In Defense of Olivia O’Brien

Flickr / Justin Higuchi

Leading up to the Springfest headliner announcement, rumors were swirling around the Colgate University campus. Maybe the most prominent among them being that there would be no headliner at all, that the weekend many students praise as being their favorite of the year would be missing its crucial element. As February turned into March and then April, the student body was growing increasingly worried, and pessimistic, about who would be the headlining act.

Against this backdrop, when the University’s Student Government Association (SGA) sent an email on April 12 announcing that Olivia O’Brien would be headlining Springfest 2023, I was pleasantly surprised. I like Olivia O’Brien’s music and I know more than one of her songs, which was more than I was expecting of the headliner after weeks of speculation. However, I was with two friends when I opened the email, one who also expressed her eagerness to see the concert and another who told me this was a terrible outcome to what felt like an endless waiting period before the reveal.

He had been hoping for Steve Aoki and it seemed that most people also wanted someone from the list sent out to students pre-Thanksgiving Break. After reading the YikYak discourse, it seemed like I was in the very small minority who were excited about the Springest concert this year. Of course, I also had a favorite from the poll (I’m a big Dominic Fike fan) but I had given up on that dream early on in the second semester.

The pushback I’ve been hearing surrounding the choice was that Olivia O’Brien doesn’t make ‘party music’ or that her discography is ‘too depressing’ to have at Springfest. 

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that these comments are borne out of people only knowing her two biggest hits “hate u love u” and “Josslyn.” But even then, “Josslyn” is upbeat, even with it being a breakup song. Maybe her biggest TikTok hit, “Josslyn,” was released in February of 2020 and followed up by a music video shot in quarantine in May of that same year. I remember blasting the song in the shower after Zoom classes and watching countless dance videos with the song’s chorus blasting through my headphones. Some of her more recent releases, “Bitches These Days,” “Now,” and “Keep It Movin’” range from relationship songs to self-love anthems. O’Brien describes “Keep in Movin’” as “something different for me and I really love it. I put it on when I want to feel good about myself,” in Forbes.

After learning that she would be our Springfest Headliner, I started listening to more of her music, with “Call Me!!!” and “Now” being two of my favorites. I will admit that Olivia O’Brien is similar to a lot of my favorite artists, so it might be less of a stretch for me to get excited about her performance than other people, but I think it would be worth everyone’s time to listen to some more of her music before pushing her into a box based on two songs. Many of the themes in her songs focus on female empowerment and finding self-confidence, which a lot of female students can identify with and relate to. 

O’Brien also has plenty of performance experience, having performed at Coachella in 2022, even bringing out the rumored muse of “Josslyn,” Logan Paul. She has also been on two U.S. tours of her own and accompanied multiple other artists on tour, according to Concert Archives. She also performed at Fordham University’s Spring Weekend in 2022, according to The Fordham Ram.

Last year, when T-Pain was named Springfest headliner, I spent a few days before the concert familiarizing myself with his songs, most of which I hadn’t heard since elementary school and aren’t my style of music at all. I ended up really enjoying his performance, even though I was skeptical at first. We as a student body owe Olivia O’Brien the same due diligence, instead of simply writing her off based on preconceived notions about her music.