Friday, April 9th, 2021

Olivia Rodrigo – Deja Vu

Olivia Rodrigo – Deja Vu


[Video][Website]
[7.75]

Dede Akolo: The drum breakdown was what sold me. Its release from the tension of the verse breaks my heart a little. This feels like the jokey-quirky cousin to “Drivers License” and the summer deserves it. I would be jealous of this zoomer if it wasn’t for the fact that I just love pop music. Rodrigo reminds me why I love pop music.
[9]

Alex Clifton: You can’t own an experience, like playing someone your favourite Taylor Swift song for the first time or showing them your secret spot in the library where you get a view of campus from the third floor. I know this. But logic never factors into my feelings, and it feels like a giant betrayal when you share vulnerable slices of yourself with someone only for them to take those and appropriate them for their next relationship. You end up wondering how important you were in the first place. I love how Rodrigo turns this on its head by being vitriolic at her uncreative ex rather than the new person they’re dating. It’s delightfully petty (something I revel in, even as I close in on 30) and cathartic beyond words. The production is occasionally a little cutesy (the background “ha-ha-ha”s, “singing in harmony” kicking in with another voice) but those are minor quibbles. I have fun every time I listen to it, despite being far away from dramatic teen relationships, and continue to enjoy watching Rodrigo blossom as a songwriter.
[9]

Katie Gill: This song lives and dies on all the little details. Strawberry ice cream, sharing jackets, playing a Billy Joel song (that honestly I’m not entirely sure why he’s playing to begin with, “Uptown Girl” isn’t one of his piano songs, Olivia). It’s all very aggressively teenage in the same way that “Drivers License” is. And hey, it doesn’t sound as aggressively store-brand Lorde as “Drivers License” did. But I kind of wish the song was a bit… more. Like I said, it lives and dies on all the details. All three of them. Likewise, I kind of wish it was a bit more angry? It feels like there should be some real anger behind this. But instead, the main emotion is just “loud.”
[5]

Alfred Soto: I cringed when she cooed/coyed her way through the first chorus as much as she uses a memory about “Uptown Girl” as reflexive commentary on her own songwriting. But the Antonoff-indebted production clatters and tumbles, and the backing vocals alternate between taunts and encouragements. Here’s hoping pop radio has no trouble with the distorted guitar bit on the outro.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: The smartest thing about “Deja Vu” is that its subject matter hands it an automatic defense mechanism. Can you really criticize a song for sounding too much like Lorde or Taylor Swift or the bedroom pop artist of your choice, when it contains the lyric “she thinks it’s special, but it’s all reused”? But this metatextual armor wouldn’t hold up as well if the song weren’t so structurally cohesive and thematically sure of itself. The main villain here is not really the ex, but the teenage veneration of uniqueness and authenticity, an ideal which can seem like the most important thing in the world until you run up against its obvious limits. Rodrigo jabs at this ideal when she points out that both she and the other woman are actresses, a casual aside that uncorks a world of meaning. Maybe those cute but dorky date activities were never the product of a genuine, unmediated attachment; maybe all it was, all it could ever be, was a scripted performance. Thankfully, Rodrigo leaves it up to the listener to dwell on the heavier stuff, while she instead keeps the show rolling with her shoutalong vocals and scuzzy synth lines and sly interjections of attitude. In doing so, she transforms a diary of private insecurities into what all the best break-up songs are: a socially sanctioned display of righteous pettiness.
[9]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s more daring to sound bitter than it is broken, not least as it’s less likely to be embraced, but that’s what makes “Deja Vu” more interesting than “Drivers License”. The smirking self-satisfaction is more feature than bug, and more maladaptive pain than satisfaction in the first place. As the expurgation of the feelings of someone in the throws of believing they are the first to ever be burned in this way, it is — gossip-baiting aside — sharp.
[7]

Samson Savill de Jong: This is just delightfully catty. If the last one was a good encapsulation of teenage melodrama, this is at least as good an encapsulation of teenage bitchiness, and it’s fucking funny. It’s also musically superior to “Drivers Licence”, which was carried by its emotional authenticity but wasn’t a particularly good song to listen to. I think this has got more ideas in its music, sounds more surefooted about what it wants to do, and as a result is a lot punchier. We’ve had denial, this one is anger; presumably Olivia will be making bargaining, depression and acceptance songs before she’s done with this break-up, and then hopefully she’ll find something else to talk about because I imagine this will wear thin.
[7]

