Popular culture

Olivia Rodrigo, okay? Because your music worries me

I admit, before hearing that Olivia Rodrigo was invited to the White House to encourage young people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, I had never heard of her. My daughter, who is in third grade and therefore knows much more about popular culture than her apparent fossil mother, quickly rectified this situation.

She grabbed my phone, did a few swipes and taps, and said “Good for you” into the microphone. Instantly, a guitar riff fills the car. As we bounce back for good for you 4, it reminded me of the girly rock I used to listen to in the stone age – I mean, the 90s. The song is catchy and cynical, everything I needed when I was a girl, me throwing into relationships that I was completely unprepared for.

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Before long I had the whole album, SOUR, in repetition. We had learned the tunes and sung the choruses half a dozen times before we had a chance to process their meaning.

“I think all of these songs are about the same relationship,” my daughter said.

“Man, I hope not,” I said. Because while I can relate to the words Rodrigo sings, I wouldn’t wish some of the situations in his songs on anyone. And she was 17 when the album came out, a mere embryo in my old eyes.

Having spent years coming to terms with my own traumatic past, I am sensitive to these messages, especially when they come from people so young and so easy for other unwitting children to consume.

Rodrigo sings of grief, of course. What would music be without hymns of rupture and cutesy memories?

But she also repeats the themes of trying to keep someone who doesn’t love and appreciate her, of staying with someone even when she suspects them of being unfaithful, and of doing things that she doesn’t like. she didn’t want to do anything to please someone she thought she wanted. be with.

I identify with these ideas so much that I have flashbacks just from writing about them. I did all of these things too, from an early age, because I desperately needed to be loved and cared for. But these are not the building blocks of healthy relationships; these are warning signs of dysfunction and emotional abuse.

1 step forward, 3 steps back struck a special chord with me. After spending my teenage and teenage years looking for love and doing whatever it took to make boys want me, at 17 I landed squarely in a pit of emotional torture. And I didn’t fall into it; I dived head first and swam for almost two years. Half of college is over before I get some fresh air.

Sam didn’t want me. He was much more focused on living in a perpetual drunken state than on having a girlfriend. But I chased him anyway.

He came when he wanted company and disappeared when he didn’t. And, once we settled into the shadow of a relationship, I found myself walking on eggshells because I never knew when the light in his eyes would darken.

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“All I did was talk normal / Somehow I struck a chord again,” Rodrigo sings, and it brings me back to all the perfectly normal conversations that are gone south because… well, over two decades later, I still don’t know why the switch flipped. —

And the things he said. The names he called me, the things he brought up from my past, the things he confessed to doing behind my back. He knew exactly how to get caught up in my insecurities, and it broke me.

Later, she sings, “And maybe in a masochistic way / I find it all exciting / Like, what lover am I gonna have today / Will you walk me out the door or send me home crying ?”

The idea that a victim enjoys the abuse is pervasive and harmful.

It minimizes the victim while empowering the aggressor. No one searches for abuse because it’s fun. We’re looking for it ’cause that’s all we know. Or, as Rodrigo says later in the song, “…roller coasters are all I’ve ever had.”

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We don’t have healthy relationship patterns, and if we do, they aren’t strong enough to counter the deep need for connection that for some reason has gone unfulfilled in our lives. And seeing dysfunction normalized in pop culture only reinforces these troubling ideas.

The problem with the music is that it sneaks in through the back door. We passively consume it in the background until it’s incorporated into the cultural canon, and most of us don’t spend much time questioning it.

As much as we want to assume it goes over the kids’ heads, somewhere it’s in there, retreating into their blueprint of what a relationship is.

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SOUR is catchy. But it’s also a huge red flag.

If even half of the stories in these songs are true, I’m really worried about Olivia Rodrigo’s mental state. And, even if they’re not, some record executives thought it appropriate for a seventeen-year-old model to release music (co-written with a man 20 years her senior, by the way. bystander) that normalizes abusive relationships.

Olivia, I hope you are well. And I also hope your next album is full of songs that empower the millions of young people who listen and don’t even mention this abusive jerk once.

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Nikki Kay writes about fiction, poetry, personal essays on parenting, mental health, and the intersection of the two.