Thursday, September 9th, 2021

Olivia Rodrigo – Traitor

Among Us tie-in being finalized as we speak…


Al Varela: Another grand slam for Olivia Rodrigo, whom I’m just about ready to crown the queen of Gen Z teenage angst. Once again, what she’s doing is incredibly simple: the heartbreak of seeing an ex move on makes all of your ugliest emotions leak out uncontrollably. But unlike “Good 4 U,” which unleashes the raw anger and fury building up inside Rodrigo, “Traitor” is a sad kind of angry. She wants to lash out further but is so overwhelmed with hurt and sadness that all she can do is wail and stomp her foot as she loses control of her emotions. It’s not a pretty scene. At a cursory glance, you may call it immature and pathetic. But that doesn’t matter when Olivia’s intensity and quivering voice overwhelm any sense of common sense or rationality; it really does feel like a betrayal. And that final chorus where she crescendos into a powerful high note sends chills down my spine like you wouldn’t believe.

Nortey Dowuona: The song begins with warm, soft vocals and pianos, and every chorus fades into silence at Olivia’s bitter utterance of her ex’s treachery. And each time the song builds and strums, it never blows up: it simply hums as Olivia swings in the air, then fades into blackness.

Austin Nguyen: You already know the story–this time, wounded two-part SSAA vocals set to a funerary church organ and years-old churning underwater thumps. The only surprise is that Mazzy Star hasn’t received a couple hundred thousand dollars for that lilting guitar strum. Or is it supposed to be Taylor Swift?

Edward Okulicz: The thing about doing something a whole bunch of times is that eventually you hit on the best version of it. “Traitor” is the best track on Sour, the one where her breakup story feels most visceral and her performance is the most vivid, and the one that you can enjoy or get catharsis from in the most ways. Want to sway and mope? Want to wail and cry? Want to yell the lyrics at a mirror while ripping up photos? This song is the ideal soundtrack to any of those, and a genuine successor to “You Oughta Know” or “Caught Out There.” Yep, that good.

Katherine St Asaph: I’m sorry, but if I had this single when I was 15, I’d give it away and exorcise my teenage angst with music that sounds like angst. The word “traitor” is well chosen, a girl grappling with the realization that there are more ways to be hurt by partners than there are words for them. (Works better in a chorus than “backburnering,” at least.) Toward the bridge, Olivia’s singing finally loses its measured hesitance to sound like she might actually be hurting — but hurt is too strong an emotion for the sedate Christina Perri arrangement to permit or indulge. Amazing how that can make me not relate to something you’d really think I would.

Michael Hong: The drama of “Traitor” is best in its dynamics, like the swoop of the chorus as Rodrigo suddenly finds herself and chooses her words with precision to eviscerate an ex. “Traitor” is honest until it isn’t, and when Rodrigo’s words become melodramatic exaggerations on the bridge, it feels easier to feel pity toward her than sympathy. Meanwhile, the music — especially the monotonous melody — could probably use a little bit of drama.

Oliver Maier: Does Phoebe Bridgers get a writing credit for this one? At least a vocal coaching credit, surely.

Jeffrey Brister: Rodrigo does a pretty good Hayley Williams impression. The hard breaks in the melismatic runs, that slight guttural snarl when leaning into notes, that ability to shift between steely and weepy without trying — it checks all the boxes, and adds another layer with that back-of-the-throat singing that’s so en vogue now. But it still feels like a middling musical theatre performance of Hayley Williams. No amount of big choruses and swooping melodic lines with dense harmonies can hide that.

Alfred Soto: A summer-long exposure to “Good 4 U” and “Brutal” convinced me: I prefer Olivia Rodrigo in pop-punk brutalist mode. While her untutored empathy blunts the power of the guitars, it’s left to its own devices on a ballad and I tug at my collar. Subverting six decades of girl band expectations has its own power; she’s not Ronnie Spector but closer to Lesley Gore, not giving a fuck about who sees her crying.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Few songwriters are able to craft hooks with the precision, vulnerability, and bite of “Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor.” Olivia sings “I know that you’ll never feel sorry” with enough affect to make the intended feel sorry after all. 

Alex Clifton: “Traitor” feels very young. That’s not an insult — I just can’t access that same kind of headspace anymore now that I’m nearly 30. But my heart remembers just how bad it hurt whenever she sings “god I wish that you had thought this through / before I ever went and fell in love with you.” Some of the rhymes are a little clunky, but the hurt in her voice really carries the song. I’ve preferred the more upbeat songs from the album but there’s nothing quite like a vulnerable ballad for your worst days, is there?

Reader average: [6.5] (2 votes)

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One Response to “Olivia Rodrigo – Traitor”

  1. Oh wow, Katherine on the money as always. Never realized this is a Christina Perri song.

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