The Future for the Angsty Teenage Girl Looks Bright

Up-and-coming female artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Noah Cyrus, Willow Smith and more demonstrate the days wherein teenage angst was heavily stigmatized are perhaps gone for good.

(@oliviarodrigo / Instagram)

For many, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album titled SOUR came as a breath of fresh air. After the album’s release on Friday, May 21, Twitter erupted with tweets, universally praising the 18-year-old’s angsty album on coping with a breakup coupled with the perils of being an unsure, clumsy teenager. Rodrigo’s relatable lyrics in her songs— ranging from feeling “exploited” and failing to stick up for herself to not being able to parallel park—are seeing quick, almost vigorous virality. Notably, Twitter’s hype isn’t exaggerated because in only three short weeks since the album dropped, SOUR has premiered at number one on the Billboard top 200 and is credited by the New York Times for being the biggest album release of 2021

Naturally, many aspects of this now immensely popular album were dissected and discussed amongst critics and social media users alike. A common sentiment shared between listeners were people wishing they had their own Olivia Rodrigo growing up. But the truth is, many of us did grow up with Rodrigo types; namely, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Pink, Britney Spears and so many more. All of the aforementioned artists represent different generations of pop stars who were once angsty teens and young adults, which was overtly showcased in their music. Rodrigo even credits Swift and other artists like Lorde for inspiring her music and songwriting abilities. Both artists of which “are the core of Sour [as] Rodrigo has imbued their modern, extremely online teen angst,” says Joseph Longo in an article for Buzzfeed

So really, the only difference between Rodrigo and the previous artists is that many of these women were all-too-often condemned, shamed or mocked for either being too emotional in their music or having public breakups with popular male artists in the industry. However, Rodrigo’s album, illustrating both the perils of living on the cusp of adolescence and (legal) adulthood—and how the California artist is navigating a public breakup with her High School Musical: The Musical: The Series co-star Joshua Bassett—isn’t being scrutinized for its drama. In fact, it’s being praised for it.  

Many millennials feel just as connected to this album—despite the age difference between listener and artist—as zoomers do because Rodrigo’s music evokes nostalgia surrounding angsty pop-punk eras from artists of past decades. Julia Gray confirms this last point in her review of SOUR for The Ringer stating, “SOUR [elicits] familiar pop voices, transporting us back to getting our driver’s license and blasting ‘Misery Business’ on the way to school.”  

What’s more, Rodrigo isn’t the only angsty young female artist dropping music lately. Noah Cyrus’s EP titled The End of Everything, released last May in the midst of the pandemic, is as emo as it gets. Willow Smith recently released a pop-punk single featuring Travis Barker that resembles the energy and angst of Avril Lavigne and Hayley Williams. An emerging band called The Linda Lindas recently signed to Epitaph Records (a recording company known for signing rock acts like Green Day and Weezer) after the group went viral for performing a song titled “Racist, Sexist Boy.” In their song, the girls, who range in age from 10 to 16, blast a well…racist, sexist boy after he offended one of the bandmates with anti-Asian racial remarks.

Not to mention, the overnight success of seven-time Grammy award winner Billie Eilish, who rose to almost immediate mainstream fame in 2019 after the release of her debut album titled, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?  With her hushed melodies, gothic overtones and sometimes bored demeanor, Eilish has since been subverting pop music’s traditional, hyper-feminine and overly sexualized formula for how up-and-coming teen pop stars should look and sound.   

In recent years, it seems young female artists can be as emotional and dramatic as they want to be without facing judgment, enduring media scrutiny or becoming the butt of a decade-long joke. Perhaps it’s due to the shift in public perception surrounding female pop artists after reflecting on how both the public and media previously treated women in the music industry. See: the viral Hulu documentary Framing Britney Spears; the reckoning with the sexism Janet Jackson endured after her infamous Super Bowl performance with Justin Timberlake; or Miley Cyrus’s openness regarding her burnout from being a child star at Disney. 

Perhaps it’s because people are shedding the “not like other girls” trope. Instead, women may be embracing the fact that so many of us were inevitable drama queens growing up, who were (maybe overly) emotional and sensitive. Hell, some of us still are, even as adults. Or perhaps it’s because our support for Rodrigo and others feels like an ode to our younger selves; a wish that we could’ve unapologetically embraced our own teen angst. After all, we ultimately had the power to be that brave all along.  

Whatever the reason, it’s refreshing we can now accept our own agonies (whether dramatized or not) without fear of being negatively perceived by men who look down on teen girl culture, other women, or even ourselves when we too often internalize misogyny. Artists like Rodrigo, Cyrus and The Lindas are being their authentic selves, embracing girlhood, combating oppression, and displaying all of the grief, heartbreak, frustration, anger and annoyance that accompanies youth; even if many of the problems within our teenage years may be fleeting and impermanent. And we’re embracing it alongside them no matter our age because who really cares?  

Gone are the days when young female artists were criticized for being naturally and rightfully over-dramatic. Lucky for all of us, the future for the angsty teenage girl looks very bright.

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Ebony Purks is a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English and a concentration in professional writing. She is currently a freelance writer and Junior Life Editor at The Tempest. Ebony specializes in writing about pop culture, social justice, and health, especially examining the many intersections between those subjects.