When Olivia Rodrigo’s party hit “Ain’t Got Time” hit the charts two years ago, the Go-Go’s seemed to have never left.
Her seemingly endless list of rave demands and indulgences, orchestrated with the urgency of someone commanding her own party, was deeply ingratiating: the exuberance of a mindless party girl, foreshadowing one of the club’s greats – like Britney Spears and everyone who ever hit the dance floor at a 17th birthday party.
It felt as though she wasn’t just a star in the court of MTV, singing about dancing for no good reason with names like Miller, True and Van Halen. She was also a living stage full of performance-enhancing drugs, impregnating your best friend, and huge cheeseburgers; a Xanax in the middle of every crowd, a dehydrated soda at the end of every drink.
Rodrigo in early rehearsals for the 2014 Paradise Jam tour. Image courtesy of Ryan Barnes.
Guitar geek/thrash-metal fanzine epicenter Interview Magazine hailed her—for all the right reasons—as the best live performer to come out of Brooklyn and the 90s, writing, “Rodrigo is a breath of fresh air coming out of a time of rock-abusing narcissism.”
Now, her songwriting is ensconced in an ode to paranoia and the hysterical narrative that goes along with it, along with feminist thatch of teenage head banging. Only it’s more than that. “I’m written about all the crap that I went through during high school and in college,” she told Rolling Stone, “and I’m writing about, like, ‘How it felt to have a job when you were broke, how a dead end job makes you constantly feel like you’re failing, how you became a kind of voyeur of yourself, how you became angry and lonely, how you became depressed.’”
Rodrigo and songwriter Bria Kelly have earned notice for giving neo-punk a love story, with Kelly scrawling prose about matters of the heart, with dark angsty fantasy scenes featuring Chris Rock and Joan Jett. It’s a melding of vibe and sound, that draws parallels to Florence Welch’s wistful cry.
“I’m so happy I was able to write that story, like, way before [Welch] did,” Rodrigo told RS. “I think if I hadn’t told that story, it would be a weird, weird, weird rock song. The material is kind of cathartic in itself. There’s so much going on and I feel like we were able to write the best song we possibly could out of that experience and make it into a good song.”
Even that’s not the full story, as, back in Brooklyn, she cradles young thoughts of another valedictorian moment, and a tormented past, dwelling in her adolescent anxiety. Her words haven’t changed; her sound has. She’s singing about a time in her life she’d rather not remember, as a worldview so closely associated with danceability feels increasingly archaic.
She’s not so much filling in the blanks, as insisting she’s laid bare a place she, too, wanted to be: innocent, vulnerable, raw – an angry teenager in a fantastical setting. She might not have been going to the beach, but it’s brutal out here, and nothing’s exactly what it seems, and we won’t ever know for sure.
It’s a song that will stand the test of time, and continue speaking for this anxious age of self-destruction and riot on the streets, a quiet turmoil descending in human behavior and performance. Rodrrigo’s stinging songs still resonate today, and she’s as vulnerable as ever, even with those arms across her heart.