This week, on The Cut, co-host B.A. Parker digs into teen-girl angst and what we’ve all been wondering since May: Why does Olivia Rodrigo’s album make us feel like this? Parker speaks to Cut blogger Mia Mercado about why she feels the album was made specifically for her, and Hannah Bondalo, a 19-year-old college student who went viral on TikTok for sending out boyfriend applications to truly experience the melancholy so perfectly described in SOUR. Then Cut producer Noor Bouzidi, a self-proclaimed hater of sad pop songs, is finally convinced to go to prom.
To hear more about the power of Olivia Rodrigo’s tracks and how they’ve created a wave of high-school nostalgia for listeners of all ages, listen below, and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also read the full transcript below, and stream the Spotify playlist we made for the episode, “A Sad Millennial Girl Break Up Playlist”.
B.A. PARKER: When I was 9, I had a lot of dreams. I wanted to steer a dog sled through a blizzard. I wanted to marry Shemar Moore. I wanted to spit from the top of the Empire State Building. But above anything else, I wanted to be Jewel. You know, like “I hear the clock, it’s 6 a.m, that Jewel? I wanted to be her. I would sit in my grandparents’ hallway and write sad, observational folk songs about relationships and heartbreak that I knew absolutely nothing about and then sing them at the playground during recess. The only one I can remember was called “Piecin’ Up My Puzzle,” an existential banger about picking up the pieces of my life. Music became the soundtrack to imaginary heartache that I desperately wanted. I couldn’t wait to become a teenager and experience the expectancy and sadness of liking a boy who had a car.
And thank goodness, I wasn’t the only weirdo who used to do this.
MIA MERCADO: I played a song that I wrote about a boy in front of him. When he stopped liking me or at least paying attention to me, I was like, “I’m going to sing a song in front of you.” And I pretended the song wasn’t about him.
PARKER: As a teenager, Cut blogger Mia Mercado would be in her room pining, listening to Michelle Branch.
MIA: The Spirit Room. That red CD. [It’s] a gorgeous CD. I listened to that. Ran it raw. Just ruined it. I loved Michelle Branch truly. Anything off of the first album. You know, “Everywhere.”
Cuz you’re everywhere to me …
—Michelle Branch, “Everywhere” clip
PARKER: I distinctly remember, in my room, listening to a song by Lindsay Lohan.
Can’t breathe without you. Can’t dream without you. Honestly tell me that it’s over.
—Lindsay Lohan, “Over” clip
PARKER: It was a song called “Over.” I would just imagine this guy that I liked in my class while I would listen like, Tell me that it’s over.
MIA: Not that you’re together.
PARKER: We’re not together.
MIA: [As if] you’ve been together and now it’s over. Now you get to feel that level of sadness and not the level of sadness of We’ll never be together. Yeah, I did that, too. I did a little bit of, at the very least, If I dated this guy that I’ve never talked to, then we could break up and then I could feel sad for a different reason.
PARKER: The main feature of all these teenage nights spent listening to heartbreak songs in our bedrooms is that Mia and I were nostalgic for experiences that we never had: boys we were too shy to talk to, football games we were too cool to attend, school dances where the punch was never spiked like in the movies.
That’s exactly how 19-year-old Hannah Bondalo felt this year when she first heard SOUR, Olivia Rodrigo’s universally adored teen angst breakup album.
I got my driver’s license last week …
—Olivia Rodrigo, “drivers license” clip
HANNAH BONDALO: I was always following her and looking at her Instagram covers and was wondering like, Oh, when is she going to release this? Then 2021 happened and she released “drivers license”. I was like, Wow, this is going to be a great set.
PARKER: But she couldn’t really, truly experience the album as it’s truly meant to be experienced, because, alas, Hannah is single.
HANNAH: I was sitting with my roommate, and she’s in a relationship, too. So I was like, “Man, you should break up with your boyfriend and then you should listen to this sour album and see how that goes for you, because I can’t experience it.”
PARKER: That’s when Hannah came up with a unique idea.
HANNAH: She’s like, “I’m not going to ask my boyfriend to break up with me. He’s never going to do that.” And because she said it, I was like, Maybe I’ll do it myself. Maybe I should just have a fake relationship.
PARKER: She decided to concoct a relationship to feel the heartache of Olivia’s album
HANNAH’S TIKTOK CLIP: Does anyone wanna date me then break up with me? So that I can listen to Olivia Rodrigo’s album and appreciate it?
