Who really, really loves Olivia Rodrigo, though? Millennials. But the strange thing is, we can’t stop making fun of ourselves for it. We’re self-sabotaging, because other generations have sabotaged us before — and we figure we might as well beat them to it this time.
We aging millennials have spent the recent weeks marveling over a burgeoning phenom long familiar to Rodrigo’s teenage Generation Z peers. We’ve sent awed tweets as we nodded along to tunes about watching reruns of “Glee” and eating strawberry ice cream. (Reruns?! We tuned in for the originals!)
We recognize ourselves in the music. Twenty-somethings weaned on Taylor Swift see a second coming, and the same goes for 30-somethings thinking fondly of Avril Lavigne. We had our Romeos and our Sk8er Bois, and now we’re meeting the modern-day equivalents, often enough in the same key, because Rodrigo’s lyrics aren’t the stories of a Gen Z teen. They’re just the stories of a teen.
Why all the blushing then? Millennials don’t seem able to shut up and enjoy the music. We’re talking over it instead: obsessing, and then making memes that mock our obsession. Sure, maybe there’s a smattering of Gen Zers leery of this cultural encroachment by their elders, and loud about it. But for the most part, we’re the ones skeptical of ourselves.
A common format for this mockery involves a gushing caption about Rodrigo’s prowess, packed with Internet argot — and juxtaposed with an image of an extremely old person. “Ok but like the new Olivia Rodrigo album is everything?? We stan she is post-vax queen … I was born in 1989!” reads a tweet accompanying a still of 100-year-old Rose from “Titanic.”
Others show a gaggle of youngsters, with an obviously older person trying to blend in but instead sticking out like a wrinkled thumb. “Me at an Olivia Rodrigo concert,” the text might read.
We millennials are acting as if we deserve criticism because criticism is what we know. We’ve been besmirched by the generations before us: smeared as profligates amid the miserable avocado toast skirmishes, or written off as entitled and lazy in the workplace. These snarky kids might have been our allies against the so-called olds when it came to “OK, boomer,” but we can’t count on them always to back us up. Indeed, they’ve already torn us down plenty.
See the recent hullabaloo over the Gen Z-invented word “cheugy,” a term that describes try-hards desperate to look hip when really they’re so last decade. We’re roasted by zoomers for texting with the laugh-cry emoji when the haute choice is a skull. We’re not so kindly informed that the skinny jeans we wear to look cool actually make us look uncool. What if, heaven forfend, raving about Rodrigo is also lame?
The narrative of the never-ending generation wars has tricked us, too, into believing everything must be a battle. Sometimes we find ourselves reading about clashes we didn’t even know we were having, ushered toward acrimony by those who insist that every generation can exist only in contrast to every other. Usually, a member of an ascendant demographic’s rise to prominence is greeted as an opportunity for a general diagnosis: Greta Thunberg shows how angry these children are, we read. Billie Eilish, Rodrigo’s predecessor as Gen Z’s sonic representative, showed how radical they are. She wears baggy clothes! She’s full of self-loathing!
Okay, and Rodrigo wears crop tops and proclaims bouncily that “writing songs is my favorite thing to do in the world.” Which is to say: Maybe this isn’t always about generational difference, but human difference plain and simple.
So we’re on defense even though there’s little offense to be found, embarrassed about relating to music that is infinitely relatable, all thanks to the baggage we carry as the perennial losers in generational scraps. Today’s kids probably don’t even care. They’re too busy, after all, getting their driver’s licenses.