“I’m so sick of 17, where’s my f*cking teenage dream?” sings Olivia Rodrigo in ‘Brutal’ the opening track of her new album ‘Sour’. Olivia is a fresh-faced eighteen year old singer and actress who has been smashing records across the globe with her catchy self-written breakup songs – her album has been dubbed by Charlie Gunn as “the greatest coming-of-age album since early Taylor Swift or Lorde”. As well as topping the charts, the songs from ‘Sour’ have dominated my own spotify ‘on repeat’ playlist, but as I sing-along to ‘Good 4 U’ and ‘Drivers license’, I can’t help but notice for the first time in my life, I feel too old for an album. This realisation led me down a deeper train of thought – does art have to be relatable to be enjoyable? And, perhaps more importantly, why are we so quick to discredit ‘childish’, or in this case ‘teenage’ media?
For me, one of the most irritating parts of growing up was realising that to be considered ‘mature’, I’d have to stop reading young adult fiction, and hide my love for romance franchises like Twilight. There comes a point in life when these interests move from the ‘socially acceptable’ category to the ‘guilty pleasure’ one, and after all, some of the criticism is valid; media centered around high school students can arguably only go in a certain amount of directions before it becomes predictable and oversaturated. However, Olivia Rodrigo’s popularity – ostensibly amongst people of all ages – seems to have overhauled this trend: surely that many people cannot be listening to the album simply for nostalgia purposes? Music, and art in general, centered around themes of youthful emotion can seemingly still be powerful, and, more shockingly, cool?
My theory is that the emotion and angst of teenagehood – so powerful at the time but so overdramatic looking back – is actually a good way to describe the way we feel now: “they say these are the golden years, but I wish I could disappear” is perhaps not a realistic portrayal of being seventeen in hindsight, but at times it sure feels relatable to me as a uni student, and I’m sure many graduates and young professionals would agree. Teenagers are good at expressing their emotions: loud, messy, and dramatic though they may be. Sometimes ‘cool’ music, books, or films made by adults with successful lives just can’t quite capture the complicated reality of daily life – you have to turn to an angst-ridden teenager for that.
I know all too well how tempting it can feel to insist you only listen to the most obscure music, have the most high-brow cutting-edge taste in film, or only read classic literature. We are told these things are what constitute good art, intellectual art, ‘real’ art. Art made for, and by teenagers, is discredited – the themes aren’t important enough, or the young artists don’t have enough life experience to sing/write/create anything of substance. And that is even before delving into the abyss of sexism within various creative industries leading to the often point-blank dismissal of anything made for or by teenage girls.
‘Sour’ is undeniably an incredible piece of work, and Olivia Rodrigo is undoubtedly one of the most talented and exciting emerging artists we’ve seen for a long time. Should her talent be invalidated because of her age, or because she sings about high-school romances and wanting to “throw her phone across the room” out of jealousy for girls on the internet? Obviously not. Youthful art has just as much value as art made by those with decades of ‘life experience’ – it should be embraced, not rejected. As for the relatability factor, it is fun to relish in the memories of teenage angst. In fact, as a society increasingly encouraged to open up about our emotions and mental health, perhaps we should all be consuming more art made by teenagers.
[Molly Walker – she/her – @ m0llywalker (instagram)]
[Photo credits: Andrea Piacquadio]