They had never seen anything like Olivia Rodrigo.
“I’ve been doing these programs for the better part of the last eight years,” David McTiernan, Vevo’s senior director of artist and label relations, told Insider. “And I think there’s never been an artist that’s ‘happened’ as fast as Olivia.”
In the modern age, Vevo is as synonymous with music videos as MTV was for ’80s kids. One intensive aspect of McTiernan’s job is to identify fresh upstarts on the cusp of superstardom – and then Rodrigo appeared, apparently ready-made.
“She’d been on our radar for a minute from the ‘High School Musical’ content that we had gotten,” McTiernan said, referring to Disney Plus’ “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” in which Rodrigo has a starring role.
“But immediately, we knew. This was going to be something really special,” he added.
They hastened to lock down the 18-year-old singer-songwriter as Vevo’s first LIFT artist of 2021. The program shines a spotlight on promising new talent with a series of original videos interwoven by a unique aesthetic. LIFT alumni include Halsey, SZA, Billie Eilish, and Doja Cat.
“It’s about trying to capitalize on that moment when someone transitions from being a new artist to a household name – pinpointing when that pivotal moment is going to be, and throwing gasoline on that fire to build something really special,” McTiernan said.
“I truly cannot remember a single other time that we offered to do a program like this on the back of literally one song,” he added.
This album is less ‘Saved by the Bell’ and more ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’David McTiernan, Vevo’s senior director of artist and label relations
About two months before the May release of “Sour,” Rodrigo’s highly-anticipated debut album, Vevo enlisted creative minds to bring Rodrigo’s music to life.
The LIFT video series typically includes two or three live performances and a grand finale: a short film, known as the “becoming” installment that gives fans a deeper look into the artist’s interior world.
The creative process includes several conversations with the artist and their label that dig into the story they’re trying to tell and, perhaps more importantly, why people should care.
“We want to create content that doesn’t cannibalize what they’re already doing. It doesn’t take over what they’re already creating, but it comes alongside, and it’s a parallel vantage point,” Micah Bickham, Vevo’s executive producer of content and production, told Insider.
For Rodrigo, her team provided “mood boards” and aesthetics for “Sour” that spoke to Rodrigo’s lyrical themes – namely, the dark shades of teenage life.
“There was a quote they gave us that stuck in my mind,” McTiernan said. “This album is less ‘Saved by the Bell’ and more ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.'”
Rodrigo’s Vevo LIFT series, shot entirely on film, certainly capitalizes on a stylish brand of nostalgia. But the effect feels brutally honest rather than gratuitous; Adrienne Salinger’s photo series “In My Room” served as inspiration, and Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” comes to mind.
“Shooting on film is a really in-vogue concept,” Bickham explained. “But for us, it was a tool to create a sense of timelessness. We’ve kind of knocked all the slickness off of it.”
Bickham’s team became fascinated with the ways that commonplace coming-of-age experiences can feel surreal – like driving to the grocery store for the first time and wandering the aisles by yourself.
“So we took over a grocery store and transformed it – made it surreal in ways and honest in other ways,” Bickham explained. “It’s a kind of normalcy that we’re putting on a pedestal, and we’re exaggerating it in a way that feels fun and energetic and youthful. But it doesn’t feel clean and polished in the way that you might expect it to.”
“Olivia was really, really tied to creating color-coded moments,” he added. “So everything is really color-blocked in a way that speaks to that.”
Because of Rodrigo’s strong artistic vision, both Vevo executives described her as an “incredible professional.”
“We were at that grocery store until really late, and the energy stayed great, the positivity stayed great,” Bickham continued.
Rodrigo’s performance of “Deja Vu” was filmed there, while her stripped-down rendition of “Favorite Crime” took place on the roof of a suburban home.
In the short film, titled “Write Your Heart Out,” Rodrigo is depicted in each of these spaces as their center of gravity.
Like many headstrong teens, she has perfected the art of claiming ordinary moments for her own: every time she drives past her ex’s street is the world’s first-ever heartbreak; a grocery aisle can be a runway; a bedroom is a canvas.
Indeed, Bickham revealed that Rodrigo’s team mentioned “90s kids’ bedrooms” as a creative touchstone for her “Sour” era.
“It’s an example of how someone who was coming of age built their own universe. It was almost like a sanctuary,” Bickham said.
“If you notice in the film, the house that we’re shooting at is not particularly cool or interesting,” he added. “And that’s kind of the point, right? We were aggrandizing these very suburban, normal moments in a certain way, so they can feel like art installations.”
In the short film’s voiceover – written based on an “intimate” conversation that Rodrigo had with a producer – the young star describes creating “Sour” as a way of finding her voice and feeling assured of her own point of view.
She even says that listening to “Drivers License” was the first time she felt truly empowered.
“Growing up never really scared me. I always get really excited by the thought of getting older,” she says. “It’s cool to look back and see how much you’ve grown and persevered. I just love figuring out more about myself and about the world, and coming into my own more.”
“I feel like that’s a product of growing up, so why would I be scared of that?”
While Rodrigo is still growing up, she’s already learned to craft the perfect song and confidently embrace her artistic vision. That’s not bad for a girl who opens her album with the lyric, “I’m so insecure, I think / That I’ll die before I drink.”