13 Beats of the Week: Olivia Rodrigo


Paulina Prosnitz, Arts and Features Editor

In honor of teen singing sensation Olivia Rodrigo winning Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Solo Performance at the Grammys this past weekend, let’s take a look at some of the best songs on her debut album “Sour,” as well as a few of her songwriting inspirations. 


“drivers license,” Olivia Rodrigo (2021)

Rodrigo’s debut single “drivers license” launched the teenager into instant stardom when it was released in January of 2021. A power ballad reminiscent of her longtime role model Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well,” the song spent eight consecutive weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and broke the Spotify record for most single-day streams for a non-holiday song. Nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 2022 Grammys, Rodrigo’s track ended up taking home the award for Best Pop Solo Performance.  


“good 4 u,” Olivia Rodrigo (2021)

While dealing with the same themes of heartbreak and betrayal, this track from Rodrigo’s 2021 album has a much more punk rock sound than “drivers license.” Like “drivers license”, the song debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100. Using electric guitars and a staccato bassline alongside a shouted vocal delivery, the song represents a dramatic departure from the more melancholic songs in the album. The accompanying music video received a Grammy nomination for Best Music Video this past weekend. 


“Misery Business,” Paramore (2007)

After the release of “good 4 u,” critics were quick to point out the similarities between the track and Paramore’s “Misery Business.” Paramore’s lead singer Hayley Williams and guitarist Joshua Farro were eventually added to the track’s songwriting credits. If you enjoy the energetic guitar and punk rock sound of Rodrigo’s “good 4 u,” Paramore certainly delivers a similar head-banging, angry-girl sound with this track. 


“deja vu,” Olivia Rodrigo (2021)

Returning to themes of betrayal, this song interrogates a former lover about his déjà vu in his behavior with a new romantic interest. More melancholic than “good 4 u” but with more of an edge than “drivers license,” Rodrigo gets delightfully sassy in this track, using the bridge to cathartically remind her ex, “Don’t act like we didn’t do that shit too!” 


“Cruel Summer,” Taylor Swift (2019)

Fans and critics alike noticed some similarities when it came to “deja vu” and Swift’s track “Cruel Summer” from her 2019 Lover album. Rodrigo has been open about the fact that the bridge of “Cruel Summer” inspired this particular single, even adding Swift and her co-writers Jack Antonoff and St. Vincent to the songwriting credits. All you need to do is listen to Swift sing, “I scream, for whatever it’s worth, I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?” to understand why Rodrigo found so much inspiration from the 2019 song’s bridge. 


“brutal,” Olivia Rodrigo (2021)

Rodrigo moves away from romantic turmoil in this track, focusing instead on the aesthetic of teenage angst and her frustration with society for insisting that your teenage years are the best time of your life. A symphonic first few seconds quickly collide with the sound of electric guitar and the flat sarcasm of Rodrigo’s vocals.  An alternative, grunge-rock style song, this is a great listen for those moments when the world just seems against you. 


“Pump It Up,” Elvis Costello (1978)

Costello publicly addressed conversations comparing the guitar riff used in “brutal” to the one from his 1978 song “Pump It Up.” Costello seemed unbothered, claiming rock n’ roll is about “[taking] the broken pieces of another thrill and make a brand new toy.” Give “Pump It Up” a listen, not just for a classic rock n’ roll sound, but to support this display of creative generosity from one artistic generation to the next. 


“1 step forward, 3 steps back,” Olivia Rodrigo (2021)

Using a simple combination of piano and emotion-packed vocals, Rodrigo addresses an unreliable lover, asking over and over, “Do you love me, want me, hate me? Boy I don’t understand.” Rodrigo interpolated Swift’s “New Year’s Day” into the song, singing over the same chords. While other tracks on the album involve feelings of anger and betrayal, this song is infused with ambiguity and regret. This song is perfect for sitting alone inside on a rainy day, contemplating moments where frustration became sadness rather than anger. 


“New Year’s Day,” Taylor Swift (2017)

The final track in her 2017 album Reputation, “New Year’s Day” incorporates a similar acoustic piano instrumental with soft vocals. Also co-written by Jack Antonoff, the lyrics describe cleaning up after a party. Quiet and also vulnerable, critics lauded the song as an example of Swift’s maturation as a singer and songwriter. Swift promises her lover in the chorus, “I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day.” Where Rodrigo is hurt, Swift is healed. 


“enough for you,” Olivia Rodrigo (2021)

Again addressing a former lover, this slower track laments not being enough for a partner over acoustic guitar instrumentals. While the song is slower-paced than “good 4 u” and “brutal”, it contains some moments of quintessential Rodrigo passion. It bubbles out in the third verse when Rodrigo cries, “But God, you couldn’t have cared less about someone who wants you more.” Queue this song up for a long, reflective drive in the upstate New York boonies. 


“traitor,” Olivia Rodrigo (2021)

“traitor” was co-written by Dan Nigro, a collaborator on many of the songs on “Sour.” A guitar-rock ballad, the song starts slow with the sound of soft synths, layering in acoustics and harmonies in the progression from verse to chorus. Rodrigo’s voice is rich with emotion, transitioning effortlessly from a flawless belt to the whispered final punch lines of each chorus. Rodrigo perfects her ability to switch from defeated to righteous in this track, snarling, “When she’s sleeping in the bed we made, don’t you dare forget about the way you betrayed me” in another emotion-packed bridge. 


“happier,” Olivia Rodrigo (2021) 

Several critics named this track the highlight of the album, including the publications Rolling Stone and Variety. Rodrigo’s crisp delivery lays over a bass and piano instrumental combo, resulting in a folk-pop hybrid similar to Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain.” Rodrigo addresses a former lover who has found a new partner, hoping he doesn’t find as much happiness in the new relationship as he did in theirs. Rodrigo’s lyrics are deeply honest, especially in moments when she admits to trying to tear down the new girl to make herself feel better. 


“favorite crime,” Olivia Rodrigo (2021)

“favorite crime” is another slow-moving but powerful folk-pop ballad. The song is primarily acoustic, using hand-picked guitar in the verse and incorporating harmonies reminiscent of Lorde in the chorus. Rodrigo admits in the lyrics that she is equally incriminated in the relationship, admitting all the things she did just to keep him around. The key change in the last chorus is especially spectacular, as Rodrigo belts the high notes before drifting off into a whisper as the song ends.