“SOUR” Hits the Sweet Spot

Why so many of us have Olivia Rodrigo’s debut on repeat.

Laura Todd Carns
3 min readMay 26, 2021


This is not an album review.

People get confused sometimes when I write about music, assuming that I’m critiquing a new album or single as an impartial journalist. I’m going to be honest — I don’t know how to do that. I only know if something grabs me by the emotional jugular. And when it does, I try to understand how and why.

At the heart of it, Olivia Rodrigo is honest.

In “brutal,” the very first track on Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album “Sour,” she muses, “And I’m so sick of seventeen / Where’s my fuckin’ teenage dream? / If someone tells me one more time / ‘Enjoy your youth’ I’m gonna cry.” Boom. Did you make the mistake of underestimating this artist? Did you think she was just a teenage girl singing about boys and breakups? The nuance and range of this first track should disabuse you of that notion right quick. She’s going to tell it to you straight — being young kind of sucks.

It’s full of insecurity and people trying to take advantage of you and feeling out-of-place and overwhelmed.

And it’s also full of heartbreaking beauty, and wonder, and heedless, rollicking fun. Being young is all of these things at once, and Rodrigo captures the whole messy, gorgeous collage of it all in her music.

It’s no surprise that young people are responding to an artist who is able to articulate the emotional experience of youth with such precision and compassion. But why are grown-ups like me so affected? Why are we all walking around stunned, like we just got the wind knocked out of us?

There’s a fake, packaged-for-your-consumption version of adolescence in our culture that’s leveraged by people trying to sell you something. Movies, music, fashion — they’re all hawking this fictionalized idea of the American Teenager. It rings hollow because it’s not real. It’s an idea that was thought up in a marketing meeting.

So when someone gets it right — cuts through the fake and really expresses the shaky joy and horror of being young — it resonates. Not just with the teenagers going through it, but with those of us who have left youth far behind.



Laura Todd Carns

Freelancer & fictioneer. Contributor to Medium pubs Human Parts, GEN, Curious; bylines elsewhere in WaPo, Quartz, EL, The Lily & more. www.lauratoddcarns.com