Why Olivia Rodrigo Represents Gen-Z

Culture

Olivia Rodrigo represents Gen-Z, my generation, because her songs are full of fear, anger, and anxiety. As much as I would like to say that my generation is NOT defined by these emotions, the harsh reality is that it is.

My generation is defined by fear. We were born post-9/11, right smack in the middle of the War on Terror in the U.S. We were born into an atmosphere of national fear and chaos. We experienced a recession in our young childhoods and we began to receive lectures on “wants” versus “needs” in kindergarten! While I was lucky enough to be in a home that was less affected by the recession, it made me aware of scarcity by five or six, and this made me afraid of the future at an early age. My generation also lives in constant fear of school shootings. A school is a place where we are supposed to be safe in order to focus on learning and growing. We never feel safe there. These are only a few examples that cause most teens to experience a constant sense of fear in their everyday lives.

My generation is also defined by anger. When people are forced to experience every moment mixed with dread, it produces pure rage. Our generation is chaotic and full of fear and we are sick of it. Cue our anger. My generation witnessed the beginning of the “Me Too” movement; a movement motivated by women who were tired of being victims of sexual assault. Black Lives Matter is motivated by the justified anger of people who suffer because of systemic discrimination and that anger has been channeled into protests and riots in America and abroad. There’s a global community of teens who share in each others’ anger and pain and our movements have been heard around the world and have trended on social media.

Because we continually experience fear and anger, we live in perpetual anxiety. About what? About everything. Our generation never has the time to just stop and take a deep breath. We are continually being thrown into an emotional pit of fire and chaos. We are the definition of fear, anger, and anxiety.

The Issue: No One is Listening to Our Pain

Many teens do not open up about their acute emotional and mental struggles because they simply do not trust adults. Olivia Rodrigo’s music helps teens process these emotions and her art has created a global fan base, allowing teens to listen to her (and to each other) for support.

Our parents come from a generation where many people consider mental health a taboo subject. When they were teenagers, their mental health was constantly pushed into a corner. They were told to “ignore it” or “get over it” because that is what their own parents did to them. Many parents take these kinds of memories from their youth and use them as a roadmap for parenting. Instead of listening to their teenager’s emotional concerns, many parents tend to invalidate their feelings. They will tell their children, “I've had it worse” in an attempt to make them feel better. But that response makes a teen feel as if their parents do not take them seriously.

Music Unites Teenagers Around the World

Olivia’s raw lyrics perfectly capture how many teens feel. Her art validates our generation’s feelings as something to be taken seriously and not dismissed.

In “Jealousy,” she sings: “I'm so sick of myself, I'd rather be, rather be, anyone, anyone else.” Here she is referring to the insecurities that she struggles with in regards to her image and beauty.

Throughout the song, she sings about how she “wants to throw” her “phone in the room” because all she sees is “girls too good to be true” on social media. This vocalizes the impact social media have had on our generation. Images are constantly edited and changed online, setting an unrealistic standard for what people should be and look like. Influencers promote clothing and items and if you don’t have them in your closet, you’re not trendy. Because of this, people are fearful of being their true selves online and in person because they want to be like the popular influencers on social media.

The effect of social media makes this pressure unimaginable to our parents. While girls stereotypically feel this fear more than boys, the truth and power of these lyrics describe how all genders of our generation fear being their true selves. They fear not fitting a-n-y-w-h-e-r-e. If a teen does not fit in on social media, then they do not fit in their real world either. What happens online impacts status at school, so teens feel like they can never escape this pressure since not using social media would also jeopardize one’s social status.

In “Brutal,” Olivia sings “If someone tells me one more time ‘Enjoy your youth,’ I'm gonna cry.”

Every time we hear an adult tell us to “enjoy our youth”, it angers us. Childhood is not something we enjoy. We do not experience our youth as a time of safety or happiness. We experience our youth as a place of uncertainty, never knowing what problems we will have to deal with next. Our generation feels as if they have gotten no support from their parents or other older generations, and we are simply fed up with their negligence. However, it is also true that parents have never been more involved with a generation. With new technology, our parents are always watching over us. They have access to our location and manage our complex schedules. Aside from this, they can set parental controls on our phones while gaining access to all of our passwords, photos, and text messages. Our generation feels as if they have no privacy. Despite the eagle eyes many parents have on us, they still lack to acknowledge the struggle and anxiety this online world creates, like cyberbullying and low self-esteem.

Olivia Rodrigo’s rock ballads are full of angst-ridden lyrics that clearly showcase our generation’s major anxiety. In her song “Brutal”, Olivia sings “And I don't stick up for myself- I'm anxious and nothing can help”. Here she is clearly showcasing how our generation is stricken with anxiety, and we don’t see a way out.

Our generation feels trapped because we do not have enough mental health outlets and Olivia Rodrigo is vocalizing how we need access to mental health outlets. We feel as if nothing can help our generation, and that our parents are not there to support us because they don’t understand the struggle that we face on social media and the internet. We are constantly anxious to log in online and we do not have the option to seek comfort from our parents. By vocalizing this emotion in her music, Olivia presents the helplessness and anxiety our generation feels.

Olivia Rodrigo’s music validates teens’ feelings of fear, anger, and angst. Teens around the world created support systems for mental health outside of the global fandom. Teens are more open about their mental struggles on social media and it has become normalized to talk about personal issues. I’ve seen girls struggling through a panic or anxiety attack and, instead of running to her room and dealing with it herself, she is always surrounded by friends helping her calm down. Whether it’s at school or home, teenage girls have begun to support each other more. Seeing this shift in my generation makes me happy, and it’s where Olivia Rodrigo’s art is powerful, uniting teens across the globe. Her music and fashion style reflect trends of our generation. But best of all, her lyrics give voice to what Gen-Z feels: fear, anger, and angst.

Jacqueline Belkin
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Jackie Belkin is a highschool senior from New Jersey. She was awarded a 2021-2022 internship with The Writing College at The Women’s Writing Institute. Her intrests include political science, theatre, writing, hanging out with friends and journalism. Outside of Teen Magazine, she also helps run Local Kids Care- a Covid-relief charity based in Central Jersey.