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What's the opposite of "brutal?" Because it sure isn't brutal out here for any fans of Olivia Rodrigo's music.
After the young actress launched her music career earlier this year with debut single "Drivers License," she continued to drop fire tracks leading up to the release of her first album Sour — which EW is already calling one of the best albums of 2021. And then in May, season 2 of her Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series premiered, delivering even more incredible musical performances from the talented singer-songwriter.
And while there's no comparing the songs on Sour to what Rodrigo sings on HSMTMTS — because honestly, how could you compare her unprecedented chart-topping, record-smashing, pop-punk/power ballad balancing act with Disney-fied musical theater pop? — we can rank all of Rodrigo's performances as her onscreen alter ego Nina "Nini" Salazar-Roberts (including only the original music that features her performing alone, as part of a duet, or in a group number where she has a solo).
And now that the season 2 finale is streaming, EW writers Sydney Bucksbaum and Marcus Jones looked back at all of Rodrigo's numbers from both seasons, debated at length, and voilà — we give you the definitive ranking of all of Rodrigo's songs on HSMTMTS.
12. "I Think I Kinda, You Know (Duet)"
Look, everybody has to start somewhere. This saccharine duet is actually incredibly effective narratively, conveying where Nini and Ricky (Joshua Bassett) are at in the beginning of the series. They're a couple that's been pining over each other since grade school, but are shaky about how their relationship is maturing, hence Rodrigo singing cutesy lyrics like "Guess I'm saying I don't not love you." It fits at the bottom of our list because it's meant to be dorky and to also show the growing pains Nini and Ricky are not just going through as high schoolers, but as budding singer-songwriters. — Marcus Jones
11. "Born to Be Brave"
This is a great ensemble anthem that gives me a lot of "Born This Way" vibes — but it's not much of a showcase for Rodrigo. This is her costar Dara Reneé's song to shine instead, which is why it's so low on our Rodrigo ranking. It's still a solid bop though! — Sydney Bucksbaum
10. "YAC Alma Mater"
I'm happy to concede that the lyrics to this song make absolutely no sense to anyone who has not actually watched HSMTMTS. However, try to ignore them and you might hear how the simple melody complemented by the ukulele sounds almost like a lost interlude to Sour. The minute-long track is a testament to how great a performer Rodrigo is in that, as pleasing as her vocals are, Nini's skepticism about her new school still shines through. — MJ
9. "Out of the Old"
Not going to lie, this is already starting to get difficult. I feel like this song should be ranked higher because it's such a strong performance from Rodrigo that shows off her incredible vocal control and range, but when the rest of the list is full of even more elite songs, "Out of the Old" has to land here. This feels extremely natural for the actor, almost like it's something she'd sing as herself and not just as Nini ... just a few years earlier than her Sour phase. — SB
8. "I Think I Kinda, You Know (Nini Version)"
Let's put aside the cringe nature of how the song is debuted on the show, as Nini tells Ricky that she loves him through a social media post and he breaks up with her for it. Because the song is actually really sweet! The mellow, emotional ballad paired with the ukulele shows off Rodrigo's softer side in a way that the duet version doesn't. — SB
7. "Second Chance"
This quartet performed in the Season 2 finale of the Disney+ series seems engineered to make each performer shine. While Nini's verse is a bit forgettable compared to Ricky's opener, and the welcome pairing of EJ (Matt Cornett) and Gina (Sofia Wylie), her harmonies perfectly tie everything together, and sell how emotional this moment is for the four students. "I'm finding who I want to be" is both a haunting, beautiful refrain and a neat summary of Nini's story arc. — MJ
6. "Even When/The Best Part"
On paper, two acoustic, midtempo love songs overlapping each other seems like it'd be a cacophony. Instead, it's one of the show's strongest setpieces. Nini and Ricky are far more confident here than their "I Think I Kinda You Know" days, resulting in smooth, sunny vocal performances that warms our hearts. While we enjoy Rodrigo at her most Sour, she is just as satisfying when she's sweet. — MJ
Ashlyn (Julia Lester) kicks off this gorgeous, swelling ballad like a mini-Adele. Then Nini comes in to join and — wow. This is a powerhouse duo, and the second half of the song gives Rodrigo a chance to hit the highest notes of her life before belting alto like her life depends on it. Absolutely. Play that again. — SB
4. "Just for a Moment"
This song is a key moment in Olivia Rodrigo lore because she actually co-wrote it with Joshua Bassett, and once you give it a listen, there's no wonder why it spurred subsequent dating rumors. They literally sing "Is it just a part we're playin'? 'Cause it don't feel like we're fakin'" at one point. Come on now! Anyhow, Rodrigo sounds like she's walking on air here, and it's helpful to be familiar with her highest highs in order for her lowest lows (think: "Traitor") to be that much more of an emotional wallop. — MJ
When I first heard this song I called it "Rodrigo's best solo yet." And while I stand by that praise at the time, it's not quite No. 1 on this list because I think recency bias played a part. I was (and still am) blown away by how much her performance in this song shows how much she has grown as a singer. And since this was recorded before Sour came out, it's technically a prequel to the teen angst she displays in tracks like "Brutal" and "Good 4 U." I love the biting emotion in her vocals — it was a new style for Nini (and, at the time of filming, Rodrigo as well) that clearly works. — SB
2. "The Rose Song"
Nini's own "Drivers License" breakout moment absolutely delivered ... and then some. Season 2 of HSMTMTS was uncannily similar to Rodrigo's real-life journey as a musician as Nini went viral on social for a song she wrote and sang, and the song in question — told from the perspective of the rose in Beauty and the Beast — rivals Rodrigo's season 1 smash hit "All I Want." The empowering anthem starts off soft and restrained until she lets loose in the swelling second verse, pouring every ounce of emotion and talent she has into the vocals. — SB
1. "All I Want"
There are many people who view Olivia Rodrigo as an overnight success, or see HSMTMTS as a contractual obligation she's trapped in, but those notions erase how the show paved the way for her very first Hot 100 entry. Catching fire on TikTok at the beginning of 2020, the pop ballad was the first inclination that the teen star's music could transcend the confines of the show. Plus, the fact that she wrote it herself speaks to how much the Disney machine—often thought to be overbearing and dismissive of their young stars' artistic input—actually believes in her musical talent.
When tasked with penning something that speaks to Nini figuring out whether she should be with EJ or Ricky, Rodrigo not only understood the assignment, she practically came back with enough credentials to teach the whole class. The track has everything you want from her: pathos, a bridge that leads into a killer key change, an engaging premise that asks "Is all I want too much to ask?"
"Driver's License" may have been when Rodrigo got pegged as an icon, and a legend, but "All I Want" is when she showed she is the moment. — MJ