Austin Nguyen: “Deja Vu” is supposed to prove Olivia Rodrigo can have teeth when she wants to: On top of ice-cream-jingle piano keys (and the closest thing I’ve heard in pop to “deadinthewater”), she offers forced and lackadaisical laughter, smirks with the head-tilting pretension of Regina George, and wrings sarcasm out of the same portamentos that collapsed out of abandonment on “Drivers License” (see also: the chorus of ooh’s that came back for round two). Of course, that also means another pro forma stab at Sabrina Carpenter (who is probably in the process of writing “Flesh”), but the moment that we should be clinging to is the one that barely cuts through, a glimmer of introspection that grasps at the reason why Olivia is still churning out songs from the same source material: that “I love you” whispered around 2:14. It risks undercutting the rest of the song’s bitterness, and yet, Rodrigo only comes back bolder afterwards — until she’s belting in her own “Bad Blood” moment.
[7]

David Moore: This reminds me in vibe and melody and maybe a bit in structure of Radiohead’s “No Surprises”: subtle song-length crescendo, repetition of a phrase after ambiguous verse/bridges. (Oh, maybe “Drivers License” was her “Lucky”? *O*R Computer? Is that anything?) The little hops up to falsetto in a stealthy first chorus kickstart a second half that rocks much harder than it needs to — the drums! And I especially like the part where she imagines the old “him” telling the new “her” he loves her “in between the chorus and the verse,” which, appropriately, is where this song lives, never quite deciding on the proper delineation.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Take 2: the poppin pianos listing behind Olivia’s flowing croon evoking even more Lorde as the hobo synths hover. Then the drums fall out of the sky, wings burning from the flame of the ripping match synths, and Olivia is stabbing it, her contempt and regret oozing from the punctured kicks, wishing and hoping bitter thoughts as ripping synths snatch her away from emo hell into the claws of the Mouse —
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: Rodrigo leans into the Lorde-isms on “Deja Vu,” and let’s be real: how great that Lorde is becoming increasingly influential on a legion of teenage pop stars. The production here (by Dan Nigro) sounds v Antonoff x Finneas, and that’s not a bad thing, either; Nigro and Rodrigo’s songwriting on “Deja Vu” is whip-smart, too. These two know what they’re doing in the studio. I believe her vocal, and the emotion she delivers through it.
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Olivia Rodrigo is too clever and tapped into the pop discourse she inhabits for a line like “Let’s be honest, we kinda do sound the same” to be a mere coincidence, right? Sure, following up the biggest single in the world was always going to be a challenge, but Rodrigo has had the unique misfortune of trying to brand herself as something more than just a Disney Channel version of Lorde or Taylor Swift. To a certain extent, the comparisons are fair game — the way she shouts “I know you get deja vu!” sounds so Swiftian I did a double take — but I’m much more interested in how Rodrigo is building off the foundations laid forth by her predecessors, rather than simply emulating them. What I hear in “Deja Vu” are some genuinely fresh and compelling songwriting perspectives. Yes, Rodrigo is doing the thing where she blows up the hyper-specific details of a relationship into universal proportions (Glee, strawberry ice cream, sharing jackets), but in other ways, she is flipping the trope on its head. There’s an unexpected rejection of romanticism and sentimentality in lines like “She thinks it’s special, but it’s all reused” or “A different girl now, but there’s nothing new.” She’s directly talking about the ways relationships — and the musical tropes that come with them — have been recycled and commodified. Maybe it’s because of the way that Gen Z grew up doom-scrolling through circular TikTok, Twitter and Tinder content, or because Rodrigo rose to fame on a show literally named High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, but I can’t help but feel like “Deja Vu” has some baked-in meta-commentary about societal and generational malaise that has never been explored in this aesthetic package. It’s enrapturing, complex, gorgeous — and for the moment, feels like something entirely of her own.
[8]

Reader average: [8.3] (10 votes)

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4 Responses to “Olivia Rodrigo – Deja Vu”

  1. Austin, the idea of Sabrina Carpenter’s “Flesh” has me creasing

  2. If I’m actually right….that’s an automatic [0] if we cover it; I will not be able to contain myself.

  3. I was not the first person to hear “No Surprises,” credit where it’s due https://mobile.twitter.com/Philip_Cosores/status/1377659059860467713

  4. Lol I *just* got that subhed (meaning I think I didn’t even register it the first time!)

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