Thursday, May 27th, 2021

Olivia Rodrigo – Good 4 U

How about a thousand words of Discourse (TM)?


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Katie Gill: Seeing that everybody’s been comparing her to Lorde since the days of “Driver’s License,” Olivia Rodrigo sighs, calls up her agent, and says “let’s release ‘Good 4 U’ next. That way, everybody can see that I can do the 2000s ‘first single after leaving your Disney Channel show’ vibe as well as Lorde.” This is such a tonal departure from her first two singles but as someone who still rocks the hell out of “Misery Business” era Paramore, I find myself enjoying this more than her first singles. Maybe it’s just because this is a sound that hasn’t been as widely covered recently (even Paramore doesn’t sound like “Misery Business” Paramore these days) but there’s something delightfully fresh about the song and delightfully juicy about Rodrigo’s anger.
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Katherine St Asaph: The Olivia Rodrigo Discourse confuses me. I hear about the novelty of millennials pretending to be tweens and I’m like, did Carly Rae Jepsen never even happen (what the fuck is up with that)? I for one distinctly remember me and others listening to Kiss and Emotion and feeling like crushed-out, Lisa Frank-bedazzled 13-year-olds (and often acting accordingly). I hear Sour is the zoomer Jagged Little Pill, which just suggests that over 25 years later, people still don’t know what to make of Jagged Little Pill. I don’t hear Alanis anywhere on this, but it took me a while to figure out who I do hear: Fefe Dobson, specifically the rapidfire spite in the second verse of 2003’s “Bye Bye Boyfriend.” That’s kind of the thing, though; what confuses me most is the general consensus of “I wish I had stuff like this when I was a teenager,” because… we did have stuff like this as teenagers! You didn’t even need to be particularly feminist or alt; they played on TRL. (Did Michelle Branch’s “Are You Happy Now” not happen? Or even Taylor goddamn Swift?) And say what you will about their poppiness or authenticity — at least their version of rock doesn’t sound like they learned it from 2010s alt-rock radio.
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Ian Mathers: Parts of this could have absolutely been a hit when I was a teenager; that’s not why I love it, but it is noticeable. It mostly makes me think of the elements (maybe some musical, but honestly mostly not) that mean it probably wouldn’t have been a hit then, largely because of how much more rigid and enforced genre boundaries were. To think I lived through a time when at least ostensibly if you liked “rock” you didn’t like “pop” and vice versa (of course 1. plenty, maybe most of us weren’t actually that dogmatic in practice, but the narrative meant something and effected people 2. 2021 looks the distinctions between those two genres and rolls its eyes derisively), to say nothing of other genres, and that didn’t seem absurd. All of this has probably been in place for a while, and doesn’t really have anything direct to do with the fiercely despairing joy coursing through “Good 4 U,” but it still feels worth celebrating.
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Alfred Soto: She can shout over the guitars, a good thing. Rather than sulk she thinks herself out of the bad romance. She’s stronger when channeling Kesha’s self-mocking rage than Billie Eilish’s wheezing quasi-fragility. Who knows if she’ll be around a while. For now, “Good 4 U” suits mask-free post-vaccinated drives through an increasingly crowded city. 
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Michael Hong: There’s a difference between “4 u” and “for you.” One is sardonic and scornful, a “thanks but no thanks when you finally bother to remember that I exist,” the other is realistic, hopeful that next time they’ll see the you that you want to be, the you that was good enough. “Good 4 U” tends to look outward first, collapsing second and as much as Olivia Rodrigo might try to redirect, it always seems to come back to her. Redirects to other artists, like the Billie Eilish vocal styling, that makes every line on the bridge round off into a sigh, directly on the cusp of vulnerability and insecurity. Then there’s the redirect to the “goddamn sociopath,” where Rodrigo, in the lead-up to the second chorus, sacrifices melody to fit the last word in, but it always comes back to Rodrigo and her own insecurities. There’s something truly earnest about that.
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Wayne Weizhen Zhang: For a star who rose to fame singing, “You didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me,” comes a delightfully petty screed about an ex in which it is quite self-evident that she does, in fact, mean every word.
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Dorian Sinclair: The star of the show in “Good 4 U” is, indisputably, the lead vocal line. The lyrics of the verses absolutely dismantle a shitty ex, and Rodrigo’s sneering, dismissive delivery is perfectly matched to the content. The second verse, where her sheer exhaustion with this dude loosens both the melody and rhythm more and more until that final shout of frustration, is pitch perfect. The production matches the tone well, with the fuzzy, scrappy guitar and those fabulous backing vox, which somehow manage to sigh sarcastically. The weak point — somewhat ironically, given where the praise for “Drivers License” centred — is the bridge, which spins its wheels for just a little too long, robbing the song of its momentum.
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Al Varela: If “Drivers License” convinced me that Olivia Rodrigo was someone to look out for, “Good 4 U” convinced me that she is a star. We’re exactly at the point where this kind of pop-rock is nostalgic and in need of a comeback, and she delivers in spades. It takes the angrier emotions of her breakup and lashes them out against a great guitar groove and an unforgettable hook. It’s exactly the kind of teenage breakup song that will soundtrack so many people dealing with shitty exes and let out that catharsis. Sure it’s very high school, but sometimes we gotta allow ourselves to revert back to that time in our lives where every emotion felt like the end of the world. 
