The biggest pop song of the year begins like a diary entry. “I got my driver’s license last week,” Olivia Rodrigo sings, then quickly adds another person to the narrative: “Just like we always talked about / ‘Cause you were so excited for me / To finally drive up to your house.” By now, we know that the story ends with her passing the street and leaving the subject of the song in the rear view. But we also know the addictive engine that fuels her No. 1 hit “Drivers License” — highly personal songwriting coupled with excellently crafted song structures — is the same one powering Rodrigo’s entire career, as heard on her impressive debut LP, Sour, out today (May 21).
With help from her co-writer Dan Nigro, Rodrigo splits open her rock-tinged songs with details as real as what you’d send in a text (“reruns of Glee,” “crying on the floor in my bathroom”) and the occasional strategic F-bomb — lessons she picked up from her idol Taylor Swift. The songs themselves remain easy to digest; Sour‘s tracklist suggests an Inside Out-style approach to feelings with “Happier,” “Jealousy, Jealousy,” “Brutal,” and more telling you what you need to know in title alone. Yet there’s a sly sophistication in Rodrigo’s work, informed by her approach to disciplined songwriting. “I really think that more or less forcing yourself to write a song sometimes is really beneficial,” she told MTV recently. “I think you can’t rely on those lightning bolts of ideas to strike you all the time.”
That said, Sour has enough lightning bolts to fill Zeus’s quiver. From blistering pop-punk to more measured folk and pop-rock elements, Rodrigo spends its 35 minutes wisely spanning the sounds that speak to her, leveraging them to speak for her as well. “My dream is to have it be an intersection between mainstream pop, folk music, and alternative rock,” she said ahead of the album’s release. Below, we break down Sour, track by track and mood by mood.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: over it.
Key lyric: “Who am I if not exploited? / I’m so sick of 17 / Where’s my fucking teenage dream?”
Over a crunching rhythm that sounds like Elastica doing Elvis Costello, “Brutal” kicks off her album with an explosive pop-punk number making a declarative statement plagued with self-doubt: “It’s brutal out here.” She’s talking about the perils of being 17, on the cusp of legal adulthood but still treated like a child. Sour is a collection of angst, and nothing primes the listener for what’s next better than Rodrigo getting a few things off her chest.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: replaced.
Key lyric: “It took you two weeks to go off and date her / Guess you didn’t cheat but you’re still a traitor”
The three characters in this song feel quite lived in, showcasing how Rodrigo can capture the dramatic stakes of a narrative by revealing it piece by piece. As she expresses the unique sting of having her own romantic replacement lined up in front of her, this stormy ballad really gains momentum near its conclusion. As her voice starts to ascend, so do the stakes.
- “Drivers License”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: ready to zoom away from heartbreak.
Key lyric: “Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me / ‘Cause you said forever, now I drive along past your street”
The massive resonance of “Drivers License” (and its eight weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart) is due in part to its blending of complex emotions. Is the narrator shattered by love’s end and plagued by a future that no longer exists? Yes. Is she ready to leave all that behind and accelerate into her next chapter? Also yes. It’s the kind of song where “I still fucking love you” shifts its power the more times you listen. In the end, it’s just you in the driver’s seat, completely free to go anywhere.
- “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: lost and powerless.
Key lyric: “It’s always one step forward and three steps back / Do you love me, want me, hate me? Boy, I don’t understand”
One might expect the song that actually interpolates Taylor Swift — the gentle loping piano rhythm from Reputation‘s “New Year’s Day” — to be the most Swiftian composition on the album. But the interpolation instead allows Rodrigo to find her quietest moment of self. As a new composition, “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back” finds the intimacy of a voice note, complete with bird noises in the background, as Rodrigo questions her love’s motivations as much as she interrogates her own reasons for staying put.
- “Deja Vu”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you’ve been replaced.
Key lyric: “So when you gonna tell her that we did that, too? / She thinks it’s special, but it’s all reused”
While “Drivers License” cruises with its hands at 2 and 10, “Deja Vu” changes lanes without signaling, then speeds off into the night. It’s a song for anyone who’s ever realized that what they thought was a unique kind of love was likely just one in a series. While that could be harrowing, Rodrigo’s version sounds downright psychedelic; she knows it’s better to laugh than give anyone the satisfaction of a sad face.
- “Good 4 U”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: angsty.
Key lyric: “I’ve spent the night crying on the floor in my bathroom / Just over the fact that I really don’t get it / But I guess good for you”
At first listen, you’d be forgiven for thinking this scrappy pop-punk number was the work of another artist. But even amid a cloud of power chords, Rodrigo’s singular voice rises like smoke to deliver her most biting kiss-off yet. Don’t sleep on the Billie Eilish-inspired bridge, either.
- “Enough for You”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you need to find yourself again.
Key lyric: “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”
On this just-past halfway mark, gentle acoustic plucking is the only accompaniment to Rodrigo mapping out a story about a love who left her after she seemingly did everything right. The haunting breaks in her voice reveal this as a cautionary tale of not changing too much for someone else and losing yourself in the process. It’s also one of only two songs on which Rodrigo gets full writing credit.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: generous, but not too generous.
Key lyric: “I hope you’re happy / But not like how you were with me”
Here’s the other sole Rodrigo composition, characterized by careful piano arpeggios and a waltzing rhythm that feels like sneaking through a house after everyone’s asleep. Like a lot of Sour, “Happier” is a monologue, one where she chooses her words extra carefully, though her moments of discontentment creep up in the clever production behind via muted claps, the kind that make it feel like maybe we’re not hearing the entire story.
- “Jealousy, Jealousy”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you don’t deserve what you have.
Key lyric: “All I see is what I should be / Happier, prettier, jealousy, jealousy”
After a few songs without a proper backbeat, “Jealousy, Jealousy” pounds in like an elephant, letting Rodrigo work out some feelings of imposter syndrome over a real groove. There’s not much sonic overlap, but I couldn’t help but think of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy,” another ode to the chaos wrought by getting what you want. With a bassline that’ll linger in your head, “Jealousy, Jealousy” means that, contrary to her fears, you won’t be thinking about anyone else.
- “Favorite Crime”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: deliriously smitten.
Key lyric: “Everything we broke and all the trouble that we made / But I say that I hate you with a smile on my face”
Like an ode to a crush in reverse, “Favorite Crime” looks back fondly on the destruction wrought in the wake of a crumbled love. It’s not sad and it’s not quite happy, either. Instead, the glowing track captures the lingering fizz of dysfunction as the end result of love. Thanks to a pleasant set of acoustic chords and Rodrigo’s excellent pipes, this one is ready for both the coffee shop and pop radio.
- “Hope Ur Ok”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: empathetic.
Key lyric: “I love you / I hope that you’re OK”
Because we’ve reached the end of a highly diaristic LP, we have to close on a series of character vignettes that look outward rather than in. So, Rodrigo paints portraits: a childhood marching-band drummer whose father abused him and a classmate ostracized for who she loved. Then she sends a message of solidarity and love and support to them and to everyone listening; as she does, the echoes of her three biggest influences (Swift, Eilish, and Lorde) swirl into sonic view, marking a key moment that recognizes her past while forging ahead boldly on her own. The next move is all hers.