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Introducing Olivia Rodrigo, The Arena Rock Star

Just a few days following her 21st birthday, it already feels like punky-pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo is running out of benchmarks to clear.

She’s a Grammy award winner — including the coveted prize for Best New Artist in 2022 — and has also received prizes from the American Music Awards, iHeart, Billboard, and numerous critics prizes for both of her albums, 2021’s Sour and 2023’s Guts. She has starred in a successful television show (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) and featured in her own Disney+ documentary (Olivia Rodrigo: Driving Home 2 U), in addition to memorable SNL, Tiny Desk, and VMAs performances. She’s landed three songs at No. 1 on the Hot 100 and both of her albums on top of the Billboard 200, essentially positioning herself as one-of-one when considering critical and commercial success stories in the 2020s. And when you factor in brand deals with the likes of the Apple iPhone, Crumbl cookies, and even her own Erewhon Smoothie, the only big thing missing from Rodrigo’s musical resume is longevity, which, at this point, feels like a foregone conclusion.

Well, the only big thing except for the touring front.

Philip Cosores

While Sour was a monster moment by all metrics, Olivia Rodrigo’s touring behind it was far more conservative than you’d expect for an artist launching in such a bold, underlined, and italicized way. Sure, her Sour performances hit big amphitheaters and even a low-cap arena or two across both Europe and North America. Still, many artists would have parlayed that into an even bigger run of arenas, even stadiums. But for the young artist Rodrigo, it felt a lot more planned-out and controlled than just letting the success of her debut carry her as far as possible. Instead of performing without an end in sight, she went back and crafted a follow-up that doubled down on her alt-rock aggression and theatrical balladeering. With a minimal amount of material under her belt, she didn’t milk what she had for all its worth. Everything about how she positioned herself screamed that Rodrigo is in it for the long haul, rather than trying to capture lighting in a bottle.

That’s what makes the Guts World Tour — which kicked off last night at the Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, California — all the more intriguing. Something changed in the live music space within the last year. Following the launches of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour and Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour — and to a slightly lesser extent, SZA’s run supporting SOS — major concert tours have felt like the true north star for shared communal moments. From the hardships of just getting tickets that exposed flaws in the live music infrastructure to the social media frenzy that the performances caused, big tours are poised to replace festivals as the marquee moments for young people to opt in to. You don’t need to look further than the waning sales demands for typical behemoth events to bolster this claim. Part of that may be concertgoers with limited resources are now spending their festival money on after-market single-shows, and part of that might be that festivals having difficulty booking these same top-tier artists who can make more money — and have more control — doing things on their own.

Olivia Rodrigo
Philip Cosores

For 2024, Rodrigo’s Guts World Tour is primed to follow in these footsteps. We’ve already seen the expected madness on the sales front, with tickets selling out fast and secondary prices shooting through the roof. And now, with the launch, we can say that Rodrigo delivers mightily on the anticipation with a show that balances many elements that would be in conflict in lesser hands. Whether it be her rock and pop tendencies, her teenage feelings with grown-up ambitions, or the actions of feeling larger-than-life while also personal and relatable, Rodrigo managed everyone’s expectations with the grace of an acrobat.

If you were a fan of Rodrigo the rock star, the show’s bookends put her head-banging, guttural-screaming self on full display. “Jealousy, Jealousy” found her channeling Robert Plant’s hip-shaking swagger, while openers “Bad Idea, Right?” and “Ballad Of A Homeschooled Girl” set the night in motion with blinding lights and fifth-gear propulsion. By the end of her 100-minute set, any pop-star frills that punctuated the performance’s middle sections had dissolved as Rodrigo busted out her own guitar playing on “Obsessed” and went full ’90s rocker with a bullhorn rap on “Get Him Back.”

Olivia Rodrigo
Philip Cosores

But those “frills” were nothing to shrug at, either. Rodrigo covered for her own blindspots by having backing dancers fill in needed gaps for the mid-tempo “Pretty Isn’t Pretty” and the rambunctious highlight “Love Is Embarrassing.” And while the stage kept Rodrigo stationed on one end of the hockey arena, she slowly sailed on a floating moon around the venue for fans in the back to view her up close, offering up “Logical” and “Enough For You” in the process.

But the most impressive aspect of Rodrigo — her magic trick that no one does quite like her — is appealing to both the children who screamed when Rodrigo asked if it was their first concert, and the adults who use Rodrigo’s music to excavate feelings that either have been dormant since their youth or never went away at all. As a young woman, this is surely an aspect of her own music that she has to grapple with, performing songs she literally created as a love-lorn teen with newer tunes that have transitioned ever so slightly into more adult topics and language and signifiers. But Rodrigo is never alienating. She can sell shot glasses on her web store and also have cotton candy booths are her concerts. She can inspire kids to cosplay in their finest lavender finds for her tour while also trendset in Hot Topic-chic, fishnets, and boots as a bonafide style icon. She’s establishing herself as an artist that one generation will grow up with, and another can appreciate with a sense of nostalgia and camaraderie.

Olivia Rodrigo
Philip Cosores

This was most clear early in the set during “Teenage Dream,” which was backed with a series of childhood videos of a young Rodrigo, and concluded with audio recording of some of her early performance forrays. She would note that she grew up not far from where the concert took place, in Temecula, California, but didn’t really have to underscore the meaning of launching her first arena tour so close to home, fulfilling a dream she had not many years before. The audience could easily understand that at just 21 years old, Rodrigo has both come a long way and still has a long way to go. But she’s now officially an arena rock star, and she’ll have to figure out what milestone to conquer next.

Setlist:
Bad Idea, Right?
Ballad Of A Homeschooled Girl
Vampire
Traitor
Drivers License
Teenage Dream
Pretty Isn’t Pretty
Love Is Embarrassing
Making The Bed
Logical
Enough For You
Lacy
Jealousy, Jealousy
Happier
Favorite Crime
Deja Vu
The Grudge
Brutal
Obsessed
All-American Bitch
Good 4 U
Get Him Back!

Olivia Rodrigo
Philip Cosores

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