After her single “drivers license” went viral earlier this year, Olivia Rodrigo’s album Sour was one of the most anticipated of 2021 for Gen Z. Released on May 21st, the album opened with the equivalent of 295,000 sales in its first week in the US, and almost every song made it into the Billboard Hot 100 chart. She has also now amassed 11.7 million followers on Instagram, a growth rate of more than 330% since November of last year. So what’s the story behind the new pop superstar who – for anyone over the age of 25 at least – seemed to appear from nowhere? And what can marketers learn from her enviable success in engaging the Gen Z demographic?
Olivia Rodrigo’s fame was not a result of just luck. Her album appealed to what Gen Z has been searching for during the pandemic: a sense of comfort. In our US Youth Trends Report 2021, 74% of 16-24s told us that the pandemic has affected their mental health. What better way to feel comfort in a time of uncertainty than a bit of nostalgia?
With the release of Disney+ and Netflix’s partnership with Nickelodeon, many old TV shows that today’s teens watched as children have experienced a revival. This can be most notably observed in the resurgence of Avatar the Last Airbender’s popularity last year, or the recent TikTok trend that had everyone singing along to The Backyardigans. Members of Gen Z who grew up watching these shows have been able to tap back into the past and find comfort in old favourites.
Rodrigo’s album does the same thing by calling back to a time of teen love and angst. By listening to Sour, young people who have left that phase in life are able to reminisce, while those who are still in it can relate to her struggles, appealing to both audiences.
Rodrigo’s album also succeeded because of its popularity on TikTok. As we recently reported, 40% of TikTok users believe that TikTok is the future of the music industry, and with more than 55% of the app’s users coming from Gen Z, it makes sense that the app would boost Rodrigo to fame. Four of Rodrigo’s songs (“brutal”, “good 4 u”, “deja vu”, and “drivers license”) blew up on TikTok as they soundtracked recent trends on the app.