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Olivia Rodrigo’s Inspirations and Parallels

With its perfectly balanced bridges, feelings of teenage nostalgia and varied influences, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album “Sour” struck a heavy chord with both Generation Z and Millennials.

Released in May 2021, “Sour” explores themes of adolescence, young love and heartbreak. The album broke the Internet for its relatability. It is important to note some of the major inspirations, parallels and references scattered throughout the albums. To celebrate Rodrigo’s debut album, I put together a list of some of her inspirations and parallels.

Sound Comparisons

In the early days of the album’s release, Twitter users pointed out three obvious song similarities: “deja vu” and “Cruel Summer” by Taylor Swift; “good 4 u” and “Misery Business” by Paramore; and “1 step forward, 3 steps back” and “New Years Day” by Taylor Swift. I would add the way Rodrigo sings the chorus in “1 step forward, 3 steps back” sounds reminiscent of “Six Feet Under” by Billie Eilish. 

However, it is important to note the use of interpolation in these tracks, in which an artist uses a melody from an original song into a new piece of work by recreating it note for note. Learning about these song comparisons pushed me right down the rabbit hole of other songs with lyrical similarities and parallels.

Lyrical Similarities

In the first verse of “favorite crime,” Rodrigo sings from the perspective of someone being ‘buried’ by someone they once loved and trusted. These lyrics reminded me of “my tears ricochet” by Taylor Swift from her 2020 album “Folklore.” In an Instagram post, Swift explained how the song tells the story of an “embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of obsession.” In the song, she sings, “you wear the same jewels that I gave you as you bury me.” To me, these songs are related to a mother-daughter relationship, which is ironic because both songstresses have jokingly referred to each other as mother and daughter.

Even though this next comparison involves Taylor Swift once again, it is impossible to not point out. They are two songs about young and painful heartbreak: “enough for you” by Rodrigo and “Dear John” by Swift. In the chorus, Swift sings, “I see it all now that you’re gone / Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with? / The girl in the dress cried the whole way home.” 

In the bridge of “enough for you,” Rodrigo sings just as emotional and a bit angrier with the lyrics:  “Don’t you think I loved you too much to be used and discarded? / Don’t you think I loved you too much to think I deserve nothing? / But don’t tell me you’re sorry, boy / Feel sorry for yourself / ‘Cause someday I’ll be everything to somebody else.”

Also in “enough for you,” Rodrigo sings about wearing makeup to please an ex-lover. It is similar to Swift singing about high heels that an ex-lover didn’t like in “Begin Again” from her 2012 album “Red”, which will also be re-released in November as Red (Taylor’s Version).

In another heart-aching track, the feelings of betrayal in “traitor” are nostalgic of “Burn” from the American Broadway musical, “Hamilton.” I didn’t completely understand this comparison until I listened to a mashup of the songs on YouTube and have not known peace since. The lyrics feel most related when Rodrigo sings about “brown guilty eyes and little white lies,” while Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton sings about “sentences border[ed] on senseless…paranoid in every paragraph.” It is almost like the comparison of “favorite crime” and “my tear ricochet,” except Rodrigo sings from a younger perspective, while Soo sings from a more grown-up perspective.

Parallel Storytelling

When I listened to “Sour” on the night of its release, I cried on the floor of my bedroom to the final track, “hope ur ok.” In the song, Rodrigo reminisces about old friends who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Though she’s no longer in close contact with them, she wishes them the best and reminds them of how proud she is of them today.

In the outro, she sings, “I hope you know how proud I am you were created with the courage to unlearn all of their hatred.” The song’s message alludes to the story of “seven” by Taylor Swift from “Folklore.” Similar to Rodrigo, Swift reflects about childhood friends with unhappy lives at home. Except Swift focuses on her innocence and how she thought tough problems could be solved by packing up their suitcases and running away to India. When I listened to Rodrigo’s song, I felt like she took this story and sang directly to the characters in Swift’s song.

Shifting from the album’s focus on young love and heartbreak, “Sour” also has tracks about  adolescence and the misleading promises of the younger generation stood out to me. Songs like “jealousy, jealousy” and “brutal” are examples of this. Both songs feel incredibly loud, vocally and lyrically, which reminded me of artists like Lorde and Billie Eilish.

In “jealousy, jealousy,” Rodrigo addresses the unrealistic beauty standards society often places on young women on social media. In an interview with the BBC in March 2021, she shared that she wrote the song when she was addicted to social media and found herself “crippled by the comparisons” of other girls. 

For me, it is the type of song that makes you wish you were born a nepotism baby with daddy’s money, a pretty face and a pretty boyfriend. It is also Rodrigo’s moment to comment on this issue in her own words, similar to “The Love Club” and “White Teeth Teens” by Lorde. While Lorde’s songs criticize the hollowness of cliques, Rodrigo discusses constant comparison and self-hatred as a result of social media. And the tone of her voice as she sings the chorus brings me back to the energy of ‘”idontwannabeyouanymore” by Billie Eilish.

Lastly, it would not be an article about Olivia Rodrigo without mentioning the fan-favorite song “brutal.” Its loud, angry scream-singing in the chorus brings me back to another song by a former Disney star: “7 Things” by Miley Cyrus. While both songs have some quiet moments, they are quickly met by a loud rage of emotion by both of the artists. They are the kind of jump around your room and scream at the tops of your lungs, beloved, angry songs. 

When it comes to the sound and beat of “brutal,” it is eerily similar to “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill. If you listen to the songs back to back, it is in the rise and fall of how each song flows. Its similarities also lie in the sound of the guitar, working simultaneously with the volume of the microphone at certain parts. Also, I cannot help but think about how Rodrigo’s singing of “God, it’s brutal out here” sounds just like “I know I wanna take you home I wanna try on your clothes.”

Final Thoughts

Even though I have loved “Sour” since I first listened to it, I fell in love with the album more after noticing its inspirations and parallels in the vocals, sounds, lyrics and storytelling.

Rodrigo’s debut album serves as a current accumulation of her style as a singer and as a songwriter. It’s a reminder that she is a young artist capable of elevating original songs by other artists, and crafting a new narrative based on her life and experiences. The outpouring of love for her first album might also indicate more success for her future.

Illustration by Valerie Aldana