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“brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo

January 5, 2022

2021 has been an unusual year in music for me as I branched away from listening to mainly American hits to exploring Spanish, Korean and Bollywood music. Along with these new genres, I’ve been connecting with my inner fifth-grader as one of my all-time favorite artists, Taylor Swift, re-recorded the new and improved Red album. All in all, my interest in newly released music has been limited except for one album that stands out starkly: SOUR.

Like many other high schoolers, I was introduced to Olivia Rodrigo while scrolling mindlessly through Instagram and hearing “good 4 u” roaring in the background of a reel — 50 times in a row. Binge-watching High School Musical: The Musical: The Series —don’t judge me— and more intimately learning the backstory behind this iconic album was the stimulus to me finally giving it a good listen.

Released May 21, “brutal” is the first track in Rodrigo’s debut album. Other songs in the album have had tremendous success as well, with pop ballad song “drivers license” reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and psychedelic pop song “deja vu” reaching more than 200 million streams both in just one week. “It’s been the absolute craziest week of my life,” Rodrigo stated in The New York Times, as she reflected on becoming a pop sensation practically overnight. “My entire life just, like, shifted in an instant.”

Recorded during quarantine, SOUR is every teenage girl’s passive-aggressive heartbreak anthem as Rodrigo sings about everything from insecurities and crazy relationship drama to her struggles with social media and fame. 

The sudden and almost startling music that begins “brutal” is atypical of her more popular ballads, and almost the entirety of the song is a powerful, angry yet articulate rant about the problems of being a child star in a manipulative world. Expressing her fleeting thoughts of quitting her job, Rodrigo sings, “they’d all be so disappointed, cause who am I if not exploited?”

And while it’s a little ironic to hear the AMA New Artist of the Year and VMA Best New Artist say, “I’m so sick of 17. Where’s my f****** teenage dream,” hey— who hasn’t been there, right? Yet in all seriousness, Rodrigo’s ability to define and express conflicting emotions is what has made her so captivating to her audience, both young and old

Rodrigo expressed in an interview with Nylon, “I was super obsessed with social media. I would look for things that would hurt my feelings all the time and compare myself to everyone. I felt like my life was only what I showed to others. I didn’t feel like my life was any deeper than my Instagram feed.”

The only real problem I had with SOUR is the lack of nuanced and individual themes across the album, especially “brutal,” although Rodrigo’s irresistibly catchy and cathartic bops definitely make up for this flaw.

Following the first couple choruses sung with heavy drums and all the attitude, the song surprisingly and dramatically slows down after just a short two minutes, the rage and passion leaving her voice as Rodrigo laments, “Got a broken ego, broken heart. And God, I don’t even know where to start.” I think I speak for all the Livies out there when I say that regardless of where Rodrigo starts, we’re all tuned in for the journey, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s coming next from this up and coming star.

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