Poetry and Music Pairings: Olivia Rodrigo Edition
Photo Credit: Brett Jordan
With five of its songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it’s safe to say Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR has become a cultural phenomenon. Its diaristic nature—with Rodrigo credited as a songwriter on all 11 tracks—as well as its themes of heartbreak and coming-of-age present many parallels to poetry. These five collections channel SOUR’s clear sense of voice and distinct honesty.
“brutal” and letters to the person i was by Sana Abuleil
“If someone tells me one more time, ‘Enjoy your youth,’ I’m gonna cry,” sings Rodrigo on her album’s opening track, an edgy and vulnerable tribute to the teenage years. In letters to the person i was, Sana Abuleil similarly questions the messages she received as a teen and imparts the wisdom she wishes someone would’ve shared with her. With sections like “the innocence” and “the growing,” letters to the person i was is a turbulent journey. Like Rodrigo, Abuleil speaks out against the pop-culture concept of the “teenage dream,” reflecting a more complex—and, yes, brutal—reality.
“traitor” and The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson
Distrust, potential infidelity, and betrayal: All of these themes come to an operatic crescendo on Rodrigo’s “traitor.” From the end of one relationship to the questionable beginnings of a new one, the track takes listeners on a wild, emotional ride in just under four minutes. Similarly, Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband chronicles the dissolution of a long relationship and the scandal that caused it.
“deja vu” and Daryl Hall is My Boyfriend by Erica Lewis
With mentions of Billy Joel and reruns of Glee, “deja vu” is awash in cinematic nostalgia. Erica Lewis’s Daryl Hall is My Boyfriend is also defined by pop culture, orienting readers in the vibrant landscape of the ’70s and ’80s. Through the lens of Hall & Oates songs, Lewis explores Rodrigo’s central themes of infatuation, love, and heartbreak. Each poem is a rich and poignant flashback, much like the montage Rodrigo paints with details of strawberry ice cream and a lover’s jacket.
“favorite crime” and Jimmy & Rita by Kim Addonizio
It’s Rodrigo and her ex against the world in “favorite crime,” a slow-burn ballad that references sirens and alibis. Jimmy & Rita shows its titular couple living a life of crime and struggle in San Francisco, embodying tough love as they cling to each other and dream of other realities.
“hope ur ok” and Shame Is An Ocean I Swim Across by Mary Lambert
As the last track on SOUR, “hope ur ok” sees Rodrigo wistfully reminiscing on her younger years, wondering where old friends have ended up, and showing support for the queer community. Mary Lambert—a fellow musician and the author of Shame Is An Ocean I Swim Across—does the same, returning to her childhood to find deep, often painful inspiration and to stand proudly in her lesbian identity.
Ready to add more music pairings to your poetry playlist? Check out Read Poetry’s Taylor Swift poetry pairings roundup.