When Olivia Rodrigo made her highly anticipated appearance on Saturday Night Live two weekends ago, the focus was mostly on the first song she performed: “Drivers License”. Over the winter, that out of nowhere debut had instantly turned her into a national (and global) pop sensation – even on the subject of a mash note from SNL. To say the least, she stuck with the landing: Rodrigo’s live “License” was essentially flawless, adding to the song’s vulnerability with fierce, wounded vocals that were somehow also controlled and insulted her 18 years of age. The media agreed: A superstar was born.

After this showstopper, Rodrigo’s second song of the night couldn’t help but feel like an afterthought – and a kind of head scratch given his tempo change. But that afterthought is now on Billboards Hot 100. And that song could ultimately prove more important to the Rodrigo narrative as it continues to take 2021 by storm.

“Good 4 U” – a quick kiss on a former lover who moved on too fast and Rodrigo’s second hit that debuted on America’s flagship chart – not only shows she’s more than a one-trick pony. It also confirms that Rodrigo’s rising fame is bigger than any other sound: as long as she delivers the hooks and heartbreak, her fans will follow her everywhere.

The punk tempo “Good” is a growling rock number, which is inconsistent with the sound of chart pop in the early 20s. It’s not really rock slash anything. It’s not alt-rock that is crossed with SoundCloud rap like the latest chart topper “Mood” by 24kGoldn and Iann Dior, no guitar-based trap pop à la Post Malone, no indie rock with bedroom pop hooks a la Taylor Swift’s latest creations. In fact, “Good 4 U” is the rock song in the middle that will beat the Hot 100 in a decade or more, depending on how liberally you define “rock” – perhaps since anthem rockers Fun in 2012 or Kelly Clarkson in guitar pop mode around 2009 or Plain White T’s in 2007 or Kurt Cobain help us out Nickelback in 2002.

That’s just part of what makes Olivia’s new single so wonderfully confusing. Usually, the industry practice with an aspiring artist, at that fragile moment when the public is still deciding on them, is to drop follow-up singles that recreate the breakout hit. This is a very well-tried formula that over the decades has been rewritten by all members of the Righteous Brothers (who “You have lost this loving feeling” as “(You are my) soul and inspiration”) and the Jackson 5 (“I Want You Back “became” ABC “) to Rick Astley (future meme” Never Gonna Give You Up “, shamelessly rewritten as” Together Forever “), LMFAO (” Party Rock Anthem “restarted as” Sexy and “) I know” ) and Post Malone (“Rockstar” sired “Psycho”). They were all Hot 100 chart toppers because the formula works.

In contrast, Rodrigo is now only three singles deep in her music career, all three tracks are at the top of the charts and no one sounds like the others. Three months after their torch ballad “Drivers License” debuted at number 1 (and topped it eight weeks in a row, the longest of all previous single this year), the ethereal mid-tempo art-pop of “Deja Vu” followed debuted at number 8, making Rodrigo the first new artist in Hot 100 history to get her first two singles straight into the top 10. Just six weeks later, the hypercaffeinated “Good 4 U” came in 8th first place. I’ll confess that I didn’t see it coming. While “Deja Vu” did very well for a Coattails hit, it did not duplicate its predecessor’s chart performance and fell out of the winners even before “License” did. Given the differences between “Deja” and “License”, it was impressive that it actually went so well. “Good 4 U” is an even bigger leap in sound. On the night Rodrigo played SNL, “Good” was a lot of fun but felt like a range – a newbie trying on a different outfit to show its breadth. I wasn’t alone. The reviews for “Good 4 U” were positive, but a little less exuberant. “The punk presence and the crispy guitars were perhaps a little less convincing than the driver’s license,” wrote a reporter for the Australian music broadcaster Triple J.

Only after SNL, when I was completely into the studio version of “Good 4 U “deepened, I realized how accomplished the song is.

The track is catchy. It starts with a neat five-note bass line played by Rodrigo’s producer-cowriter Dan Nigro. It’s probably my favorite bass kickoff to a song since Selena Gomez’s 2017 hit “Bad Liar” – and unlike Gomez, Nigro and Rodrigo don’t try their bass line off talking heads. There’s a little vocal sting – a polyphonic female sigh, probably a played-over bunch of Rodrigos – that sonically reconnects the track with the dreaminess of “Deja Vu” without copying anything. The verses are syncopated to fall from Rodrigo’s mouth. This song might not be rap rock, but Olivia has flow. The choir has the kind of pop symmetry that Max Martin would support: “Well, good for you! / You look happy and / HEAL-your / NOT me! / If you’d ever asked.” And then, on the way to the bridge – I’ll attribute that to mix engineer Mitch McCarthy – there’s this three-note guitar riff that is allowed to sound by itself before the full guitar solo begins, a kind of classic alt-rock dopamine rush, the I haven’t heard since then … maybe the gin blossoms?