HANNAH: I put out my Snapchat and I asked people, “Does anyone want to go into a three-day relationship with me because my roommate’s not going to do it and she’s in a happy relationship. So are there any takers?” I actually had applications come in after that. I didn’t even think I was going to have to do an application process, because when I posted my Snapchat, I was like, Nobody’s ever going to respond. And then I had five people, six people respond back saying, “I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.”
This was the application process: The first question was “Are you alive?” The second question was, “Can you go on two dates? One virtual and then one in person before Friday?”
PARKER: She made a list about herself including the fact that she’s a business major… twice. She cries during the movie Coraline. She makes impulsive decisions. And she will break up with you in three days.
PARKER: Why three days?
HANNAH: It was just the timing of “everything good comes in three days.” Also, I was busy, I was super busy.
My schedule was so packed and I was like, I’m not going to have time to even do an actual relationship, so three days is good enough.
PARKER: So how long did it take you to choose?
HANNAH: It took three hours. I literally was up until about 12:30 in the morning deciding.
PARKER: She chose a guy named Sheel, who was a friend-of-a-friend that she’d known around campus. And Hannah liked him, because he took the application process seriously.
HANNAH: Like, automatically. Right after he said, “Good evening, Hannah, thank you for taking the time to review my application. I want to say it is my pleasure to be a part of this rigid application process. If you need anything else from me, please let me know. Thank you for taking the time to read this message, and I hope to hear from you soon. Best, Sheel” And that was just like the hook, line, and sinker. I was like I know he’s not a business major but …
PARKER: The morning of their big date, Sheel picked Hannah up in his car.
HANNAH: As soon as I saw him, he opened the car door for me and he gave me a flower and it matched my dress. And I was like, This is the perfect start to the perfect day ever.
PARKER: And they did all of the relationship-y things they could in just three days. They stayed up til 2 a.m. talking over Zoom. They spent a glorious day making TikTok dance videos, riding scooters, and drinking slushies.
HANNAH: We were just driving around, listening to music, talking. We’re just on the same wavelength at this point. I mentioned to him, “Oh, by the way, don’t forget, you have to break up with me later.” And he was like, “I got it, don’t worry. I know the plan.”
PARKER: Was there ever a moment where you were like Oh, maybe I like this guy?
HANNAH: I guess! It’s more of like that inclination of like, Oh, I really vibe with this person. I don’t know if it will ever become like a real-real relationship in the future, but it was just one of those I-enjoy-being-around-this-person.
PARKER: And then Sunday night came.
HANNAH: It was literally like 11 p.m. at this point. He sent me an email and I was like, “What is this?!” And he’s like, “It’s me breaking up with you.” The subject line says “It’s you, not me.” And then in the body of the message says, “Don’t pick me, don’t choose me, don’t love me. Bye.”
PARKER: And that was that. He dumped her after three days just like Hannah had planned.
Do you feel successful in being broken up with?
HANNAH: I think I was pretty successful being broken up with, because I knew that I did it to myself, but at the same time, it still kind of hurt a little. Imagine going through all of that just for some guy to email you. And it was a Grey’s Anatomy reference too nonetheless, which was funny, but also disrespectful. I guess I intended to get hurt, but not in that way. Because, dude, we spent quality time together and you’re just going to send two lines of a breakup?
PARKER: So yeah, you could say that, surprisingly, the experiment worked: heartbreak accomplished. Hannah went viral on TikTok after posting videos of her experiment, and now millions of teens are emotionally invested in a sort-of-pretend 3-day relationship scored to Olivia Rodrigo’s “traitor.”
I guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor.
—Olivia Rodrigo, “traitor” clip
HANNAH: The caption was, “He’s not a traitor but he has the best traits.”
PARKER: As for whether the relationship is gonna stay pretend, who knows?
HANNAH: He’s actually living across the hall from me.
PARKER: Wait, what?
HANNAH: I posted the TikTok and then the next day I was like, “Wait, where are you living again?” And then he said the building that I live in. And I was like, “That’s crazy. What floor?” And then he said the unit number. And I was like, “That is literally across the hall from me.” So we’re probably going to do dinners and stuff and fun things. We talked about putting a water slide between our doors, and fun stuff like that.
