It hasn’t even been a year (we know, we had to double check that too) since the then-18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo released her debut album SOUR to an already anticipating crowd. Following the incredible success she earned from her breakout hit ‘drivers license’, a 4-minute pang of teen heartbreak that hit you right in the chest, SOUR offered up a little more insight into one of the world’s most intriguing adolescent break-ups, and it earned Rodrigo the weighted title of “the new face of Gen Z pop.” Breaking numerous records, including Spotify’s biggest opening week for a female artist, and receiving widespread critical acclaim (it appeared in the top 10 of numerous Best Albums of 2021 lists), SOUR, in all its teen angst, was kind of a big deal. And making it, we learn, kind of was too.
In her new film ‘driving home 2 u (a SOUR film)’, which premiered on Disney+ March 25, Rodrigo takes us back to where it all began by taking us on a road trip from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, the same journey she took when making the album. In between cuts of her gorgeous live renditions of the tracklist (an orchestral ‘good 4 u’ in an empty desert is a highlight) we get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into SOUR’s process and simultaneously the heartbreak Rodrigo was turning into art. In between a scene of her singing an acoustic version of ‘1 step forward, 3 steps back’, a track she admits she wrote the day before the culprit broke up with her, and an intimate talk with musician Jacob Collier on the bonnet of a car about love, Rodrigo shares a journal entry from 2020:
“July 13, 2020. I got my driver’s license today, a very highly anticipated achievement. All my relatives called to congratulate me. I realised part of the reason I wanted to get my license so bad was because of… this boy. I always felt bad about being too young to be able to drive over to see him. Too young to have any real freedom. I always thought he should be with a girl who had those liberties. I feel his hold on me loosen more and more lately. That’s a lovely feeling. I’m still very much not able to fall for anyone else, though. I can’t even fathom it at the moment.”
And it’s in that vulnerable moment that we see Rodrigo for who she really is, a girl caught up on some boy. And really, that’s the heart of SOUR. While she might look cool doing it (the use of explicit language marks a significant difference from the star to other past teenyboppers), Rodrigo is sad, heartbroken, and confused. And her lyrics perfectly reflect that rawness. Nobody can write about love better than a teenage girl; someone who has for their entire life so far romanticised a version of it in their head. There’s a reason so many others relate to SOUR, just like there’s a reason so many others relate to records by Taylor Swift. You won’t ever find a deeper look into the cracks of a broken heart than you will when reading through a girl’s diary.
Somewhere around the 24-minute mark, Rodrigo is seen sitting on a bed discussing the repercussions of success. In the span of only a few months, she’s gone from a 17-year-old performing in her bedroom to a 17-year-old “performing in these super high-stakes environments that are really intense.” You must wonder the toll it all takes, especially on someone so young and new to the game. What started as a girl just simply wanting to share her experiences and emotions with others has now become a crazed phenomenon. “Having a big song like [‘drivers license’], you put it out and it’s like oh my god, amazing! And then everyone’s like what’s next, can you follow it up? What’s coming next?” She laughs a little, but you can tell its shaky. “And you’re like Jesus, I just did this. Can’t this be enough?”
A heart-warming side story of ‘driving home 2 u’ comes unexpectedly in the relationship between Rodrigo and her producer Dan Nigro. An indie-lead-singer-turned-pop-writer, Nigro has written a few songs for others in the biz but his collaboration with Rodrigo for the entirety of SOUR might be some of his best work. After finding a video of Rodrigo’s ‘happier’ online, Nigro insisted he work with the star and the rest is history. Between clips of the two working late in the studio to literally creating ‘brutal’ five days before the tracklist was turned in, the bond that’s shared between them is something incredibly special. From the get-go, Nigro just gets it, and we can see how relaxed Rodrigo felt sharing something so personal with someone she could trust. We often don’t consider how intrusive it must be for young female artists to share their thoughts and feelings with writing partners and producers, who are almost always men twice their age, but Nigro acts more as a confidant than a co-worker and takes all of Rodrigo’s moods and emotions in stride, and together they make a fantastic team.
In its just-over-an-hour-long narrative, ‘driving home 2 u’ gives a peek behind the curtain of a girl who almost overnight became one of the world’s biggest stars. Turning one of the worst moments of her life into one of her proudest, Rodrigo stands as an emblem of hope to teen girls everywhere, just as her heroines did to her a few years prior. And it’s an absolute pleasure to see the cycle still going. The world can never have too many young women raising their voice, and it’s refreshing to see that Rodrigo is only just warming up.