Sour about Sour: My Struggle with Internalized Misogyny

Alexandra Gray //

A few months ago Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album “Sour” was released and took the world by storm. Every single radio station played “Good 4 U” or “drivers license” on repeat for weeks. It was inescapable. And while I didn’t enjoy the album as much as the rest of the world did, I appreciated her artistry. Her stylistic choices were really good, and unique to the music world of 2021. Pop rock had its moment in 2015 but has faded somewhat into obscurity in the past half-decade or so, and it was refreshing to hear that genre again. 

But of course, when any piece of media comes out, it is inevitably met with just as much criticism and hatred as love and adoration. At first, I was tempted to tear the album to shreds, for reasons unknown to even myself. “It’s boring and just a collection of stupid breakup songs,” I would tell myself. Were those actually my thoughts, though, or was it just the ingrained, automatic reflex to hate teenage girls’ music? 

Why was I so quick to judge Olivia for releasing breakup songs when I was all over One Direction doing the same with their “Made in the A.M.” album? Sure, I was (and still am) obsessed with One Direction when they were releasing music, but that doesn’t mean that other artists can’t have talent as well. Upon further reflection, I realized that my issue with Olivia Rodrigo is rooted in something much deeper and more problematic than catchy radio pop. 

Back before Olivia, in the time of Taylor Swift, I had the same attitude. I immediately decided to hate all female singers who chose to write about breakups and heartache even as I applauded male artists for doing the same. Ed Sheeran and One Direction were on repeat on my phone, yet I went so far as to dislike every Taylor Swift Youtube video I could find. My internalized misogyny was so deep that I wasted energy making sure the internet would know just how much I hated feminine emotion. 

The question I have for my younger self, though, is why I had such a problem with women using the space they made for themselves to write about topics they found important. When “Red” the album came out, Taylor Swift was in her early twenties. Did I really expect a twenty-two-year-old to write about anything other than her personal relationships? Even if she was older, or a man, most of music has always been love songs or breakup songs. 

Yeah, some genres like punk are all about politics or fighting the man, but even classic rock, a genre with a demographic as diametrically opposite to modern pop music’s as possible, deals with romantic topics. Led Zeppelin, for example, has multiple famous love songs, such as “Whole Lotta Love” and “I’m Gonna Crawl”. Their music is regarded as some of the best of the 20th century, but Taylor Swift gets written off as boring, cliche, and untalented. Naturally, some of her singles that get pushed to the radio aren’t extremely deep or well-written (looking at you, “Shake it Off”), but most of her lyrics are incredibly clever and well thought out. She is extremely talented, whether she’s writing about a breakup or not. 

The intense criticism of female singers and songwriters, and just things generally perceived as feminine or catering towards girls, means they’re always written off as silly and inferior. But if you look at history, girls are the ones who established The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Elvis as popular musicians. Without Beatlemania and the like, these classic rock bands would not have become the legends that they are now. Harry Styles, who also owes his success primarily to teenage girls, said in a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, “who’s to say that young girls who like pop music — short for popular, right? — have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy… Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious?” 

Young women need to stop being written off as unserious. And while it’s hard to change an entire population’s minds about teenagers and girls, it has to happen. I’ve been trying to call myself out when I resort to my old ways, and it’s mostly been successful: I still haven’t sat down to listen to Olivia’s album, but I’ve listened to multiple Taylor Swift albums and have genuinely enjoyed her work. I’m excited for the release of Taylor’s version of all her other albums and am genuinely happy and, strangely, proud of Olivia’s budding career. Maybe it’s the idea that such a young girl could produce such a complex and astute display of emotion that’s stirring up my feelings. No matter what, though, these women deserve all the love and support they’ve received, and I can’t wait to join the millions of fans who saw their talent and chose to support them from the get-go. 

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