Please forgive my old school speakers. Like Rodrigo’s “Drivers License,” which had music critics, including that No. 1 hit columnist who drew comparisons from Taylor Swift to Lorde to Billie Eilish, “Good 4 U” has enough signifiers to make scribes Reaching for her skirt encyclopedias. The song’s feminine punk-pop-pop energy is reminiscent of the Rock Hall of 2021, introducing the go-go or ’90s alt-grrrl styles of peak Alanis Morissette. At NPR Music, the critic Lindsay Zoladz emphatically argues that Rodrigo’s new album Sour, especially “Good 4 U”, degrades an emo and pop-punk mood and thus channels fame for all-male bands loved by the millennials, such as Brand New or New Found. Zoladz and several other critics, including Alexandra Fiorentino-Swinton in Slate, also hear Rodrigo reaching for wave first Avril Lavigne, thanks in part to Olivia’s plaid trouser and pocket chain stylings during her SNL performance of “Good”. (This outfit was the clearest sign of what era Team Rodrigo was trying to evoke. All that was missing was a dangling tie.) Given that Rodrigo wasn’t born until 2003, many online watchers have suggested that her most likely inspiration is none of these hitmakers before 2005, but more from Paramore front woman and soloist Hayley Williams. In fact, there are some pretty damn mashups already making the rounds on YouTube claiming that “Good 4 U” is basically a rewrite of Paramore’s 2007 moshworthy hit “Misery Business”.

Regardless of how Much she borrowed from previous generations of rockers and popsmiths, Rodrigo has already achieved something extraordinary in just three singles: early status as Gen-Z’s most eclectic new artist. The opening week stats for “Good 4 U” are quite remarkable. On radio, it already ranks 33rd among mainstream pop stations – even if “Deja Vu” and “Drivers License” are still in the top 20 of pop radio. Only Ariana Grande is currently working with so many singles on top 40 radio. In terms of digital sales, “Good” took fifth place with 12,000 downloads sold in the first week – not as explosive as the introduction of “License” in January, but around 60 percent higher than in the first week of “Deja Vu”. And Rodrigo’s streaming numbers are most impressive – in a week that returning rapper J. Cole dropped his new album and dominated the streaming services with a multitude of tracks, Rodrigo’s new single hit all with 43 million streams. A significant chunk of Rodrigo’s streams is likely coming from YouTube, thanks to the easy-to-watch Bring It On-meets-Natural Born Killers video.

Audiences totally chose the Olivia Rodrigo brand. What is … what exactly if the songs all sound different? Rodrigo is certainly striving for the stylistic breadth of her hero Taylor Swift, who made her own step towards punk-inspired pop in 2012 with “We Are Never Get Ever Together”, produced by Martin. But Swift generally sticks to a range of styles per album (e.g. country, electro-pop, indie) and instead shows its breadth in the area of ​​songs under that sound screen. Understanding that Rodrigo is still starting out and forging her identity, what draws audiences so quickly to her varied material?

If we want to draw parallels between what Rodrigo does and all of her ancestors of the 21st century, maybe we should compare her to one of the greatest superstars of all time: Adele. Until the British megastar decides to give her worshipers a sequel to her 2015 Smash 25, Rodrigo will be our reigning queen of heartbreak. In his very optimistic review of Rodrigo’s debut album, my Slate colleague Carl Wilson makes it clear: “Sour is a breakup album through and through. It covers the subject in a variety of styles, from folkie strums to screaming rants to tracks with a bit of groove. There are also plenty of recurring references that suggest the songs are split the same way. “

Hmm … a single album all inspired by a cad who broke the artist’s heart … does that sound familiar to me? And the special thing about the multiple top charts on the 21st was that they also went quite far in Adele’s soul-pop language: the modern Aretha from “Rolling in the Deep”, followed by the blatant piano-only ballad “Someone Like You ”with the mid-tempo torch song“ Set Fire to the Rain ”. OK, there’s no punk song in there (although she’s seen enough Adele with a bad mouth, I’m sure she could do it), but what connects the song is both Adele’s voice and her voice – i.e. her wounded person, like shown in the text. This is exactly what Rodrigo does over her hits: “You probably didn’t mean what you wrote about me in that song” (from “License”) generated “I made the jokes you tell her when she is with you “(from” Deja Vu “) testifies to” Do you remember when you swore to God that I was the only person who ever caught you? ” Well, fuck it and fuck it! “The progression from wounded to pounding to angry is the most natural thing about this episode of singles and is clearly just as addictive to the public as the stories that Charles Dickens published in the paper week after week.

There is no question that” Drivers License “among the songs that Olivia Rodrigo has released so far, is the song for which she is best known. Depending on where she goes from here, it may well be her legacy. But the reason I said above that “Good 4 U” could become even more important to her narrative emerging is because it confirms that Rodrigo is the real deal for both viewers – two of three # 1 debuts the immediate ones Top 10 are a stunning career starter – and the music business. The music industry complex already suggests that the 2022 Grammy Awards may be the Olivia Show, much like the 2020 Awards were the Billie Show and the 2012 Awards were the Adele Show. When and when this apparent inevitability hits next winter, remember that Rodrigo went from talented chance to a Capital A artist once she proved she could both scream and rock.

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