Who is Olivia Rodrigo’s target audience?

by Eloise Wajon

Olivia Rodrigo is my favorite out of the league of Zoomer singer-songwriters that have emerged from the tutelage of Taylor Swift - although I admit, I wasn’t convinced at first. When her breakout hit drivers license entered the public consciousness in early 2021, it elicited little more than an eye roll from me. It was a grossly earnest, smack-bang-on-the-nose song about teenage heartbreak, where she laments the broken promises of forever and the ex’s new girlfriend. I was in a strange position where my first heartbreak had been too long ago to take drivers license at face value, but not long enough for me to feel nostalgic for the sting of naivety in her lyrics. good 4 u, a pop-punk banger about righteous indignation at a recent ex’s good fortune got me on board, as did a change in relationship status aligning neatly with the release of SOUR. 

YouTube music reviewer Todd In The Shadows put into words Rodrigo’s most appealing quality in his best-of-2021 review: she’s committed to the bit. brutal, the song ranked at number 10, is a bass-heavy rock song about how much being a teenager sucks, where Rodrigo delivers each line with a wink and a smile, twisting her phrasing to lean into the dramatic teenager archetype drivers license seemed unaware of. Rodrigo, it seems, is at her best when she’s backed by a garage band and a healthy dose of ironic delivery. Her most recent LP, GUTS honed in on this. Songs like get him back! and bad idea right? are grungy, sardonic tunes about the staple feature of many womens’ early 20s: having relationships with absolutely irredeemable men. It’s got everything I enjoyed about the grittier parts of SOUR and more. 

Why don’t I like it as much?

To start with, in the period since SOUR’s release, I haven’t climbed into the beds of many deplorable men. It seems that being in a stable, healthy relationship cuts me off from a good deal of GUTS’ cathartic appeal. I can appreciate the songs on a much more analytical level now than I was able to with SOUR - but it’s hard to deny that songs like love is embarrassing were meant to be screamed into a pillow, or posted on your Instagram close friends story, given you’ve removed everyone but your hopeless situationship from the viewing list. But there’s something more to it: in GUTS, Rodrigo is better than ever at committing to the bit. ballad of a homeschooled girl, a song about the near-universal experience of feeling socially inept, is so tongue-in-cheek it almost swallows it. 

via Getty Images

At times, GUTS feels so self-referential it seems Rodrigo wrote it whilst floating outside of her body, or from the vantage point of about 5 or 10 years in the future. I understand who this appeals to. A huge part of the audience Rodrigo acquired from SOUR, were not, in fact teenage girls who had not yet grown wary of boys promising forever - but people much older and experienced than herself. The best moments of SOUR and indeed, GUTS are less effective in the eye of the storm that is ages 16 - 22 than from the shelter of domesticity being older entails. Like I was with drivers license, I’m caught in between Rodrigo’s points of focus. It wasn’t too long ago I was bemoaning the dishonesty of a charisma vacuum man who refused to commit (with the aware and expressed knowledge I would continue to be involved with him.) But it’s not now, and it hasn’t quite been long enough for me to miss the rage.

I like GUTS. Rodrigo will likely be a prominent feature on my Spotify Wrapped this year, if mostly for songs like pretty isn’t pretty - a softer, more earnest song about the hamster wheel women spin endlessly trying to meet Western beauty standard - and lacy, a wispy, guitar picked ballad about being so jealous of another woman it borders on homoerotic. Overall, I found it hard to shake the feeling that I had fallen between the cracks of GUTS’ target audience - but it remains a deeply enjoyable sonic experience. And after all, there is nothing I admire more than someone who commits to the bit.

Eloise Wajon is a second-year Fine Arts/Arts student, majoring in Creative Writing. In her spare time, she likes to play video games and defend Taylor Swift in the comments section of Buzzfeed articles.

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