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Thomas Inskeep: You’re just a sk8er boi, she said “see ya later boy.”
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Andy Hutchins: “LIKE A DAMN SOCIOPATH!” is so good, so cathartic as vindication for the archetypally vindictive character Olivia Rodrigo is playing here — and that billions of human beings can identify with — that I’m not sure any other analysis of “Good 4 U” truly matters. That line can strikes anyone who hasn’t understood an ex in the ex post facto portion of a breakup, will sear for decades as delivered to close this song, and will be roared at the concerts Rodrigo will thrill at this summer. Heretical though it may be to say this, I think it probably eclipses any single line that Taylor Swift mustered on her teenager-era albums, though your mileage may vary on whether Dan Nigro as co-writer is more of an assist than the helping pen Liz Rose lent those early Swift works. But of course “Good 4 U” is the rare Rodrigo song that mostly is not stealing from Swift, instead splicing together about as much from a certain breakthrough by Hayley Williams and the brothers Farro as can be done without the miserable business of giving a writing credit. And while it sidesteps the slut-shaming that Williams eventually deemed too toxic to make “Misery Business” worth continuing to perform live, “Good 4 U” suffers a bit in comparison from turning some of its hurricane intensity inward: The portion of Rodrigo’s passive-aggressive lyrics that sound as though they could be delivered in parenthesis (“If you even cared to ask”) sound like setup for the final haymaker on repeat listens, and “Your apathy’s like a wound in salt” just doesn’t work. Hayley is fucking stoked to win her man: “I watched my wildest dreams come true/Not one of them IN-VOL-VIIIIING” soars to somewhere in low Earth orbit, guitar and drums duel, and then comes the final version of the chorus that gives each piece of the symphony its shine. Rodrigo doesn’t have the rocker’s pipes to match that sort of rousing celebration of self, though, and “Good 4 U” doesn’t really want to put the flames to her own feet for not moving on: It’s more fun to wallow, even if that allows little forward motion. It’s just that that traction has a price, artistically: “LIKE A DAMN SOCIOPATH!” is a hot line, and “Good 4 U” a hot song I have no problem forecasting as the front-runner for Song of the Summer, but it’s still a pretender to the throne it aspires to swipe.
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Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: It feels obvious to write about how good Rodrigo’s vocal performance here is; she hits every point within the post-breakup emotional matrix here and sells them ruthlessly. There’s something of Debbie Harry at Blondie’s most insouciant in the way she occupies the dual position of ironic commentator and full, un-ironic embodier of feeling, the ambiguity clear in the desperation of the sing-talk on the second verse. Unlike on “Drivers License,” where irony would diminish the melodrama, it here serves as another layer of acid — she knows that it’s not that deep, but she’s pissed off regardless. And yet when I think about “Good 4 U” I most of all think of Dan Nigro and Alexander 23’s production work as perfect set dressing. It’s the precision of the bass and the chrome of the guitars, sure, but it’s also a thousand other little details in the mix, in the slight percussive downwards synth line accentuating the second verse or the overdrive on Rodrigo’s vocals. It’s not quite pop punk in its stylings — it’s better, a perfect backdrop for Rodrigo’s performance.
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Alex Clifton: https://youtu.be/7pGV2HnS0v8
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Danilo Bortoli: Sour has inspired a ton of pieces on the generational gap between millennials and Gen Z. They all attest the obvious: the gap exists and, somehow, Olivia Rodrigo is the natural scapegoat to some sort of nostalgia for the 00s. These pieces display the hideous trend to arrogantly downplay a newer generation’s ethos, with two glorious exceptions being Lindsay Zoladz’s take about lower-case girls, and this particular TikTok (ha) tackling millennial anxiety. The answer may be not to put the focus on nostalgia itself, which, as we know, is 70% not exactly nostalgia, bust just thinking something was really cool back then. Yet, listening to her with the ears of an irritable and hopeless twenty-something is irresistible. That said, a lot of the Discourse™ on “Good 4 U” has been centered around how it sounds like Paramore, and even how it is a repacking of riot grrrl. Rodrigo here may sound like a Hollywood Records signee, but that is not the most important thing. It’s her defiance and range: “I guess that therapist I found for you, it really helped” cuts deep just as the bridge which, just like in Taylor’s songs, is essential for escalating the angst. The wall of sound reminds me, remotely, and this is a stretch, of Big Black. The wit, “Since U Been Gone.” The trick is that she knows this is all good, old pastiche. It works, well, mainly because people like me enjoy being nostalgic towards the start of a decade. Maybe that is just people collectively realizing the passage of time – in other words, that they have aged. That is why maybe I may need songs like this one. One more time, pop music is a source of escapism for the disillusioned. The thing is, maybe I’m the one who needs a therapist. God, what a twist.
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