PARKER: Oh, Hannah.
HANNAH: We’re really good friends. We’re good friends.
PARKER: Hannah wanted to feel the familiar heartache of a teen-dom, however fleeting and organized it was. Creating it was better than not having it at all. And it turns out a lot of people are still searching for that feeling.
After the break, a zoomer and a millennial walk into a prom.
When Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR album came out there was a lot of anticipation.
MIA: So a couple of other writers and editors at the Cut were wishing each other a “Happy Olivia Rodrigo album release day to any and all who observe.”
PARKER: Mia Mercado, again.
MIA: We’re all older than … is she 18? We’re all older than 18. I was listening to it like, Okay, why am I relating to these songs that are about things that I have not experienced in over a decade?
PARKER: Yes, Olivia Rodrigo is 18 and has gained a following for sharing all of her big feelings in song and the backstory behind them. People have noticed that a lot of that following is a healthy decade removed from being a teenager. There were all these memes about how millennials had co-opted Olivia’s new album. Thirty-year-olds were screaming “Where’s my fucking teenage dream?”
But why? Didn’t we get enough of this when we were actual melodramatic teens? Is it Peter Pan nostalgia? Or the fact that so many people were slingshotted back into their childhood bedrooms during the pandemic, watching Dawson’s Creek and Moesha on streaming sites? Are we full-on regressing? To me it feels a lot deeper than that.
Cuz I love people I don’t like
And I hate every song I write
And I’m not cool, and I’m not smart
And I can’t even parallel park
All I did was try my best.
—Olivia Rodrigo, “brutal” clip
MIA: It was very cathartic to hear an 18-year-old talking how an 18-year-old talks and doing it in a more eloquent way than I could have ever done, and probably still can do.
PARKER: I feel kind of old with the pining songs, the ones that are like, “Why do they pit women against each other? I’ve gotta throw my phone across the room” or “brutal.” I can parallel park, but I can still feel it.
MIA: Okay, brag. What? You’re the only person that I know that can actually parallel park.
PARKER: I’m so sorry.
MIA: Oh, don’t apologize to me. Apologize to Olivia.
PARKER: Olivia’s songs are categorically teen and earnest, sure. But they also cut deep down into something old and pronounced that still stings. Like the song “jealousy, jealousy.” She sings about not wanting to compare herself to others, but it weighs on her.
I kinda wanna throw my phone across the room
’Cause all I see are girls too good to be true
With paper-white teeth and perfect bodies
Wish I didn’t care
—Olivia Rodrigo, “jealousy, jealousy” clip
PARKER: When I was a teen, I didn’t have the language yet for my insecurity and outrage when US Weekly would publish Britney Spears’s and Paris Hilton’s weights next to their names. Or the understanding that other teenage girls weren’t my enemy or my competition. Hell, I’m still grappling with Black and brown girls not granted the same coming of age that so many white teenage girls get to have idolized. Teenage girls of color aren’t often allowed the grace of innocence or the archetypal fantasy of high school. I still have all of the big feelings I had at 17. But I can only micro-dose them every once in a while. It’s just nice to be reminded by Olivia that those feelings are still there and they’re valid.
And for grownup Mia, that was also what drew her into this specific brand of teenage-girl melancholy. Olivia being Filipina meant Mia could vicariously feel the heartache that she didn’t experience growing up. But now, she can readily picture herself in Olivia’s combat boots.
MIA: Yeah! I, too, am Filipino, and so part of me was like, Yes. This is for me as well. I am a decade older than you, but it is for me. I didn’t date people in high school, but I absolutely had crushes on a million people. And that is the heartbreak that I’m drawing from.
PARKER: The idea of crying on the floor listening to teen angst doesn’t ever really go away. Not really. Last week, I had a belt-out to Brandy’s “Have You Ever” that did my soul some good. But some people are resistors to the cathartic howl of pop yearning. They’ve never been inclined to stare at their ceiling and listen to “Linger” by the Cranberries on an infinite loop. People like my fellow producer, Noor Bouzidi.
NOOR BOUZIDI: I do not listen to breakup albums. I’m kind of allergic to that kind of music.
PARKER: Brief history of our girl Noor. She’s a 22-year-old reformed metalhead who was the moderator of a very popular One Direction tumblr. But somehow she’s too cool to sing “drivers license” with me.
