A definitive ranking of Olivia Rodrigo's Sour
One year on, we look back at the Disney star turned pop icon's instantly classic debut album.
Every once in a while, a musician will come out with a record that is a bonafide cultural reset. Cardi B’s 2018 rap opus, Invasion of Privacy, gave us an inimitable tale of fame, sex and power with zero skips. Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die was an epic pastiche of abusive love and Americana across the decades, and now serves as a cultural time capsule of the politics at play in its (2012) release year. In 2021, Olivia Rodrigo put out Sour, a breakup album that would soundtrack the malaise of her own generation and far beyond. Bouncing between Paramore, Lorde, and Taylor Swift as musical reference points, there’s something in it for nearly every breed of pop fan.
Released just months after her debut single “drivers license”, Sour arrived in May to rapturous praise from prestige outlets like The New York Times and Rolling Stone, as well as being fully embraced by the social internet and doing wonders for lowercase girl representation. The record went on to become the fastest-selling female debut album on vinyl since 2000, overtaking Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. Almost a year on, the tracks all still feel like fresh wounds. But we all have our favourite children. From 11 to 1, here is Sour by Olivia Rodrigo, ranked.
11. 1 step forward, 3 steps back
This twinkly piano track belies some impressively brutal lyrics, but just isn’t a banger of the calibre we know our Pisces princess is capable of. Liv details the painful realities of being in a relationship with someone who has, emotionally, checked out of the conversation. Even on just a casual phone call with her beau: “All I did was speak normally/Somehow I still struck a nerve/You got me fucked up in the head, boy.” It's good one, though perhaps one of the more forgettable. Onward!
10. enough for you
Between reading all of his self-help books and learning his favourite songs off by heart, Olivia paints a painfully relatable picture of the inadequacy she felt, trying desperately to please an uninterested partner. There isn’t a bad apple in the Sour bunch, but some songs are more circular than others.
Olivia’s cutting line deliveries are really what make a song like “happier”, about the particular shell shock that comes with an ex’s swift rebound: “But she’s so sweet, she’s so pretty/Does she mean you forgot about me?” Other than that, there isn’t a ton to say about this sweet if (lightly) meandering piano ballad.
8. favorite crime
The shades of Folklore-era Taylor Swift are strong in this one, and the fluttering breakdown, coming just over halfway through this concise, tightly-written track, is executed perfectly. Liv borrows from true crime to draw some properly ominous imagery: “Doe-eyed as you buried me/One heart broke, four hands bloody.” Ouch!
Straight-up, the culture needed this song. Emotional cheating is real, it’s a scourge, and now we have the pop musical language to talk (belt in a bar) about it. Olivia wraps the bitter pill in organs and acoustic guitar, coming to a place of understanding — just not quite forgiveness.
6. hope ur ok
It’s an album closer iconic enough to merit a 1-hour loop edit on YouTube. Liv’s emotionally incisive writing really shines through this melancholy tribute to acquaintances she’s since lost touch with. “He wore long sleeves 'cause of his dad,” she writes of an unhappy boy from an ultra religious family. Bonus points for the riff right at the end, that sounds suspiciously like it was cut from the credits music for Avatar: The Last Airbender. IYKYK.
5. jealousy, jealousy
Now we’re getting into the real heat. A jaunty, occasionally discordant piano joins a steady, spunky bass rhythm that soundtracks an immersive spiral into resentment. “Their win is not my loss I know it's true,” she reasons, “but I can't help getting caught up.” It’s okay my girl, we’ve all been there!
4. drivers license
Ah yes, the OG. Something shifted when “drivers license” appeared one fateful day in January. Interpolating literal car noises into its melody, Olivia built a sombre, inventive earworm — about the emotional resonance of learning to drive, and how a particular relationship can inextricably make its way into the mundanities of life, poisoning them — and dropped it in the dead of pandemic winter. How could we not fall in love?
Now with a candy-coloured, Petra Collins-directed visualiser, the pure energy that “brutal” kicks off with more than earns it its first place track listing. A running pop punk confessional set to a merciless electric guitar, “brutal” gives us the pure thrill of unrestrained profanity in mainstream music: “I'm so sick of 17/Where's my fucking teenage dream?” Olivia snaps. “I want it to be, like, messy,” is the song’s spoken-word opener, and in some ways, the album’s thesis. You did that, queen!
2. good 4 u
This song is “Misery Business” for the TikTok generation. It taught Steven Soderbergh a few things about building tension. It’s pop rock perfection with the cherry of another Petra Collins music video on top. The cheerleader uniform and elbow-length latex gloves will be a Halloween costume for generations to come. The karaoke value is immeasurable, five stars.
1. deja vu
Where to start? The genius of this veritable sad banger lies with its gradual, unassuming build, sure. But what about that “Cruel Summer”-inspired bridge? How she dead-on nails the straight people ritual that is swapping each others’ outerwear? Has Billy Joel ever been evoked in a more cutting context? Personally, I will cry if I focus too hard on the emotion woven into that blown-out post-chorus synth.
“deja vu” is just that girl. It’s the delicately assembled, skilfully-executed story of a fairytale turned, well, sour. “I hate to think that I was just your type,” Olivia pouts in one line, gesturing at the realisations can irrevocably taint a shared history. The visuals she evokes are transportive, lush and yet completely pedestrian: sunny road trips, pink ice cream, "Uptown Girl". The vibes are immaculate, no notes.