapped in one and sealed with the deep bass of Dan Nigro’s production. Rodrigo is self-critical and admittedly selfish, as she wishes her former partner a happy future plagued with reminders of the times they shared together. “Think of me fondly when your hands are on her,” she offers with wholehearted sincerity. A whirlwind of emotions are invited into this three minute space, all with equal validity.
6. “Deja Vu”
There’s something about Olivia Rodrigo’s hyper-specific attention to detail that could only have been innately picked up through her years keeping up with hidden messages and easter eggs as a Swiftie. Where “Drivers License” had its red lights, stop signs, white cars and front yards, “Deja Vu” has its strawberry ice cream, reruns of Glee and whisperings of “I love you” tucked into the production. The lyrical specificity (and general subject matter) marks pretty much the only element of her debut that Rodrigo kept around for her second single, otherwise releasing a fuzzier, punchier follow-up that further introduced her range as an artist. While many may have been introduced to her as a ballad belting Disney star turned mainstream pop anomaly, “Deja Vu” made sure it was clear she could do soaring, fizzing pop-rock, too.
The shimmering, orchestral beginning of Sour’s opening track “Brutal” wasn’t checking all of the boxes for Rodrigo: “I want it to be, like, messy,” she instructs 12 seconds in. Ask and ye shall receive, as suddenly the song free falls into the depths of grungy rock. The track’s stream of consciousness structure yields some of the album’s most chord striking lyrics, like the tour-ready, “I’m so sick of 17/ Where’s my f–king teenage dream?” Rodrigo’s grasp on coming of age in a time of hyper surveillance, social media and self-branding is frequently juxtaposed alongside more minute worries. She can pen a brutally honest Gen Z-geared anthem, no problem” — just don’t ask her to parallel park.
4. “Good 4 U”
While “Good 4 U” likely won’t ever have the honor of being performed on a Warped Tour stage, screaming along to Rodrigo’s full-blown pop-punk single at top volume essentially provides the same level of teenage angst. It pulls from the Paramore playbook, and welcomes all of the bitter frustration and pure spite pushed aside elsewhere on the album in favor of appearing amicable (or at least composed), once again validating the presence of these turbulent emotions. Rodrigo weaves in and out of genres throughout Sour, but the pocket she taps into here feels unexpectedly natural, even in the midst of a mainstream pop-punk revival that largely resists centering women.
3. “Enough For You”
The tracks on Sour with some of the album’s most searing lyrics tend to be those with simple, acoustic instrumentals. There’s no catching a punchy line on second or third listen because you were distracted by the production at first — there’s only an understanding of the emotional depth of the heightened intensity of young heartbreak as a catalyst for internal transformations. Rodrigo had teased “Enough For You” in the weeks leading up to the album’s release, sharing the lyrics, “I wore makeup when we dated, cause I thought you’d like me more.” With the release of the full track, it appears she left the most gut-punching, yet uncomplicated lyrics to be heard, like: “I’d say you broke my heart/ But you broke much more than that/ Now I don’t want your sympathy/ I just want myself back.”
2. “Drivers License”
In a rapidly moving pop sphere, “Drivers License” has already basically stood the test of time. Beyond being the most universally recognizable song on Sour, the track serves as a third-track reminder of how we got to this album as a whole in the first place — and why there’s a global, highly invested interest in Rodrigo as both a singer and a songwriter. At the time of its unexpected spike in public consumption, within a day of its initial release, most listeners couldn’t care less about the rumored subjects of its lyrics or the drama involving that aspect of the singer’s life. The success of “Drivers License” remains most strongly linked to the world-encompassing emotion of one of pop music’s most exciting new players.
Sandwiched between two emotionally heavy tracks with equally heavy production at the top of the album, “Traitor” is a chilling contrast that features Rodrigo’s best vocal performance on Sour. The cinematic rise and fall of the song’s acoustics swirl softly around the singer’s vocals as she borders on a whisper, soaring higher only towards the conclusion. Rodrigo lingers on the topic of an ex moving on with another girl while she’s still trying to sort out what went wrong for most of the album. But, the reserved delivery of “Traitor” feels most transparent with the layering of its harmonies, the at-times uneven cadences and the small gasps of breath left in between lyrics. It was this same raw emotion that started it all for Rodrigo, anyway.
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