Olivia Rodrigo Is So Over Heartbreak Oh, my goodness, exclaims Olivia Rodrigo. Would you look at this? I just aced that parallel parking!
We find ourselves in Olivia Rodrigo’s sleek black Range Rover, parked outside the home studio of her producer, Dan Nigro, in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Rodrigo is sporting a killer outfit for a late July day—she’s dressed in a short, summery floral dress paired with tall, brown leather boots. Her fingers are adorned with an array of rings, but she can’t help but feel a bit bummed about the new pimple that has decided to make itself at home between her eyebrows. You’ll find some Burt’s Bees and a couple of travel-sized tubes of Aquaphor jostling around in the cup holder, a testament to her ongoing battle with dry lips thanks to Accutane, the acne medication she’s been on for about six months.
Two years ago, on her emotionally charged track Brutal, Rodrigo candidly confessed, I’m not cool, and I’m not smart, and I can’t even parallel park. This song, with over half a billion streams, marked the start of a remarkable journey. In 2021, her debut album Sour became the most eagerly awaited pop debut in years, shattering records as it took the music world by storm. Rodrigo’s rapid transformation from a Disney teen sensation to one of the most prominent and relatable pop stars on the global stage took less than six months. She clinched three Grammy Awards, graced the stage of SNL, and shared the spotlight with Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden (whom she charmingly describes as having “uncle vibes”).
At Glastonbury, Rodrigo dedicated Lily Allen’s Fuck You to the Supreme Court in response to their decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. She even made a visit to the White House, advocating for young people to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Remarkably, she seems to have conquered her parallel parking challenge as well. Yet, even with all these achievements, Rodrigo faces an even greater challenge: the immense pressure to surpass the success of Sour with her upcoming project, Guts. She openly shares, the beginning was really hard. I felt like I couldn’t write a song without worrying about how others would perceive it. There were certainly days when I sat at the piano, eager to compose, only to end up in tears.
During the creation of a second album, one experiences a whirlwind of thoughts, Katy Perry reflects, drawing parallels to her own journey while crafting Teenage Dream in 2010. “The process of making your debut album can take a lifetime, but for the second one, you might only have around two years to deliver while undergoing profound psychological changes,” she continues. It’s a mix of exhilaration, like ‘Wow, I can finally buy my mom a car,’ and relief, as you shed the stress of your past. Yet, it’s also a challenging mental landscape to navigate.
Our objective was to create something with a more lighthearted and playful tone, a record that didn’t take itself too seriously, explained Rodrigo. She acknowledged that many fans saw her previous album, Sour, as a direct response to her breakup with her co-star Joshua Bassett from High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” She added, “The last album unintentionally became a breakup record, despite my efforts to avoid that theme. However, I’m in a much happier place now, and everything’s going well. So, I didn’t want to make another album filled with heart-wrenching ballads.
The artist, known for her lyrics like I’m so sick of 17/Where’s my fucking teenage dream? has now transitioned into adulthood. She recently acquired an apartment in Greenwich Village and is now a New Yorker, albeit with a humorous note about a potential bedbug incident. She admitted, “Living alone can be quite intimidating. I always have this fear that someone might break in and harm me, or that I’ll be haunted by ghosts.” Nevertheless, she continues to split her time between the coasts, renting a house in Beverly Hills and considering a purchase in Los Feliz. She explained, “I divide my time between both coasts. As for living full-time in New York, I have a strong attachment to car culture. I discover and enjoy new music exclusively in my car. Nothing quite compares to it.”
In February, she’ll celebrate her 21st birthday. “The idea of sitting at a bar and striking up conversations with strangers sounds like an absolute blast,” she exclaims. Guts is all about those moments when newfound freedom takes center stage. “This album captures the essence of growing up and navigating one’s identity in the world, complete with all the awkwardness,” she explains. “I can feel myself maturing by leaps and bounds.”
As we continue our drive, Rodrigo confesses her tendency to accumulate parking tickets. There was even a time when she accidentally bumped into Nigro’s neighbor’s car (fortunately, the owner was understanding). It was just a minor scratch, she recalls. “But I was in tears. You know that sinking feeling in your stomach when your car makes contact with something?
