Tuesday, November 28th, 2023

Olivia Rodrigo – Get Him Back!

But mostly we hate the way we don’t hate this, not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.


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Ian Mathers: Wait a minute… there are two kinda contradictory meanings of “get him back”! I’m on to your tricks, Olivia Rodrigo.
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Wayne Weizhen Zhang: “Drivers License” and “Vampire,” the two definitive Olivia Rodrigo tracks, are arresting because of their emotional directness. When Olivia sings “You didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me” or “You made me look so naive,” it unleashes so much power and vulnerability because it feels like we, the audience, are eavesdropping upon a real, intimate, two-person conversation. “Get Him Back” flips this formula. The song plays like a drunken gossip session with a friend, or better yet, an inner monologue of confessions too embarrassing and honest to be said out loud. The guy that Olivia wants to get retribution against and reconciliation with is never addressed directly and almost irrelevant to the story, because this is all about Olivia unleashing every oddball thought she’s ever had about him. Olivia gets pigeonholed as a humdrum Disney Channel ballad princess, but this song is so deeply funny from the opening bars (“Wait, is this the song with the drums?”) to the way her therapist dad and his mom become tertiary characters in the plot.
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Michelle Myers: It would be difficult to argue that Olivia Rodrigo’s music is sonically innovative or even especially interesting. Once you get past the initial delight of “teen pop Breeders,” you’re left with a few sticky tunes and a trove of snappy one-liners you can append to an Instagram story you hope your crush and/or ex will like. Of her 2023 singles, “Get Him Back!” has the cleverest, most caption-worthy lyrics, which means it’s her strongest release yet.
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Katherine St Asaph: One of the weaker songs on Guts, “Get Him Back” is largely indistinguishable from various lightly sassy artists of pop past–midcareer Taylor, mostly–with bigger riffs but less punchy punchlines. And on the subject of pop past, given the widespread press salivation over Olivia’s influences it feels underremarked-upon that Fiona Apple already did a track with this conceit, and it was better.
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Oliver Maier: Olivia can be quippy to a fault, particularly in storytelling mode, but I find her sense of humour refreshing and pretty genuine — I can’t imagine this song working from someone like Taylor, even if this sounds like “We Are Never Getting Back Together” by way of Reputation. There are plenty of popstars who will tell you that they still fancy someone who was bad for them without daring to reach for a line as pathetic and self-exposing as “I want to make him lunch”. Hook’s good, too.
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Josh Love: As much as I love Taylor, she’s a huge dork who laughs at her own jokes (actually not a point against her in my book, but still). Olivia is so much naturally cooler and more withering, so she can sell a line like “He said he’s 6’2″ / I’m like ‘dude, nice try'” while hardly lifting an eyebrow. I also love how “I am my father’s daughter / So maybe I can fix him” subtly subverts the expectation that you’d hear “mother” there instead.
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Alex Ostroff: All of the attitude and humour and ’90s guitars of “Bad Idea Right?” filtered through Taylor’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and mid-career Avril. The chorus is the biggest and hookiest and poppiest on the album, so naturally it’s the one I like the least. Still, points for “I pour my little heart out / but as I’m hitting send / I picture all the faces of my disappointed friends” and “I wanna meet his mom, just to tell her her son sucks.”
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Nortey Dowuona: More piss-take Beastie Boys raps, bright excited chant chorus, the same disappointment from her friends, the excellent whisper “so maybe I can fix him.” But this one has the line “I want to meet his mom, just to tell her son sucks,” so it’s obviously better. And there’s a great guitar riff in the back, so it’s really better. And yes you got him good — his mom is typing an angry comment on a 2-years-dead blog to refute this.
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Michael Hong: “But I am my father’s daughter, so maybe I could fix him” is the kind of out-of-pocket thing your friend says to you, which you smile and laugh off because you’re not interested in starting a fight. Kind of bad, kind of fun, but Rodrigo’s final attempt to anthemize its final chorus with a lighter-up sing-along is an awkward conclusion to her giggled banter.
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Alfred Soto: Her commitment to writing like teens talk and thinking like teens write separates her from those who poeticize these states. “Get Him Back!” says what it needs in declarative sentences, which, if you think about it, are not how teens express themselves either. She seems immune to bad faith. 
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Jonathan Bradley: With a chorus that romps rambunctiously enough to set off the crowd at a late ’90s Warped Tour show, you might almost miss how well Rodrigo’s rapping captures the overthinker’s cursed inner-monologue. (Rodrigo is the kind of over-thinker quick with a witty quip and a self-aware observation.) “Brutal,” took the same tack, but that song was a doom spiral; this is anthemic enough to have an acoustic guitar break out strumming the bridge.
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Andrew Karpan: A thrillingly monster pop-punk riff dedicated to the subject of dating the kind of faceless rich people that Drake writes songs about wanting to be. Of course, being mid can be as contagious as anything else. 
