The Sweet Psalms of SOUR

Rachel Syens

Love can be beautiful. But heartbreak? In the words of Olivia Rodrigo, “God, it’s brutal out here.” While listening to her debut album, SOUR, I began to think about the ways God might respond.

SOUR brings together all facets of heartbreak, both lyrically and through its varying musical stylings. Edgy punk sounds, like the guitar riffs on “brutal,” balance perfectly with Rodrigo’s softer side and voice, which are evident on “enough for you.” These shifting musical tones allow us to be part of Rodrigo’s emotional journey through love and loss; in turn, they help us consider our own moments of heartbreak.

Though written about romantic heartbreak, many of the themes on SOUR can resonate with heartbreak and loss in all forms. This is an album that allows us to be angry and emotional, and to reflect on our sadness. Ultimately, though, it left me with a feeling of gratitude that my hope lies not in the whims—romantic or otherwise—of others, but rather in the steadfast love of God.

When we experience loss in any form, we go through stages of emotions. This process doesn’t always follow the traditional “five stages of grief;” we recognize our changing emotions as we ebb and flow through our own timeline. SOUR speaks volumes on this subject. As someone in the midst of the grief cycle, I found that Rodrigo’s album echoed my own emotional process. I hear my own anger in “brutal,” with those loud punk riffs supporting lyrics like “all I did was try my best / this the kinda thanks I get?” Anger shifts to betrayal and sadness on “traitor” and “drivers license.” Internalized blame and learned guilt are heard in the quiet, stripped-down “enough for you,” in which Rodrigo croons, “stupid, emotional, obsessive little me / I knew from the start this is exactly how you'd leave.” On ‘“jealousy, jealousy’”Rodrigo bargains: “all I see is what I should be / happier, prettier, jealousy, jealousy.” It’s a feeling many of us have experienced: if only we could do better, be better, be different—then maybe things wouldn’t have gone wrong. Maybe we wouldn’t be hurting. As we make our way toward the end of SOUR, possibly yearning for a neatly wrapped conclusion, we don’t find one.

Christianity doesn't always offer easy answers either, yet we know, without a doubt, where to look for them. “I lift my eyes up to the mountains,” the psalmist declares. “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” The psalms in particular let us in on a secret: our God is big enough to handle our anger, our guilt, our betrayal, our sadness. Author and theologian Rachel Held Evans wrote: “They [psalms] invite us to rejoice, wrestle, cry, complain, offer thanks, and shout obscenities before our Maker without self-consciousness and without fear.” I think of Rodrigo’s lyrics as psalms, in a way. Her emotions are directed at a past love, but sometimes, in the midst of loss and heartbreak, we direct these same feelings toward God. The psalms give us the freedom to know that our God can withstand all of these emotions. Rodrigo's SOUR sets those emotions to music.

The psalms give us the freedom to know that God can withstand our emotions. SOUR sets those emotions to music.

The difference between Rodrigo’s music and the Christian life is the knowledge that God will always be there for us. We are not singing into darkness, preparing ourselves for emptiness. We are provided with the hope that God will never betray us, leave us, or hurt us in the way that earthly heartbreak can. On “happier,” Rodrigo scoffs at the idea of an eternal love, singing, “and do you tell her she’s the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen? / an eternal love bulls*** you know you’ll never mean.” As Christians, we are blessed to know eternal love through God. We are never left jaded by the broken promise of eternal love—we are given it, a beautiful promise from our God.

Even through this promise, though, we are still left to feel earthly heartbreak. This year, I lost my mom to cancer. My heart has ached each and every day I’ve been without her. I have gone through the emotional stages, turning guilt inward and anger outward toward God. I feel resonance deep in my soul with Rodrigo’s lyrics on “1 step forward and 3 steps back”: “Do you love me, want me, hate me?” Though not directly talking about a relationship with God, Rodrigo gives us permission to feel all of these emotions. I have often wondered if God hates me. I’ve asked why God allows such difficult suffering. And these feelings are OK to grapple with. God can handle our heartbreak and withstand our anger. Even when we don’t feel it, even when we are in the raw stages of hurt and loss, God will never make us “drive alone;” instead, he will stand beside us and watch over us.

Though we don’t find a neat conclusion or lesson in SOUR, we do find an assurance of hope. In her penultimate song “favorite crime,” Rodrigo sings about “all the things I did / just so I could call you mine.” God gave the ultimate sacrifice, sending his only son into our world to die for our sins. God loves us at our best and our worst, and we can rest in the assurance that he will guide us through our hardest moments, our angriest emotions, and always be waiting for us, arms wide open. On the album’s final track, “hope ur ok,” Rodrigo remembers some kids she knew when she was younger, who grew up in troubled homes. Her wish—“I hope you know how proud I am you were created . . . Cause I love you, and I hope that you're okay”—is also God's wish for us. Trusting in that is the greatest hope we can have.

Topics: Music