Is this what prom looks like? On the first London date of Olivia Rodrigo’s sold-out tour, British audiences are invited to partake in the all-American tradition. There are bleachers on stage. Silver streamers cascade down the walls. A disco ball hangs from the ceiling. It’s an appropriately adorned set for an artist who has made “edgy prom queen” her image. Tonight, Rodrigo makes her transportive Noughties pop-punk dream real.
It is somewhat astonishing that Rodrigo can lay claim to such a recognisable image – if only due to the sheer briefness of her career. In just 12 months, the 19-year-old has broken Spotify records, released one of the 2021’s best albums with Sour, and had three singles reach top five in the UK. Last month, she delivered an indelible Glastonbury highlight when she stood side-by-side Lily Allen to say “f*** you” to the Supreme Court judges who overturned Roe v Wade. The political statement seemed natural to Rodrigo, whose music is outspoken by nature: a knuckleball of rage or despair. Most of the time, both.
Like her voice, which can modulate between the gossamer whisper of misty-eyed balladry and the squall of early Noughties punk, Rodrigo’s stage presence is similarly fluid. At times, she pogoes around the stage à la Billie Eilish. The pleats of her micro-mini skirt waggle about as she bounces from left to right. Other times, she’ll slink around the stage with her microphone stand trailing behind her. At one point, she channels Michelle Pfieffer’s in 1989’s The Fabulous Baker Boys, draping herself across the silver piano as she belts out the mournful wrath of “traitor”.. Halfway through her set, it becomes apparent that Rodrigo fans don’t have favourites. Each song is met with an equally loud ear-piercing screech, which sometimes threatens to engulf Rodrigo’s voice entirely. Even “All I Want” – an earlier track from her days on Disney’s High School Musical series – is matched word-for-word. Admittedly, Rodrigo’s back catalogue is small, but her fans know every inch.
The screaming drops a decibel or two for Rodrigo’s cover of “Complicated”. While the 2002 hit from her punk princess foremother Avril Lavigne is no doubt Instagrammable, it’s Rodrigo they’ve come to see. “Torn” – a duet she performs with surprise guest Natalie Imbruglia whose wonderfully nasal wail dials up the nostalgia to eleven – is moment of euphoria for the many, many parents of children in the crowd.
The night ends without an encore on a high note, as Rodrigo saves for last the pop-punk fireworks of “good 4 u”. It was a bold choice not to close with her breakout hit “driver’s licence” but one that pays off. Upon its release last year, “good 4 u” was immediately christened the ultimate kiss-off for a new generation. Tonight, it’s the ideal send-off. Confetti cannons shoot purple puffs of paper into the air as she kicks around the stage in a tantrum. As they fall to the stage, Rodrigo herself looks to be cocooned by a kaleidoscope of butterflies, her signature animal.
At just under 60 minutes, it’s a short set – but in reality, the Olivia Rodrigo experience began many hours earlier. Outside the venue, dirty fleece blankets and blow-up mattresses have been left discarded by those who were camped out since the early morning for a shot at the front row. Empty crisp packets and cans of Red Bull are evidence of the twelve-hour wait such devotion calls for. It’s a testament to the connection Rodrigo has cultivated with her young fans who leave the show grinning ear-to-ear. They have got exactly what they came for – including some very sought-after merch.