Olivia Rodrigo review – a thrilling, furious Glastonbury moment

The Drivers License singer relishes the energy of the festival crowd for her pop-punk set, electrified by guest Lily Allen for a rendition of Fuck You dedicated to the US supreme court

Throughout Olivia Rodrigo’s Glastonbury debut, she repeatedly comes back to what quickly becomes a funny trope. “I wrote this song in my living room,” she tells us twice; another song, she wrote in her bedroom. The Drivers License singer seems at pains to stress the intimate, homespun craft of her songs – but it’s in the raucously communal moments that her set really comes alive, particularly as the cameras catch small girls roaring along on their parents’ shoulders among the absolutely gigantic crowd at the Other stage.

Having watched videos of her live before, I worried that it might be a bit stagey – her Disney past sometimes makes her songs about teenage angst feel a little like a performance, a touch polished. But from the opening salvo of Brutal, played with a pile-driver of a riff, and Jealousy, Jealousy, the sheen comes off to thrilling effect. Rodrigo sings with a knowing melodrama about her teenage heartbreak, and her evident delight at being here really yanks her into the moment. It’s rare, too, that a pop-leaning act actually benefits from having a proper live band – all women, incidentally, who look straight out of Disney central casting for a film about some plucky young punks – and they lean into Rodrigo’s resonance with the current pop-punk revival, at least at first.

To her credit, she gets her breakthrough hit out of the way just three songs in, sitting at her glittery piano for a rendition of the mega ballad Drivers License. Her performance stings with bitterness for the cad who broke her heart, and she really loses herself in the middle eight. As she plays the final piano notes, the crowd yell an impromptu final run through the chorus, and she looks truly overjoyed.

The vibes stay high as she covers Avril Lavigne’s Complicated: that shruggy opening guitar note strikes a chord of nostalgia in the heart of every millennial present, until you realise that Rodrigo was born 11 months after Complicated originally came out, and the fear of mortality (already quite strong after two nights on the farm) strikes hard. In terms of her youth, at least, her late-afternoon set harks back to Billie Eilish’s Glastonbury debut on this stage in 2019, when – quite crushingly! – Eilish expressed her sadness that she would never be able to experience the festival as a punter. So it’s lovely to hear that Rodrigo was here yesterday, walking around and watching different acts. (I’d love to know what her disguise was.)

Olivia Rodrigo performing on the Other stage at Glastonbury festival 2022.
Truly overjoyed … Olivia Rodrigo performing on the Other stage at Glastonbury festival 2022. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

After that, though, her set gets a little boggy for a while, dwelling on the mildly overwrought songs from her debut album, Sour. Hope Ur OK is sappy, and overladen with “indie voice” (that slightly pinched, cloying tone that seemed to start with Bombay Bicycle Club then spread like a plague). Happier goes for full-crowd sway-along energy and doesn’t quite get there; I’m not sure that most people here want to hear All I Want, which she wrote for the High School Musical TV show she stars in.

It all gets a bit depressingly Dawson’s Creek – until she brings on a special guest, Lily Allen. First of all, it’s delightful to know that a 19-year-old US songwriter even knows who Allen is. But it gets better. “I’m devastated and terrified,” Rodrigo says. “So many women and so many girls are going to die because of this. I wanted to dedicate this next song to the five members of the supreme court who have showed us that at the end of the day, they truly don’t give a shit about freedom. The song is for the justices: Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh. We hate you! We hate you.”

And then, gloriously, they play Allen’s seethingly sardonic 2009 hit Fuck You. It’s messy in the best possible way, their harmonies not totally in time, and overflowing with feeling. It’s hard to know which one of them looks more delighted, Allen dancing around flipping the bird, and Rodrigo utterly beside herself, wagging her finger, as Allen sings “no one wants your opinion”. I loved Eilish’s headline set yesterday, but arguably it missed a distinctively special Glastonbury moment: Rodrigo’s rendition of Fuck You is precisely the sort of fantastically well judged choice – sweary, lairy, ever so slightly niche – that really gets a crowd of Brits on side.

It’s funny then to hear her introduce Deja Vu with a well-rehearsed bit of stage patter. “I just wanted to ask you guys a question,” Rodrigo says. “Does anyone here ever get deja vu?!” She sings it with a certain knowing, although it still underlines the dissonance between her more spontaneous and rehearsed moments. The latter, you suspect, is a perfectly understandable side effect of being a really young performer who blew up in the pandemic and doesn’t have a massive amount of live experience yet. But you hope that this type of experience – the thousands present screaming “what the fuck! is up! with that!” during closer Good 4 U – helps her leave the safe harbour of familiarity and (in the words of Avril Lavigne) really let go.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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