Olivia Rodrigo’s New Album and New Sound? 

By: Rachel Mattingly

Olivia Rodrigo gained massive popularity after the release of “driver’s license” in 2021, part of her subsequent debut album, Sour. “driver’s license” set chart-topping records, and I believe a huge part of the song’s success is owed to its adaptability to TikTok sounds. Her music was popular in its own right, but it’s close to undeniable that TikTok has transformed the music industry, and not necessarily for the better. Songs that are easily digestible, short, with a relatively simple structure often receive a boost that is not based on their musical merit.  

Rodrigo’s songs were easily recognizable, in part due to their being ubiquitous on TikTok, and also because they are somewhat difficult to distinguish from one another. One of the problems that consumers – myself included – had with her first album was the similarities between many of the songs. Her music didn’t ask anything of the listener, and I found it lacking creativity. None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy her first album, or that I didn’t accidentally memorize all her songs from repeated listening. While I found many of her lyrics lacking in meaning and substance, I don’t think this was a bad thing at all for her album. Pop music is supposed to be easily digestible, and especially during the pandemic, many people wanted to entertain themselves in ways that didn’t require depth or self-reflection. I’m not saying that it was impossible for her music to trigger deeper emotions in people, but personally, listening to her music was like eating cotton candy. Enjoyable, but devoid of the essential qualities that would make it a worthwhile experience.  

This past summer, Rodrigo released her second album, Guts. In a variety of positive reviews, a recurring theme was that it truly felt as though Olivia Rodrigo was finally making the music she wanted to; that she had found her sound. I think in many ways this could be true. Many of the songs in Guts are drastically different from those in Sour and much more distinct from one another. I’ve heard people say that her first album was probably ‘blander’ because she was satisfying the demands of the studio by producing music that would replicate the success of “driver’s license.” It’s quite possible that this album is indicative of the kind of music she really wants to make going forward, but this expresses my cynical view of the industry.  

There has been a general trend towards nostalgia by many popular young musicians, especially among many Tiktokers turned musicians. Nostalgia in music has translated into a resurgence in pop punk music, and other releases that are generally reminiscent of the sound of the early 2000’s. Sour also had some pop punk elements, especially in “Good 4 U,” which actually raised some controversy due to its similarities to Paramore’s iconic song “Misery Business.” Although much of Guts seems very different from the softer, generic, and less adventurous lyrics of Sour, I would argue that Rodrigo is probably continuing to follow studio demands for songs that will top charts and is leaning harder into the pop punk sound in her second album for that very reason.  

Despite all this pessimism, I did like a lot of songs off Rodrigo’s second album. I found it more engaging and creative than her debut. Many of the songs do still sound alike, but overall, I think there is a greater sense of dynamism. I also appreciated the singer taking herself a little less seriously, especially in songs like “bad idea, right?” and “get him back!” It was a welcome relief from the sanctimonious and self-pitying lyrics that she has historically leaned towards. It was a little odd to have these more satirical songs juxtaposed with some that were almost identical in tone to songs from Sour, but all in all – the album was honestly a fun listen.  

I might not be Olivia Rodrigo’s biggest fan – to me, her songs sometimes include a tone a bit too reminiscent of whining – but I think she has an incredible talent for writing songs that refuse to leave your head. No matter how many times I listen, and how many things I find to dislike, I inexplicably keep coming back again and again.