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Olivia Rodrigo’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert: Not Your Average DMV Trip

Olivia Rodrigo's NPR Tiny Desk (home) concert.
Olivia Rodrigo's NPR Tiny Desk (home) concert. By Courtesy of Olivia Rodrigo / NPR Music / YouTube
By Clara V. Nguyen, Crimson Staff Writer

Teenage heartbreak fuels the emotional tour de force that is Olivia Rodrigo’s debut LP “SOUR,” which dissects a relationship’s aftermath with incisive pop-punk precision. The singer-songwriter and Disney star told Variety that the record delves into her “deepest, darkest secrets and insecurities,” and her refusal to sugarcoat her feelings takes the resulting music from palatable to near-perfect.

Almost a year since the hit single “drivers license” revved up her solo career, Rodrigo couldn’t have chosen a better venue for her Dec. 7 NPR Tiny Desk (home) concert than a vacant DMV office, whose “interesting vibes” she noted during her set of four songs from “SOUR.” The best vibes around, though, came from her heartfelt performance.

The band’s opening arrangement of “good 4 u” traded the sinister growl of the original’s staccato bass line for five acoustic guitars, with occasional knocks on the soundboard as the only percussion. The instrumentals framed Rodrigo’s voice in a plaintive resonance that sharpened the lyrics’ caustic sting. “Good for you / You look happy and healthy, not me / If you ever cared to ask,” she began the first chorus over subtly syncopated strums. Halfway through the bridge, the upper-register chords took on greater rhythmic definition, intensifying toward the finale’s visceral near-scream of “Like a damn sociopath.”

Rodrigo then introduced her current “favorite song on the album:” the ballad “traitor,” a bitter lament for disloyalty. “It took you two weeks to go off and date her / Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor,” she sang. The number of guitars in use dropped from five to two — one for each week before the titular ex moved on to someone new, maybe?

Once the last chord had faded, Rodrigo set aside her Gibson for a shoutout to her backing band and a keyboard-only rendition of “drivers license.” The lack of other accompaniment made the song’s defining pedal point sound more insistent than ever, as if reflecting Rodrigo’s refusal to accept “how you could be so okay now that I’m gone.” When she conveyed the shock of realizing that “you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me,” there was no denying how deeply she meant every word.

As Rodrigo shared song after song about love gone, well, sour, her many perspectives on the subject ensured that “deja vu” never set in — not even on the track of the same name that concluded her set. She took relentlessly ironic aim at her uncanny similarities to an ex’s new partner, sometimes looking straight into the camera as if issuing a challenge: “Do you get déjà vu?” she asked over and over. While answering her own question in the outro — “I know you get déjà vu” — she danced around her makeshift stage with a triumphant smile that every band member returned. After reliving the pain of a tearful breakup for all to see, Rodrigo made sure to revel in the last laugh.

— Staff writer Clara V. Nguyen can be reached at clara.nguyen@thecrimson.com.

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