Two-and-a-half-thousand Scots pressed together as if preparing for battle, some screaming, others crying, many wearing tartan skirts and heavy boots. This isn’t a scene from Braveheart, but the audience that welcomes Olivia Rodrigo, the Disney-star-turned-pop-sensation, to Glasgow.
The lead actress in the studio’s hugely popular TV drama High School Musical: The Series, Rodrigo only released her debut single, Drivers License, last year. It broke all sorts of records – including the first song in Spotify’s history to be streamed 80 million times in one week – and was followed up by Sour, an album with a refreshing blend of classic pop and riot grrrl sass, which shot to the top of the charts around the world, including Britain.
Her three other singles have all reached the top five in the UK – Good 4 U giving her a second number one – and she is well on her way to voice-of-a-generation status. So it seemed a bit rich for the singer to open the gig with Brutal, an angsty, pounding song that features the lyrics “Who am I, if not exploited?”
But it didn’t bother the fans, all of whom stomped their feet and sang along. Gen Z love a star who attacks perceived injustice and Rodrigo speaks her mind far more than the tween stars that came before her. At Glastonbury last month, Rodrigo delivered one of the festival’s most talked-about moments (made more so by the fact the BBC didn’t show it) when she invited Lily Allen on stage to sing the latter’s 2009 smash F— You, dedicated, with middle fingers firmly up, to the five US Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v Wade.
However, political protest was noticeably absent on Saturday night, and her interactions with the crowd consisted of platitudes on girl power and annoying boyfriends. For Drivers License, the Academy’s stage lit up in red as Rodrigo described her heartbreak from a past relationship.
Themes of unrequited love and teenage angst are everywhere in Rodrigo’s music, making her a sort-of accessible version of the American punk rock band Bikini Kill for the TikTok generation, and it was at its best and most fiery in Happier. Teenage girls roared: “So find someone great, but don’t find someone better / I hope you’re happy, but don’t be happier” with all the intensity of a Shakespearan woman scorned, the crowd a sea of lit-up mobile phones.
Another highlight was a cover of Avril Lavigne’s 2002 hit Complicated; the audience, most of whom were born years after its release, surprisingly able to sing every word.
Rodrigo has been open about other musicians’ influence on her music, sometimes to her detriment. Courtney Love criticised her for apparently copying Hole’s Live Through This album cover, which depicts a prom queen in floods of tears, in her stage design and clothing. After critics pointed out similarities between Rodrigo’s chart-topping single Good 4 U and Paramore’s Misery Business, she attributed the band as co-writers.
But, in fact, it was Good 4 U, played last, that placed the crown of pop royalty firmly on Rodrigo’s glossy head, the bridge (“Maybe I’m too emotional / Or maybe you never cared at all”) repeated multiple times before culminating in a cascade of purple confetti bursting over the crowd.
While leaving the venue, it hit me that I had travelled more than 800 miles – a 15-hour round-trip from London – for a show that had lasted just over an hour. But walking from the Academy, caught up in the throng of (mostly) teenage girls with mascara still streaming down their cheeks, all our voices hoarse from screaming, the journey seemed worth it. After all, the next time Rodrigo kicks off a sold-out tour in Britain, it will be at one of our biggest arenas. And the space from stage to nosebleed seats will seem just as big.
Olivia Rodrigo plays Birmingham on Monday and London on Wednesday and Thursday; oliviarodrigo.com