hating teen pop music doesn't make you cool
Do we really think age is a realistic barrier to feelings of hurt, insufficiency, and betrayal? Or do we just not like teenage girls making music and money out of pain?
The original title of this post was "hating pop music doesn't make you cool" but I added the "teen" just now because I realized that it would be more accurate. After all, nobody really hates Dua Lipa, do they?
Olivia Rodrigo, Gen Z icon, came out with her debut album some time back and I'm sick of people shitting on her and the album. I'm no one to say what kind of music you should like or shouldn't – my music taste is all over the fucking place. I have no credentials to talk about the "quality" of music. All I care about is whether I like it.
I liked SOUR. I loved SOUR. It's a gorgeous album; so fucking emotional, brilliant lyrics, masterful production. You could strip down every song to just vocals & one instrument and they'd all still sound amazing. Rodrigo is a great songwriter and singer – I'd say recording artist, but her live performances are just as good as her recordings, so "recording artist" feels reductive.
I also acknowledge that pop music isn't everyone's cup of tea. I don't expect metal-heads to jam out to Driver's License – it's not their vibe, and that's okay. My problem is with people who shit on pop music by virtue of it being popular, especially amongst teenage or young women.
SOUR is, quite frankly, nothing super experimental. Yes, I consider it to be a good album but I also acknowledge that it's nothing ground-breaking. At its core, it's a pop album by an 18-year-old who's experiencing heartbreak for the first time. The only songs on the album that don't necessarily subscribe to this generalization are brutal, jealousy, jealousy, and hope ur ok.
Independently, they cover quite a bit of ground: brutal is a frank characterization of Rodrigo's experience in the entertainment and music industry and being, well, famous; jealousy jealousy is pretty much a product of idealistic social media presences and Rodrigo's confession that homegirl's also a bit jealous of these picture perfect lives; hope ur ok is a beautiful allyship ode to her listeners who feel oppressed because of their sexuality or gender.
However, 3 out of 11 allows us to make the sweeping heartbreak teen pop generalization. So my questions become:
Why is teen heartbreak so constantly looked down upon? Do we really think age is a realistic barrier to feelings of hurt, insufficiency, and betrayal? Or do we just not like teenage girls making music and money out of pain?
I briefly wondered if I could draw a parallel between Rodrigo and Billie Eilish to explore this further, but there's one crucial difference: Eilish makes super experimental alt-pop music, and nowhere does it feel like teen pop. The differences between her and Rodrigo are quite straightforward: you listen to Eilish when you want unpredictable beats, abstract lyrics, and a raspy soprano. You listen to Rodrigo when you want a recognizable melody you can strum on a guitar, lyrics that cut deep to your past or reality, and classic theatrical pop belting. These are the same reasons I wouldn't compare Rodrigo with Lorde, either.
A good male comparison to Olivia Rodrigo would be Conan Gray – his style is still a little different from Rodrigo's (there's no Paramore influence there) but the essence is similar. Gray's debut album was the biggest new debut album in 2020. Another great male comparison is, of course, early Justin Bieber. When he launched, like over a decade ago, people hated his music because teenage girls loved it. Of course, Gray hasn't faced the same kind of pushback, but his music is decidedly less pop than Bieber's early stuff.
Which brings me to the true parallel here (which has been made to death): Olivia Rodrigo and early Taylor Swift.
People hated Taylor Swift because she "only" wrote about her boyfriends (which, like, yeah, and?). It was cool to hate Taylor Swift pre-1989 (and during the pre-reputation Kanye West debacle). Her first four albums were a transitionary journey from country to pop, but the resource material didn't really change. You were supposed to hate Taylor Swift because she made popular music that teenage girls loved, and so it was automatically uncool and "not good."
I do think with Swift's evolution over time and her reclamation of the heartbreak album that there's a lot more space for teen pop to flourish now. Certainly, the charts don't lie – Rodrigo did phenomenally for her debut album. Which means people like listening to her. But there's already a section of people that hate her music because teenage girls like it, and because they find it "too generic" – almost like we've forgotten that music is allowed to be liked even if generic.
My point here is that as an almost 22-year-old (no, seriously, like this month), I fucking love SOUR and I no longer care to be shamed for it the way I used to feel ashamed to admit I liked Taylor Swift's music at 15. Fuck that shit. Y'all know I'm about to blast 22 on my birthday this year, as I should. You also know that if I have another failed talking stage, I'm about to blare some Olivia Rodrigo in my bedroom with a bottle of Riesling or Chardonnay. Teen pop is great because it's so real – there's nothing dubious that needs to be analyzed or uncovered. That music hits you where it hurts, and it feels cathartic.
If you hate teen pop because you just don't like pop, this post wasn't for you. But if you hate teen pop because it's teen pop, you really need to think about why you have such an unnecessarily elitist view on music.
Honestly, if you have an extremely negative views on any genre of music, you need to reflect on that. Probably with a therapist.
in other news, i'm tryna integrate a comments functionality on this site. feels weird to just be blasting these posts into the universe with no provision for engagement. i wanna fight. if anyone has any suggestions, lmk.