Olivia Rodrigo’s Album Sour Is A Timely Testament To A Sad Girl’s Power

You too are the main character, looking out a bus window, tears streaming.
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A sad girls plight is tethered to late-night musings of the heart, bus rides accompanied by tears and wearing all black to reflect the melancholy mood, which is an aesthetic heralded in Gen Z glory by Olivia Rodrigo. 

WATCH: Olivia Rodrigo Good 4 U video directed by Petra Collins.

Like all heroines, there is a depth within a sad girl’s yearning for all she’s lost or seeking in a world built to make her smaller, more malleable and silenced.

The sad girl is a phenomenon of girls who mull through life’s grievances with a deep sense of nihilism that has them questioning the point of it all.

LA-based artist Audrey Wollen argued that the Sad Girl Theory is rooted in empowerment, which allows women not to be ashamed of inherent female sadness and self-loathing.

In an interview with NYLON she explained her nuanced description of the theory. 

Sad Girl Theory is the proposal that the sadness of girls should be witnessed and re-historicized as an act of resistance, of political protest. 

Basically, girls being sad has been categorised as this act of passivity, and therefore, discounted from the history of activism. I’m trying to open up the idea that protest doesn’t have to be external to the body; it doesn’t have to be a huge march in the streets, noise, violence, or rupture. 

“There’s a long history of girls who have used their own anguish, their own suffering, as tools for resistance and political agency. Girls’ sadness isn’t quiet, weak, shameful, or dumb: It is active, autonomous, and articulate. It’s a way of fighting back,” said Wollen. 

That’s right though, the discomfort of womanhood may submerge the sad girl, but she is not meek or submissive.

The women of the moment, Olivia Rodrigo and her debut album Sour are a testament to the notion that sad girls are powerful – because this teenager released a sad girl aesthetic album and took over the music industry – that is power.

In celebration of Olivia’s success, we compiled a list of the best sad girl albums to listen to after Sour.

Could she like idk release a new album! (Credit: Instagram)

Lorde: Melodrama 

It now seems like a lifetime ago when Lorde released her sophomore album, Melodrama, in 2017 – and it’s unsurprising why Olivia is being compared to this lyrical and sonic masterpiece.

Although it’s been a minute, the album has had a significant influence over the zeitgeist.

There had been many sad girl albums before Lorde (see St Vincent and Fiona Apple), but this body of work, in particular, was such an unashamed ode to the messy convictions of young womanhood that it fundamentally shifted the vernacular girls can use to express their inner messiness.

From the fierce threat of Writer In The Dark, to Lorde’s ruminations on young love in Hard Feelings/Loveless, to her emotionally wrenching Liability – this album was a cultural reset that is permeating through to 2021. 

The og sad girl, the saddest of them all. (Credit: Instagram)

Lana Del Rey: Norman F**cking Rockwell

Lana Del Rey has been a sad girl since before it was made cool in the later 2010s.

She spent her first album, Born To Die, facing criticism for her passivity and desire to be claimed by men, but now in 2021, it’s okay for women to admit they want to be soft.

After albums documenting this plight, the release of Normal F**cking Rockwell felt fresh.

For how could the line “If he’s a serial killer, then what’s the worst that can happen to a girl who’s already hurt,” in Hope Is A Butterfly not burst the seams of that fickle notion of the Girl Boss, who wouldn’t dare let a man leave her broken.

The sad girl’s heart has been cracked and broken twice more, but her win is that she can carry on with a new nuanced insight into the gravity of her vulnerability.

No surprise she earn’t some Grammy noms for this. (Credit: Instagram)

Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher 

This album is an investigation into everything that goes wrong and threatens to unravel our desperate souls.

A darker story about power imbalance was prolific within Phoebe’s early work derived from the alleged abuse she experienced from musician Ryan Adams.

If songs like Motion Sickness and Scott St were about unravelling the consequences of abuse, then Punisher squanders them through triumphant catharsis.

The abuse thrown at women by society is a burden we all must navigate, and Phoebe’s voice and lyrics stand a testament to our penchant for rebellious resilience. 

Her lyrics are famously emotive. (Credit: Instagram)

Julia Jacklin: Crushing 

This 2019 body of work by Australia’s Julia Jacklin feels like an Aussie sad girl’s oasis within the monotony of our 70s era suburbia.

Crushing is about shifting your reflection back to yourself during a relationship crisis and accepting that relief will come.

Her song Pressure To Party sings out about trying to distract yourself from heartbreak and Turn Me Down examines the disgusting feelings of uncertainty that whirls before an impending breakup.

The album is a perfect remedy to the Sunday blues. 

An underrated queen. (Credit: Instagram)

Banks: The Alter 

Banks has been that independent artist in our corner who has fiercely defended our right to be sad, misplaced and vulnerable without eroding our feminism and strength.

All of her albums pang at the heartstrings, but her sophomore album, The Alter, has her most iconic song, F*ck With Myself – which will stand the test of time as one of the most relevant songs about understanding your self-hatred.

Songs like Weaker Girl, Judas and Gemini Feed all point to Bank’s growth after finally overcoming a mentally abusive relationship.

While she has reclaimed her power, on the album Banks understands not everyone will be happy she has finally found her voice, and as she puts it on the track, Weaker Girl – “you were mad about the way I grew strong.”

Taylor’s story arch has been one for the ages. (Credit: Instagram)

Taylor Swift: Evermore 

Like all of us, Taylor Swift has contained multitudes throughout her career, and although she wouldn’t have been parked in the sad girl camp pre-2020, it has always been there, tucked within her lyrics of fantasy and romantic uncertainty.

Evermore is a result of all the lessons Taylor has learned.

These lessons Taylor has faced have carved her deep understanding of the complexities of women who have been vilified (a hallmark of femininity she has knows all too well).

On Champagne Problems, Taylor sings about a woman who turned down her engagement and was slighted by her community for choosing herself.

Then on the bonus track, Right Where You Left Me, Taylor sings about a woman who could never get over the love of her life leaving her. Again, there is no moment of retribution or a turn to self-love, just unapologetic sadness.

Evermore is where women are allowed to be messy and sad without a hero arch.

“Sometimes I get lonely Not when I’m alone But it’s more when I’m standing in crowds.” (Credit: Instagram)

Bonus Round: An ode to the sad boys 

Because boys can be sad boys too! These artists honestly displayed their true hearts of blue and red to the world with masterful albums.

Mac Miller: Circles

His posthumous album is a punch to the heart, and there is no wonder why his music is essential to the world.

Tyler, The Creator: Igor

When Tyler first burst onto the scene, you wouldn’t have expected him to drop this raw heartbreak album, but man, it really makes your wounds sting.

Frank Ocean: Blonde

There is a real reason some fans avoid this album, just because they don’t want to cry. After all, lyrics like this can be hard to swallow: “I thought I was dreaming when you said you love me.”

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