NOOR: Obviously I’ve felt the things that make people want to write breakup songs. And I’m just like, Why do you want that? Yeah, it’s part of your artistry, drawing from painful things, but why is it a thing that people sit in their feelings and wallow in the sadness?
PARKER: Have you ever listened to any Alanis Morissette?
NOOR: I’m going to Google her because I don’t know who she is.
PARKER: Oh, my God, Noor. Okay, what do you listen to?
NOOR: I’m going to put up Nancy Ajram. just because she’s like the queen of Arabic pop. That’s the kind of music that I like to listen to whenever I’m really sad.
Yay ullanat ghayar taliih
Anaz ‘al awalah
Mah kullihamuz zayardi
—Nancy Ajram, “Ya Tabtab Wa Dalla” clip
PARKER: What is she saying?
NOOR: To be honest, I don’t really know. I don’t know what tabtab is. It’s just a sound I think. I’m just like … I can’t understand it. Just head empty, like I’m just vibing, you know.
PARKER: So apparently what you’re saying in the song, “Ya Tatab Wa Dallaa” means either “I baby” or “spoil”
NOOR: Yeah, yeah. That’s what that means.
PARKER: Or, “he tells me I’ve changed on him, I get upset, my temper rises, but all he cares about is how to please him.”
NOOR: What? Are you serious?
NOOR: I thought this was like a “Watermelon Sugar” kind of vibe. Like, you’re just falling in love and it’s fun.
NOOR: But it’s like … ooh. It’s more tense than that.
PARKER: So you inadvertently got caught up in like a pseudo-breakup song.
NOOR : Oh. Oh no. Are you kidding me? This is my song.
PARKER: That makes you vibe! Even when you were trying to avoid it.
NOOR: Yeah, it’s true. It’s fucking everywhere! I think I’m more comfortable with it when I can’t really understand it.
PARKER: Since I’ve negated her theory, I feel like this is my chance to ask Noor a big favor. A bonding event to cross generations. Olivia Rodrigo is having a SOUR prom concert online and I need someone to experience it with me.
PARKER: So, I was wondering … essentially, Noor will you go to prom with me?
NOOR: Oh, my God. Are you really asking me to the prom? I’ve never been asked to prom before in my life before. I would love to go to prom with you, Parker. Oh, my God!
PARKER: And so we’re just two ladies on separate coasts dressed to the nines over a Zoom call while we watch teenagers throw a fake prom.
You look so cool!
NOOR: Thank you. So do you! You look amazing. Do you see my hoops? I have 8:30 p.m. hoops. Oh my gosh, it’s starting!
PARKER: There’s a limo!
NOOR: Oh, wow.
PARKER: How are you feeling?
NOOR: Eh. I’m feeling “eh.”
PARKER: What is that noise? Eh?
NOOR: I don’t know. I don’t know what it means. I think it’s very artistic so far …
PARKER: We’ve gotten to “drivers license,” Noor!
NOOR: Oh, I’ve never heard the song.
I got my driver’s license last week, just like we always talked about …
NOOR: Maybe I have, probably from TikToks. Oh, somebody said it’s the song that started it all in the comments. Is this, really?
PARKER: Yeah. “Never felt this way …”
NOOR: I think I heard this in a Forever 21 the other day.
PARKER: God damn, Noor!
NOOR: This is so One Direction vibes.
PARKER: Oh my God.
NOOR: I’m probably going to get executed for saying that.
Now I drive alone past your street …
PARKER: All right, fuck it up, Olivia!
Red lights! Stop signs! I still see your face in the white cars …
NOOR: Oh, I like this!
PARKER: Aren’t you sad that you missed your prom?
NOOR: No, I don’t care. I was more excited to start college and live life, and then I got to college and met all these people who had all these friend groups from high school, and they had all these memories of going to prom and going to football games and doing all these tween-y things. And they kissed boys behind the bleachers and stuff. And I was just like, I literally didn’t do anything. I left as soon as I could.
PARKER: But does it feel artificial? Does it feel like it’s some kind of imagined universe of what high school is supposed to be like?
NOOR: Oh, absolutely. That is the idea of high school I want to keep in my head. I don’t fantasize about real high school. Real high school was garbage. But I would have totally worn Chucks to prom. I would have been that girl, if I ever had a prom.
PARKER: Oh same. Absolutely. 100 percent. Like we’re Bella Swan.