We weave through streets adorned with succulents, the scenery becoming a bit of a blur. Did I take the correct route? she ponders, mostly to herself. Perhaps we’ll embark on an unplanned joyride.
Nigro’s Home Studio is nestled within a charcoal-painted house, embraced by lush hedges. Gravel pathways wind their way through the garden, adorned with verdant ferns, ultimately guiding visitors to a welcoming persimmon-colored door. Though Nigro currently resides in Pasadena, this studio continues to be his creative haven. It’s the very place where they crafted songs like Sour and a portion of “Guts” (with the remainder recorded at Electric Lady in New York). Rodrigo graciously offers me a tour, deftly swinging open and shutting doors to unveil glimpses of his life. In one room, I spot a high chair surrounded by a charming clutter. As we venture further down the hall, we come across a room equipped with a drum set and a Yamaha upright piano, complete with a delightfully retro burnt-orange bench that screams ’70s chic. On a nearby whiteboard, Rodrigo’s recording schedule is meticulously mapped out in vibrant green marker, and my eye catches red hearts thoughtfully placed beside the singles Vampire and Bad Idea Right?
The primary studio area boasts a warm and inviting atmosphere, thanks to a crimson Persian rug and intricately woven macramé window coverings. Proudly displayed at the room’s center is a framed photograph of Neil Young’s iconic 1970 album, “After the Gold Rush.” Nearby, a vintage poster advertises Nigro’s former band, “As Tall as Lions,” performing at the Troubadour back in 2010. Mini Polaroid snapshots are meticulously aligned along one wall, featuring a diverse array of visitors, from indie singer-songwriter Zella Day to the legendary Carole King.
Nestled in the corner of the living space, positioned between a cozy fireplace and a sliding glass door leading to the patio, you’ll find a turntable accompanied by a collection of leaning record stacks. As she flips through the vinyl records, she pauses first on “Sour” – a copy specially inscribed to her producer with the playful message, “To Dan, suck it!” Her fingers then come to rest on Caroline Polachek’s “Desire, I Want to Turn into You,” which includes a track thoughtfully produced by Nigro. Rodrigo fondly reminisces about witnessing Polachek’s extraordinary live performance at the Greek Theater in 2021, praising her exceptional vocal talents.
Rodrigo has given considerable thought to her upcoming album, “Desire,” which follows her successful solo breakthrough, “Pang,” released in 2019. It’s a strategic approach to sidestep the sophomore slump. She emphasizes that while “Desire” won’t be a complete departure from her first album, it will bring a fresh and innovative perspective. Rodrigo clarifies, “We didn’t intend to revolutionize the music scene.”
Reflecting on her admiration for second albums, Rodrigo mentions how she loves albums like Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head” and Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” She marvels at Perry’s accomplishment of scoring five Number One hits from a single album, and she even mentions her fondness for Perry’s music documentary, “Part of Me.” Rodrigo remarks, “That album is iconic and truly outstanding.”
Interestingly, there’s a track titled “Teenage Dream” on Rodrigo’s album “Guts,” but she insists it’s purely coincidental. She confesses, “We did consider changing the title because if someone searches for ‘Teenage Dream’ on Spotify, my song wouldn’t be the first to pop up.”
Regardless, her mentor is completely supportive. Perry appreciates the fact that these similar titles continue to resonate with different age groups over the years. She admires Rodrigo’s craftsmanship and likens it to the impact Fleabag had on people when it first came out. Rodrigo has the ability to write about our deepest thoughts and feelings, the things we might never express openly.
The closing track of Guts, titled “Teenage Dream,” stands in stark contrast to Perry’s 2010 pop anthem of the same name. It begins with a melancholic piano melody but transforms into an emotional whirlwind of rock music. In this song, Rodrigo envisions a future where she is no longer the brightest and youngest star in the pop world. While Perry’s hit urged us to never look back, Rodrigo prefers to focus on what lies ahead.