Calla Kessler/The New York Times

Olivia Rodrigo at the 2021 Met Gala

March 28, 2022

Sour Memories and Sweet Music: ‘Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u (a SOUR film)’

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I associate pretty much every single song I’ve ever listened to with a specific time in my life, and every time I listen to that song, I feel nostalgic. Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, SOUR, which was released on May 21, 2021, will forever be memorialized to me as the soundtrack to the end of my senior year and graduating from high school. 

Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u (a SOUR film) was released on March 25, and although it is only 77 minutes long, in that time we get to see how every single song on SOUR is associated with a specific moment or memory in Rodrigo’s life and how the release of the album  was such a momentous time for her too. The documentary chronicles Rodrigo’s solo road trip from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, which is the same road she traveled countless times as a child star and where she wrote many of the songs on SOUR. 

She stops at the breathtakingly scenic places where she composed each song and performs a new version: “good 4 u” is performed in the middle of a desert with a full orchestra, showcasing the emotion of the seemingly grunge-angsty song. This arrangement helps Rodrigo’s feelings shine through, allowing the listener to understand the intensity behind the lyrics and making the song much more powerful.

It’s almost surreal to see Rodrigo look back on her life that has changed so drastically over the course of a year. Before her pop stardom, she was just a normal high school student. I remember watching her TikToks before she released “driver’s license,” listening to snippets of songs that she had written that have since been deleted from her account, still unreleased. Now, her fame has idolized her, turning a relatable, semi-famous girl on TikTok and Disney Channel into a popstar completely out of reach. However, the documentary brings her back down to Earth, allowing the audience to view her as a person who is just like us. After all, we are not that different: just as we associate songs with certain memories and times in our lives, she does too. 

Along her road trip, Rodrigo also recounts memories of creating her album with co-songwriter and producer Dan Nigro, showing footage from the studio. She goes into further detail about the experiences or moments she based each song on SOUR on. These scenes were filmed during the final production sessions for SOUR, so we don’t exactly see a complete view of their process. Still, it definitely makes the popstar much more relatable. For example, a few days before the final track list was due, Rodrigo was freaking out and decided that she wanted another upbeat song on the album. Out of nowhere, “brutal” was born, and the album was complete.

These moments in the studio and the scenes in which Rodrigo openly shares the thought processes that led to the creation of SOUR create an atmosphere of authenticity that seems to connect the audience to the popstar on a deeper level. 

The second single from SOUR, “deja vu,” addresses a past partner (presumed to be Joshua Bassett) who is in a new relationship and doing the same things with her that he did with Rodrigo. This is clearly a painful experience for Rodrigo, as it would be for any teenager going through their first breakup. Yet, Rodrigo struggled about whether she should portray her true emotions in the song. 

“I thought if I put this song out then I was also playing into this drama, love triangle, like ‘let’s hate on other girls’ thing, and I just did not wanna do that cause that’s not something that I feel,” Rodrigo said. This inside look into the struggle that went on behind studio doors makes the whole process seem much more real and almost easier to appreciate, as the audience now understands that not everything was as easy as the guitar riff for “brutal.”

When discussing the thought process behind “jealousy, jealousy,” Rodrigo described how she was “so obsessed with social media in a very negative way.” She said, “If you find yourself thinking about [social media] too much, I think you get so disillusioned from real life and nothing good can come from that.” The camera then panned to a sign in a gas station that read, “smile, you’re on camera,” tying the whole idea together. 

Rodrigo’s discussion of her struggle with social image is so powerful because it is so easy to think that people like her — who look so happy and are so successful — are completely put together and have everything in their lives figured out. However, Rodrigo made it clear that that was not the case at all. As her songs describe, she was not always happy, and even after her success, she didn’t feel like everything was fixed. She felt like she was alone and no one understood or related to her, saying, “I think by writing songs about exactly how I felt, I was creating a friend for me.” 

Even though the creation of her album came from moments of real pain, she created a friend for us listeners, too. Rodrigo felt alone while writing, but the success of SOUR makes it clear that she was not alone at all; instead, her experiences were more relatable than she thought. She said, “There’s nothing that connects people and there’s nothing that is a truer window into human emotion than music.”

Rodrigo’s road trip in the documentary demonstrates the power of nostalgia, as well as the idea that people can be nostalgic for memories that may not have been happy at the time, but mean something else now. Emotions and memories can change: Rodrigo’s memories may have been sour at the time, but the community of fans and music she has created is not sour at all — it’s sweet.

Freya Nangle is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].