Olivia Rodrigo Rocks the Boat

- Music

by Jade Reynoso


At 21-years-old, Olivia Rodrigo has made an explosive transition from pop balladeer to punk rocker with her sophomore album, GUTS, released last September. The singer-songwriter’s new sound has won over established rock artists but may face skepticism from traditionalist fans.


Shedding Her Disney Image

Rodrigo’s first big role in the entertainment world was through Disney Channel on the kids TV show Bizaardvark. Following that, she was the leading actress on the Disney+ show High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. The latter was where she was first able to showcase her writing skills, getting an opportunity to write an original song for the show, “All I Want.” The track also gained significant traction online with the help of TikTok.

However, Rodrigo gained the most fame with pop hits like “drivers license” off her 2021 debut SOUR with the track debuting at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, she’s always had a rebellious rock spirit. “I always loved rock music, and always wanted to find a way that I could make it feel like me,” Rodrigo said in a New York Times interview.

The Pop Prodigy Goes Punk

Her new album embraces this edgier side, opening with the angsty anthem “All-American Bitch” over what the NYT describes as “fuzzy power chords.” Songs like “Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl” feature Rodrigo’s screams atop springy basslines. Rodrigo uses expletives liberally, in stark contrast to her squeaky-clean Disney roots. The album was also record in the widely famous Electric Lady Studio.


Approval From Rock Royalty

While Rodrigo risks alienating some of her younger fanbase, she’s quickly gaining respect in the rock world. Punk poet Patti Smith gifted Rodrigo a book of her poetry with the inscription, “To Olivia, may all your days be inspired.” Rodrigo has also shared the stage with the legendary Billy Joel.

Rodrigo credits advice from rock legends like Jack White with empowering her sonic shift. “He wrote me this letter…that said, ‘Your only job is to write music that you would want to hear on the radio,'” she explained.


Generational Divide

Rodrigo may face cynicism from veteran rock fans dismissive of her pop beginnings. As academic Caroline Hartman notes, rock has traditionally favored a more masculine “loud, aggressive, rebellious” expression over feminine vulnerability. “Rock and roll still tends to hold more masculine connotations,” Hartman argues. “There are many reasons why rock has chosen the masculine expression of sexuality.”

Hartman research suggests rock’s intrinsic ties to male-associated ideals like “freedom and rebellion” could lead some to view female musicians exploring rock, such as Rodrigo, as inauthentic.


Only time will tell if generational gaps divide the rock community over Rodrigo’s bold reinvention. But with heavyweight backing, she’s primed to shake up the genre’s ingrained conventions.

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