Olivia Rodrigo and Lil Nas x are leading the next wave of pop stars

Originally published on Sumner Newscow on May 29, 2021

As Kansas’ most prominent Swifty — I think that’s a title I can safely presume — you know you can take my word for it when I say Olivia Rodrigo is vying to be the Taylor Swift successor.

I wouldn’t say she’s close or even knocking on the door of Taylor just yet after a single album, but Olivia is clearly a Swift disciple. Her debut album SOUR is a 34-minute diss record from a single breakup, littered with inventive lyrics, so it’s pretty easy to see where she’s taking notes from.

Rodrigo is an 18-year-old girl who got her start (as many pop stars do) on a Disney Channel show you’ve never heard of called Bizaardvark later joining the cast of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.

Her first foray into real music, however, was her viral hit driver’s license. It broke the Spotify record for streams in a single day from a non-holiday song and had the biggest opening week ever on the platform. Fans of Tiktok will recognize it as one of the audios we didn’t stop hearing for months.

SOUR is much more than a Taylor Swift knock-off, though. It follows the Jack Antonoff playbook of music production by keeping every beat layered in synth until the third song when he kicks it up four notches. It’s the best writing I’ve seen from someone that young since BENEEAnd on top of everything, it keeps a consistent message throughout the entire record.

Most debut albums are built around the lead single that may or may not have a theme on either side of it, but not SOUR. SOUR is a response to the breakup of her life (after 18 years) and Rodrigo wants all of us to bask in her pain and direct our fury at this very unfortunate teenage boy.

Olivia does have her moments of vulnerability in songs like favorite crime and 1 step forward, 3 steps back, but it’s her displays of anger and maturity that round out the album. Songs like brutal and good 4 u (the second single off the album to go number one) are a welcome change of pace on SOUR and make you remember the scorn you felt for the first person to break your heart.

1 step forward, 3 steps back interpolates Taylor Swift’s New Year’s Day so Olivia fully recognizes her Swiftian influence and if she’s the gen z response to one of my favorite artists, I couldn’t be happier.

Next, there’s a story from Lil Nas x that isn’t iconoclastic so there won’t be any pole dancing to get upset about. The 22-year-old (lot of youngsters on today’s article) released a new single titled SUN GOES DOWN and it marks a clear departure from his earlier work.

Lil Nas x doesn’t have a clear genre to define him since he’s been successful in the pop, country, and rap charts, but I believe SUN GOES DOWN firmly places him in the pop category to stay. It’s quite a shift musically and tonally from his smash hit MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) a short time ago and makes it very clear that he has a consistent plan for the message of his upcoming album (it’ll be about coming out).

Gone are the catchy, silly lyrics of Old Town Road and Panini, replaced by a gloomy story about Lil Nas x’s experience as a high school student still in the closet and the suicidal thoughts that too often plague those kids. The lyrics are dark enough with lines like:

“Since 10, I been feeling lonely
Had friends, but they was picking on me
Always thinking, “Why my lips so big?
Was I too dark? Can they sense my fears?”
These gay thoughts would always haunt me
I prayed God would take it from me
It’s hard for you when you’re fighting
And nobody knows it when you’re silent”

But if that’s too subtle, take a look at the music video, released on the same day, that shows the young artist at his job at Taco Bell to his previous online persona as a Barb. Lil Nas’ storytelling is miles ahead of where it started and while some of his other songs may be a little catchier (but not by much, this song still bangs) SUN GOES DOWN is the first song I heard him branch out lyrically.

One of the busiest pop stars in the industry, Lady Gaga, announced a special 10-year anniversary edition of her iconic album Born This Way will come out June 18.

Born This Way is home to some of Gaga’s best hits like You and I, The Edge of Glory, Government Hooker, and several others, but it’s unfortunately marred by its title track. Sure, Born This Way is a Pride Playlist staple and we’ll all probably hear it five times next month, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a great song.

It was revolutionary at the time but became dated with some rationally insensitive lyrics almost immediately. The song was also co-opted by the corporate “Pride” movement and is a frequent choice to accompany their abomination floats (I’m looking at you JP Morgan Chase).

So, if the album doesn’t come out until June 18 and it’s not even Pride Month, why bring it up? Because Gaga also announced six “reimagined” songs from the album that will be covered by prominent LGBTQ+ artists and we got the first one today.

The queen of New Orleans Bounce, Big Freedia, reimagined her favorite song from the record, Judas, and it’s everything you could hope for. The heavy voice modulating, and electric sound effects are replaced by brass instruments and frequent “HEY’s” to our listening enjoyment. I’m ecstatic to see Freedia’s meteoric rise in celebrity in the last few years and as a former New Orleans resident, I know how special it is for the community down there.

Meme of the week

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