Olivia Rodrigo’s Mainstream Nostalgia

Olivia Rodrigo performs onstage at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards on April 3, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Polk/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images)

“Drivers License” launched then-17-year-old Olivia Rodrigo into the global spotlight with eight weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in 2021. Her debut album “Sour” also shattered records when it was released four months later, and critics soon crowned her “the fresh face of Gen Z.” Two years later, Rodrigo’s new single “Vampire,” brings her back with more lavender-tinged nostalgia and adolescent angst. Listeners want more of both, and she has shown she is more than the one-hit wonder some feared she’d become. 

Teenage pop stars will always resonate with fellow teens, but Rodrigo’s confessional pop made that coveted leap into superstardom. Why are her songs about teenagers falling out of love and not being able to parallel park captivating? 

Rodrigo’s rise can be explained not in spite of her melodramatic musings but because of them. She captures complicated feelings of adolescence but packs them into three-minute singalong bops. And recalling younger and more vulnerable years is emblematic of a broader contemporary trend.

We’re in the throes of a summer that for many looks like glamorized teenage years. Younger and older adult women alike are reaching for multicolored friendship bracelets and glittery cherry earrings. Tens of thousands of fans dressed in the sparkliest outfits they could find and flocked to Taylor Swift’s or Beyonce’s record-breaking arena tours. Barbiecore (hot pink head to toe) and mermaidcore (shimmery, aqua, iridescent) are among the summer’s most prominent trends, catalyzed by the release of two of this summer’s biggest studio films. Rodrigo’s musical appeal correlates with this hyperstylized teenage aesthetic. 

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