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8th July 2022

Live Review: Olivia Rodrigo

Ella Robinson captures the enigmatic stage presence of pop-punk superstar Olivia Rodrigo.
Live Review: Olivia Rodrigo
Photo: Ella Robinson @ The Mancunion

Olivia Rodrigo set Manchester Apollo alight on Sunday night in a frenzy of purple and sparkles. 

The gig had sold out in minutes, and her crowd at Glastonbury proved she was more than capable of filling a bigger venue, but the intimate size was perfect for her first tour, particularly as she catapulted to success when all venues were shut in lockdown. It seemed as though every fan felt genuinely lucky to be there, sharing the moment together. 

Whilst her 34-minute album (bulked up with a few covers) made for a short hour-long set, it provided huge variety, more so than some artists who have years worth of albums to call on. Olivia brought punkier sounds into the mainstream in an age of synthetic beats, with ‘brutal’ and ‘good 4 u’ being the epitome of Rodrigo’s high energy live performance.

Her slower, more heartfelt songs felt even more powerful in the setting of the Manchester Apollo with its ornate gold roof. The curtains drew behind her, leaving her alone on stage as she performed a beautiful mash up of ‘enough for you’ and ‘1 step forward, 3 steps back.’ 

Olivia Rodrigo broke Spotify’s record for the most streams in one day with her debut single in January 2021, but she has had continued success which is rare for a pop artist, bursting onto the scene. That’s not just due to her varied catalogue of music, but her ability to truly connect with her audience. The clip of her duetting ‘Fuck You’ with Lily Allen, to the Supreme Court at Glastonbury rightly went viral, but she has constantly been an incredible role model to her young audience.

She not only had an all-female band – which was amazing for me to witness at 22, let alone for younger audience members – but she truly celebrated them and highlighted their talent with multiple solos and an interlude section. 

Olivia Rodrigo has always sought to connect with her audience, with a car wash to celebrate her album release, and SOUR prom, but her song choices on this tour really highlighted how well she knows them. From One Direction’s ‘Olivia’ filling the auditorium before she came on stage, to the cover of Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’ she fulfilled every 2000s/2010s pop fantasy. But her other cover ‘Ready To Go’ by Republica revealed a bit more of her as an individual and performer, as not many of the audience members knew the song – it was truly a personal choice.

Her stage presence was exceptional, as she made use of the entire stage (yes, even standing on the piano), steps at either side and sitting off the front of the stage to connect with the entire audience. She encouraged them to sing even louder than they already were. At times, the links between songs were a bit too ‘on the nose’ – “Manchester, do you ever get ‘deja vu’?” – but they were still met with ecstatic screams. 

Despite the more minimalist stage setting and overall ‘performance’ compared to other chart-topping artists like Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, she brought incredible energy and maintained a powerful vocal performance throughout – impressive for any performer, let alone a 19-year-old. 

Whilst she didn’t perform any of her unreleased songs like ‘Apocalyptic Crush’ and ‘Gross’, which fans online were hoping for, she did make reference to the Disney+ show which kickstarted her career, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, with a performance of ‘All I Want’, a song she wrote for the show. The audience clearly knew it well, singing along as loudly as they did to any off her album. 

Olivia Rodrigo has more cross-gender and cross-generational appeal than some critics may expect (my 21-year-old male friends know all about her love triangle). She tends to get criticism online, or dismissed as teenage girl music as all artists with heavily female ‘fangirl’ followings do, particularly those trending on TikTok, or who were Disney stars. But anyone in the audience on Sunday night cannot deny it was an exceptional show, and the fathers who brought their daughters along, may just have left with a smile. 

The video of her singing after the gig at Bunny Jackson’s may have won her even more Mancunian hearts. 

Before Olivia Rodrigo hit the stage, Baby Queen provided an exceptional supporting performance with catchy songs meaning fans who hadn’t heard her before (including myself) could still thoroughly enjoy her set and sing along. She certainly brought the energy and stage presence with a similarly varied set and less put together dancing style.

‘Nobody Really Cares’ which was released on Monday, had lyrics reminiscent of Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘jealousy, jealousy’ so she may have won more fans in the crowd that night. The synth was exceptional in ‘Dover Beach’ and ‘Colours of You.’ Being featured on the soundtrack to Heartstopper, the lyrics “Red, yellow, green blue …”, were complemented by the audience holding up their phone torches. Baby Queen seemed genuinely delighted to be there, commenting on the fact she’d played a much smaller gig in Manchester earlier that year. 

Overall, an incredible evening which I loved as an adult but would have loved when I was younger too. For many who felt like Olivia Rodrigo’s lyrics captured their feelings in lockdown, thousands of people singing them together was once again proof that they are not alone – it really is “brutal out here.”

Ella Robinson

Ella Robinson

Editor-in-Chief | SPANC Best Reporter (Highly Commended) 2022 and SPARC Best Journalist in the North 2022

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