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Rhea Chatterji | February 26, 2022

Her name gained global recognition only weeks after the release of her debut song.

Skyrocketing to No. 1 on international music charts, Grammy nominated, splashed on the cover of Time magazine and all at the age of 18, Olivia Rodrigo is the music industry’s latest sensation.

Rodrigo’s magnum opus, ‘drivers license’​​, the song that started it all, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. It’s an impassioned lament about the pangs of a breakup… but not only is she mourning the loss of love, she’s also grappling with the crippling awareness that her man left her for someone better. 

“And you’re probably with that blonde girl, who always made me doubt, she’s so much older than me, she’s everything I’m insecure about.” 

We’ve all felt the threat of being replaced and been guilty of drawing comparisons. So when Rodrigo vocalises this insecurity, we all feel heard. We can’t help but cry and release all the pain that is repressed within.

In the couple of months after the song’s release, Rodrigo gave us an anthology of breakup ballads designed to resonate with relationship pain and bewilderment. The vulnerability which underscores each lyric in this album hits home with teens and adults alike. The lyricism of these songs stimulates our sentimental nerves, beckoning a stream of emotion.

So why do we love to listen to these tearjerkers?

What is it about her story, her affliction that seems to resonate with us all?

Why do we seem to celebrate pain?

Perhaps it is this modernist notion of sharing grief, normalising it and ultimately embracing it as a part of life.

Rodrigo said “I feel like if a girl writes a song about heartbreak, very often people start criticizing her for feeling those emotions, and only writing about that.” The feeling of depression has been all too often deemed as a sign of weakness, an indication of an inability to cope, an overreaction.

But over the years, many artists have been quick to dispense this stigma. With songs like ‘Six Feet Under’, ‘I miss you, I’m sorry’ and ‘Tired’, singers Billie Eilish, Gracie Abrams and Adele have famously compressed their darkest hours within the span of a song.

Billions of fans cry with their favourite singers, the grief uniting us all in solidarity. There is something so raw as being vulnerable, which is why artists tend to make a habit of it. It breaks social barriers and allows us to recognise the simple similarities we all share deep within.

Taylor Swift is famously no stranger to breakup songs. The recent re-release of her 2012 power ballad ‘All Too Well’ is a ten-minute emotional rollercoaster, designed to plunge us into a flood of tears. Swift’s candidness about her crumbling relationship in this song gives us a vivid view of the moments of happiness in the relationship before the verge of its collapse. 

Her words, the pain sounds like the voice we have on repeat in our heads following the breakdown of a relationship. The blame game, the hindsight, the cradling of only the best memories. Sound familiar? Relatability is key because it reminds us that pain is a universal experience. We shed tears because we feel the pain she endures. 

These songs link the artist with their audience in a powerful reminder that pain is not singular. 

I consider such songs a lyrical pacifier, a certain reassuring hand on the back when you’re alone with your fears and insecurities.

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Rhea Chatterji

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