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Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: My enjoyment of this perfectly good song has been significantly diminished ever since I figured out that she’s 100% doing the “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” flow.
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Aaron Bergstrom: Sometimes I just stop and reflect on how lucky I am to be living at a time when I can write the words “prominent Butthole Surfers influence” about one of the five biggest pop stars in the world, then come to find out that two major publications beat me to it. Long live our slacker-rock princess.
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Brad Shoup: Speaking of “Pepper,” “I can taste you on my lips/And smell you in my clothes” was a pop couplet about 20 years ahead of its time. That song was blanketed in a psychedelically surreal menace. That cloud isn’t here (only the ramshackle rap), but Rodrigo’s casual note about her ex’s temper makes the menace uncomfotably clear. The conceit is dichotomy, but not like the crazy/beautiful regurgitation of “Bad Things”. Doubling her vocal on the verses just makes thematic sense, but on the chorus, she multiplies: manufacturing consensus.
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Joshua Minsoo Kim: The weakest of the Guts singles, if only because the verses’ talk-singing is of narrative importance more than anything else. Rodrigo’s most awkward phrasing and strained attempts at cleverness are all over this, surely in the name of relatability. What ultimately sticks is the double meaning of the titular line; all this humdrum storytelling feels perfunctory when the dizziness and spontaneity of the chorus comes crashing through. The bombast is so polite that it could be a campfire chant, and the faux straight-laced presentation reflects the sophistication of her songwriting, leaving the rest of the track feeling comparatively shallow.
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Will Adams: Frustratingly anonymous by Rodrigo’s standards, “Get Him Back!” puts all its points on a massive shout-along chorus at the expense of having anything else to say.
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Frank Falisi: To attribute a maybe apocryphal sentiment to the piano man: the keyboard is a percussive instrument. You pound it and it creates its own space, space which, in turn, is filled by collapsing mallets. And what about percussion? Is this the song with the drums? The drums dictate melody! They’re meant to be sung to, like guitars. On “Get Him Back!”, all lower-case and exclamation bang, the drum set drags Olivia’s voice around that most familiar narrative: sour love, curdled absence, and the slip-rap hem-hawing of getting a half-beloved back. Her voice hits skin, halts, snaps and turns on a beat. What does it sound like? Who does it sound like? And then, the greatest trick a pop song can pull off: it reminds you of everything you can’t recall because you don’t have a name or word for it yet.
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Taylor Alatorre: Not since Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” has a tentpole pop single been constructed entirely out of the intention to cause as much visceral annoyance in one’s critics as possible. (Taylor made a few worthy attempts, but she couldn’t dethrone the Motherfucking Princess.) Going by the reviews, of course, Rodrigo doesn’t seem to have many capital-C Critics these days, but what can a song like this be other than a big-budget reaction to the idea that, somewhere out there, someone hates us? And the idea that, you know what would be really funny? If we made them hate us even more. Rodrigo takes this hyper-awareness of self and runs with it, making a virtue out of bratty petulance in a way that was thought to be extinct outside of bands with names like State Champs and FRND CRCL. Getting an acoustic breakdown with gang vocals onto pop radio in 2023 is an achievement in itself, and apart from the inexplicably Pinkerton-aping “All-American Bitch,” it’s the moment where Rodrigo’s simulacrum of a simulacrum of punk most approaches the real-fake thing. “Get Him Back!” is the aural equivalent of those Dark Brandon memes with the glowing red eyes, though distinctly different in that it requires less pretending and will likely age better in ten years.
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Hannah Jocelyn: I have no idea how “hits” work in 2023. I’ve been following this YouTuber named Spectrum Pulse for several years now, who’s spent the past decade meticulously tracking the Billboard charts. Those charts are something of a no-man’s-land right now, with years-old songs making dramatic comebacks, new records disappearing immediately after debuting at #1, and the entire fucking spectrum of country crowding out any pop or even rap (!). It reminds me a bit of the shift in 2016, when once-surefire hits like “Into You” underperformed in favor of moodier music. I don’t know where the shift is going now, if it’s even shifting to anything. What I do know is that a chorus like the one on “Get Him Back!” belongs to a smash, and it would have been one even a year ago. The double entendre of the title is wonderfully mischievous, Rodrigo sounds phenomenal, and Dan Nigro’s Passion Pit-aping production is as good as his work’s sounded since “Deja Vu.” It’s not a revelation like that song, one of the greatest pop songs of the 2020s so far, but it doesn’t have to be. Clearly, it wouldn’t matter if it was.
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Leah Isobel: Does “Get Him Back!” have the emotional weight of “Vampire” or the joyfully nihilistic invention of “Bad Idea Right?” No. Instead, it has something simpler: an absolute fucking 15-story kaiju monster of a hook. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
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Reader average: [7.8] (5 votes)

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