- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Some prophecy, foretold in an AIM chat or MASH game many moons ago, has come to pass: Taylor Swift is rereleasing music. Bennifer has risen again. And Olivia Rodrigo, a new hero and teen pop sensation, released Sour, an album that perfectly captures the soul-ache of teenhood. For millennials, it’s a trinity of nostalgia—three tiers of angst, like the podiums we knocked aside so we could collect our participation trophies (just kidding). For those among us who’ve recently been branded, somewhat viciously, “geriatric millennials,” Rodrigo feels almost like a second chance for our younger selves.
“Sour reminds me of the best parts of being a teenage girl,” says Erin, a 38-year-old in Michigan, who’s been blasting “Good 4 You” with her 10-year-old daughter. “It’s like a magical portal back to when I was just figuring out my own shit and who I wanted to be as a woman.”
Rodrigo is us as teens, but better, freer. She voices truths that we were rarely brave enough to whisper during Truth or Dare, or to write in our LiveJournals. “I’m not cool and I’m not smart,” she sings in “Brutal,” before adding, “I wish people liked me more.” Maybe these lines hit with older listeners because we have the hindsight to know doubt isn’t a teen phase. Questions like “Am I pretty? Am I fun?” have their onset in adolescence. But we know they become our lifelong companions.
There are thousands and thousands of tweets and TikToks about the emotional bedlam of being older than 25 and listening to Olivia Rodrigo. But there are next to no traces on social media of Gen Z’ers making fun of millennials for listening to Sour. The brutal truth—they’re not even thinking about us.
But millennials, the generation defined by nostalgia and anxiety, can't stop thinking. In the popular imagination, millennials are forever teenagers—perceived as irresponsible, overly sensitive, constantly broke, and highly critical. Of course, no millennials are teenagers anymore—the oldest among us recently turned 40, and many have teenagers of their own. Compared with the supposedly stoic, therapy-refusing Boomers, is it so terrible to be a generation that deeply values reflection?
For Yvonne, a 38-year-old in Atlanta, Rodrigo’s work transcends locker rooms and school dances. “I remember being a sullen teenage girl with a crush who didn’t want me back. Hell, I remember being 30 and trying to get over an ex-boyfriend,” she says. “Those feelings don’t really change even if you mature as a person. Sour captures that.”
Taken literally, Sour is a soundtrack for rides to cross-country practice and basement parties with three scrounged Corona Lights. But all art is up for interpretation. “Olivia has created one of the all-time great divorce albums,” argues Richard Clark, a 38-year-old self-identifying geriatric millennial. The album is cathartic for people who are “dealing with probably the most intense, high-stakes breakup they've ever had,” he says. “They're not allowed to react in the way Olivia does, at least not blatantly. I think that—the pure lack of restraint—is where older millennials are finding it to be a breath of fresh air.”
Pop culture podcaster and proud Gen X’er Abby Gardner agrees—Rodrigo hit upon something timeless. “I think she has tapped into an unresolved teenage pain that many people my age have never forgotten and taken us back there, but in a good way,” she says. “She’s put voice to feelings that are universal to a lot of women.”
Do Gen Z kids let out their feelings in a way we never could? Are they better than us at being teens? “I’ve had an existential crisis because I’m a decade older than Olivia and I haven’t had this specific life experience that the album is about—not that I want to get cheated on and dumped,” says Bethany, a 27-year-old living in Portland.
I felt similarly—why am I making plans to divide my grocery list between the stores that have quality produce and the ones that have better deals on dry goods? I should be in Malibu, licking the same ice cream spoon as my flighty lover! Gen Z seems so enviable—their recession isn’t as bad as ours! They have way more years to prepare for the fact that they’ll never be able to afford property! It’s not fair! They get therapists, and they get flattering jeans.
And they get Rodrigo. But elder millennials argue that Rodrigo owes a debt to our generation’s singer-songwriters. “It’s not like I’m listening to Olivia Rodrigo and thinking, Damn, I wish I had her back in 2000,” says Erin. “It’s more like, ‘Damn, Alanis, Fiona, Gwen, Taylor...they did this. They walked, we walked, so these girls could fly.” For Bethany, Sour brings back memories of listening to Swift, Paramore, and Avril Lavigne. Yvonne says that connecting with her 14-year-old niece over Rodrigo has opened the door for her to introduce ’90s music to the teen.
One key difference is that millennials’ teen years were characterized by a kind of ritual public sacrifice of women pop singers. This year has sparked a reckoning as the public reconsiders the media treatment of Swift, Britney Spears, and Jessica Simpson, among others. Rodrigo’s rise feels mildly messianic given this context—on the first track on her album, she sings, “Who am I if not exploited?” She seems to have a greater measure of control over her career and her image than her predecessors had. She's a living example of the hope that culture can evolve.
Rodrigo was born the year that Lord of the Rings: Return of the King hit theaters. So it’s jarring that on Sour she accomplished something older people spend their lives attempting—she made her vulnerability her greatest strength. And for so many people born before the turn of the century, (yes, the turn of the century) Sour has induced a delicious regression in us. It’s a return to the days when new art could be experienced as a sweet sickness, when a new album dropping meant a new life dropping, a new worldview. It’s almost like...déjà vu.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.
Originally Appeared on Glamour