Olivia Rodrigo on How She Fought ‘The Dread’ Of Pleasing Everyone



Olivia Rodrigo was honored with Variety‘s Storyteller of the Year Award at this year’s Hitmakers brunch, presented by Sony audio, by her friend and Grammy winner, St. Vincent, who described Rodrigo as a “precious baby angel muffin, but if a precious baby angel muffin were also tough as nails and cool as hell.”

Upon taking the stage, Rodrigo spoke about her approach to songwriting and the challenges she faced making her sophomore album “Guts.” She also brought up her song, “Can’t Catch Me Now,” which she wrote for the box office blockbuster “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

“Telling stories through songwriting has been my favorite thing to do for as long as I can remember. I write to figure out how I feel, to move through my emotions, and to commemorate and honor seasons of my life,” Rodrigo said. “I also got the chance to write a song for the new ‘Hunger Games’ movie recently and it taught me how much I also loved writing songs from another person’s point of view and how fun and collaborative it can be.”

“Though writing songs is definitely one of my favorite things to do in this world, I wouldn’t say it’s always been effortless for me by any means,” Rodrigo went on to confess. “Especially making my most recent album, I had so many voices in my head and I felt so much pressure to please everyone with the music I was making.

Rodrigo said she “jokingly” nicknamed these doubts “‘the dread,’ like a horror movie.” “I found that just simply showing up to create something everyday, even if I didn’t feel extremely inspired, was what pulled me out of that dread and made me start to get really excited about the music I was making,” she continued.

Despite the magnitude of Rodrigo’s success so far, the singer-songwriter stressed that her craft is always in the midst of evolution — and is something that she pursues for her own emotional growth.

“I’ve always been a big believer in the magic of creativity. And I think that the more often I show up and I have discipline with my writing, the more often I feel ideas come through me almost like you’re just tapping into some otherworldly well for the hour or so that if takes you to write a song, and then you’re kind of snapped back into reality,” Rodrigo expressed. “I think it’s what makes telling stories and making music so incredibly exciting and fulfilling.”

“Olivia sees the cracks and contradictions in herself and others and makes the ineffable understandable and transformational for her listeners. Her honest songs about the impossible task of growing up have liberated so many young people fighting and fumbling their ways through the same experiences,” praised St. Vincent. “But it’s not merely paying attention that matters to the craft of songwriting. It’s also how you observe and how you listen.”

“And that’s what’s special about Olivia, and why her fans consider her songs their personal rallying cries, is that she bears witness from a place of openness and compassion,” St. Vincent added. ‘Olivia’s songs pull off the magic trick of sounding like all of us at once, but also uniquely just like her.”

Rodrigo previously told Variety that her goal in writing her Grammy-nominated sophomore set “Guts” was to “capture the essence of what I’m feeling in a way that’s going to be poignant and concise. On ‘Guts,’ I felt I had a lot I wanted to get off of my chest – the shame and embarrassment and regrets. All feelings that are hard to externalize in everyday life but I think this record gave me an outlet to process them… It was a very important album for me to write as Olivia the person.” 

St. Vincent’s Annie Clark became a guiding light for Rodrigo and “Guts,” as Clark explained in a profile on Rodrigo for The New York Times. “I’ve never met anyone so young and so effortlessly self-possessed,” she said of the young star. “[She] knows who she is and what she wants — and doesn’t seem to be in any way afraid of voicing that. And just a really lovely girl too. I’ve never heard her say a bad word about anyone.”

The pair also worked on music together for “Guts,” specifically on the bonus track “Obsessed.”

“That’s a fun one that’s a little rockier,” Rodrigo said of the track. “I made it with my friend Annie Clark, St. Vincent, who is just incredible. I adore her just as a person, and she’s one of my musical heroes, so she was on that track. And it’s a very sort of deranged, angry-girl song, which I like.”

Variety‘s 2023 Hitmakers brunch was held at Nya Studios in Hollywood on Dec. 2 and celebrated the year’s best songs and the industry’s top execs, artists and creatives.


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