Olivia Rodrigo: Introducing a New Generation of Women to the Joy & Power of Female Rage


Photo by: gq.com

Hell is a teenage girl: Olivia Rodrigo’s exploration of anger, jealousy and sadness through her music is helping to create a community that validates feminine fury, and is shaping the young women of Gen Z into a new generation of rioting rebel girls.

Nineteen year old actress and singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo is riding high following a string of landmark achievements in her career. Within two weeks, Rodrigo has been the subject of her own documentary film, Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u, on Disney Plus, and won a whopping three awards including Best New Artist at the 2022 Grammys, before kick starting her SOUR World Tour two days later. Her recent milestones have come well-deserved, having broken records and transformed pop culture for adolescent America.

Rodrigo was known for her portrayal of Nini in the Disney Plus original High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, in 2019. However, it wasn’t until 2021 that Rodrigo became a household name with the success of her debut single ‘Driver’s License’  which amassed 76.1 million streams in the US within a week of its release; Rodrigo was an overnight sensation.

While SOUR features Taylor Swift inspired writing, Rodrigo takes clear influence from the ‘Riot Grrrl’ movement of the 1990s, drawing parallels to artists such as Bikini Kill, Hole, and Liz Phair, as well as more mainstream rockers like Alanis Morissette. The ‘Riot Grrrl’ movement was an underground political, feminist-punk subculture born out of Olympia, Washington. The movement set out to normalize women’s anger and pain, celebrate sexuality, and encourage young women to express themselves in non-hierarchical ways: to be accepting of themselves and others regardless of their differences. Rodrigo’s signature sound, made up of catchy pop vocals and grungy chords, is reinventing the pop-punk genre for the new age. Rodrigo’s influence can be seen in up and coming artists such as The Linda Linda’s, Wet Leg, and Gayle.

Rodrigo’s voice is powerful in more than just the literal sense. The genre-bending popstar has the potential to shape the future of the music industry as well as the adolescent girls that make up her audience.

Rodrigo’s music explores themes of heartbreak, insecurity, disillusionment, and the enduring pain of girlhood. Though her album includes tear-jerking ballads that reflect on the singer’s past relationships, SOUR is far more than a breakup-album; it is a story, not about coming of age, but coming of rage.

The youth of Generation Z have, in recent years, begun to mature and develop as a collective, becoming increasingly civically engaged; they have grown to become active members of society and agents of change and progress. The generation’s politics and strong socio-political activism are largely the defining traits of the so-called ‘Zoomers’. As a result, Gen Z-ers have distanced themselves from the hyper optimistic, #GIRLBOSS feminism of their millenial counterparts. The millennial feminist is a familiar archetype: she carries a pink tote bag with a cheesy slogan like “smashing the patriarchy is my cardio” or “slay girl, slay” printed across the front which she pairs with a graphic tee that reads “the future is female”. Millennial feminism was characterized by its unwavering confidence that gender equality was looming just beyond the horizon, and was later critisized for its supposed lack of genuine intersectionality, as well as its impression of being an aesthetics-driven, superficial movement made to fuel the self-rightousness of white women.

Generation Z has introduced a new type of feminist; one raised on promises of universal freedom and equality, only to discover that the world remains far from those ideals, and that it is their duty to change it. The women of Generation Z are embracing feminism, but for them, Sex and the City and girl power pop-anthems aren’t enough; these girl are frustrated, they’re angry, and they will not be silenced. 

Women have long been attracted to raw depictions of female anger, such as films like Gone Girl and Jennifer’s Body, in which the female protagonists are unhinged psychopaths or vengeful killers who prey on the men around them. But rather than villainize women’s emotions, artists like Olivia Rodrigo are teaching teenage girls that there is freedom in their fury. Teenage girls are, as they have always been, society’s punching bag, and female artists, authors, and filmmakers are using their respective mediums, and their influence, to convey to the female youth that they have every right to be upset, and that it is ok to be emotional, loud, messy, or less than perfect.