Olivia Rodrigo beamed, with a smile as bright as the disco ball suspended above her.
“You guys have no idea how happy I am to be here today,” Rodrigo told the audience at Orem’s UCCU Center Saturday night — on her fourth stop of her “Sour” tour, the first for the 19-year-old pop star who, just six nights earlier, received three Grammys (including one for best new artist).
“I don’t know if anyone knows, but I used to live in Utah for two years,” she told the crowd, which definitely knew. “I wrote so many of the songs on the album in Salt Lake. It feels like coming home.”
Those songs — from her breakout hit “driver’s license” to the tracks on her debut album “Sour” — range from uptempo pop-punk to emotional ballads, making for a setlist whose energy level went up and down throughout the show.
The common theme of Rodrigo’s songs is teen angst, and the demographics of the audience in Orem stretched beyond just “emotional” teen girls. The mix of older and younger fans included a little girl in a cheerleading outfit (based on the one Rodrigo wears in the video for “good 4 u”) and a rambunctious group of young men who belted out every lyric to every song.
The makeup of the crowd proves what made Rodrigo shoot into stardom overnight: There’s nothing as timeless as screaming your heart out over a first heartbreak.
The opening song, “brutal,” was a bit of a teaser — a start-and-stop approach that kept the audience on its toes, itching to see Rodrigo after the curtains parted. The song set the tone for the night: to be unashamed, unfiltered and unapologetic about one’s experiences and feelings.
The shifts from pop-punk rage to intimate ballads were reflected in the stage presentation. For the medley of the slower “enough for you” and “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” the curtain closed on the band, leaving Rodrigo alone with her purple guitar standing in front of a purple mic.
Compare that to her cover of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” — teen angst from an earlier generation — which she belted out while standing on top of her piano, wearing orange plaid pants and a black top that could have been a nod to Lavigne’s laidback early-aughts fashion. (The other outfit Rodrigo wore was a silk pink dress, with matching gloves, fishnet stockings and almost knee length boots — a perfect ensemble for an edgy pop princess.)
Small details — much like the stickers on her face on the “Sour” album cover — brought the show together: The red lights during the iconic bridge in “driver’s license,” the reflections from the disco ball hitting the shimmering backdrop curtains that looked like streamers at a prom.
That attention to detail was evident in the butterfly-shaped confetti, exploding in blue, purple and white, during the end of “good 4 u.” The confetti featured notes printed in Rodrigo’s handwriting — with messages (“thnx for coming to the Sour Tour”), song titles (“hope ur ok”) and lyrics (“I want it to be like, messy”). Some fans pocketed the butterflies as souvenirs, while others laid on the arena floor, throwing the confetti around and taking pictures with their friends.
Rodrigo moved beyond the songs in “Sour” for one number from “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” the show that brought her to Utah for filming. She told the crowd she wrote “All I Want” when she was 16 in Salt Lake City, and she wanted to perform it for them because she felt “happy and nostalgic” getting to Utah again. (She filmed the music video for the song on the Bonneville Salt Flats in March 2020.)
Rodrigo’s interactions with the crowd — she accepted such gifts from fans as a pink hat and Utah stickers for her tour equipment — gave the show a homey feel, at once exhilarating and intimate. That connection with her fans was evident at the end of “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” when the crowd sang the final chorus, and she laughed as they fell a bit out of tune.
Even with minor hiccups, and seeming a bit winded as she closed the show with the high-energy songs “deja vu” and “good 4 u,” Rodrigo is a natural performer and sounds brilliant live. The haunting quality of “favorite crime,” possibly the highlight of the night, shows what she can do onstage, showcasing the track’s laidback, sprawling vocals with ease. For a first tour, she set the bar high for herself, leaving audiences anticipating what she’ll come up with next.
The opening act, singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams, matched Rodrigo’s vibe well, with a mix of uptempo tracks and ballads — highlighted by her vocals on the moody, pseudo-pop song “Wishful Thinking.” Abrams’ song “Camden” features the lyric “Can’t picture anything past 25,” a good set-up for Rodrigo’s pop-punk teen angst.
Rodrigo’s show was electric, full of fun, and a great way to spend a Saturday night. Her emotionally direct songs allow a fan — of any age — to feel the unrivaled power of being with people who won’t judge for the music they like, to share a space where there is acceptance.
“Salt Lake is a special place to me,” Rodrigo said — and Utahns will be able to brag of the state’s part in launching what is likely to be a successful music career.