summer hits

Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘good 4 u’ Continues a Distinct Emo Tradition

“Teenage women have completely remade the landscape of Top 40 pop in the last 15 years.”
—Jessica Hopper

Olivia Rodrigo’s summer breakup anthem, “good 4 u,” is filled with the kind of ebullient angst that makes us want to spontaneously dance around our house and belt out the lyrics with abandon. Whether it’s the creeping baseline that pulls us in or the cathartic release of the chorus, we can’t get enough of this track. And we’re not alone, it seems. The song debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s “The Hot 100” and, like its predecessor “drivers license,” has fueled and been fueled by viral TikTok memes that helped solidify the song’s position among 2021’s summer jams.

Illustration: Iris Gottlieb

Those memes range in format but tend to play off of one unavoidable aspect of Rodrigo’s “good 4 u”: how well it syncs up with Paramore’s 2007 pop-punk “Misery Business.” The two songs share some of the most common building blocks in pop music, from their 4-1-5-6 chord progression to the opening note of their choruses. Those links have led critics and fans alike to wonder aloud if “good 4 u” indicates that the emo-slash-pop-punk revival we discussed back in May is here to stay.

In the second installment of our “Summer Hits” series, producer Megan Lubin goes searching for the musical roots of Rodrigo’s work and uncovers two histories: The first is the sound of emo as it branched off from punk music in the 1980s, and the second is of women raging on the microphone through time, from the blues to country to Rodrigo’s chart-topping confessional.

Lubin gets help from rock critic Jessica Hopper, who reminds us of emo’s gendered origins — “It became prescriptive. The narrative was always girls were bad and they never had names” — and takes us on a journey through Rodrigo’s rageful forebears. We’re still thinking about Hopper’s insight on women in pop and the boxes we try to put them in: “People need to stop trying to draw it back to something that a man did before and realize that teenage women have completely remade the landscape of Top 40 pop in the last 15 years.”

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Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘good 4 u’ Continues an Emo Tradition