Pop music’s wunderkind Olivia Rodrigo makes a statement comeback for her sophomore era with “vampire,” a scathing, evolving power ballad.
Stream: “vampire” – Olivia Rodrigo
The job of the modern-day superstar is a balancing act similar to cultivating a budding relationship: share enough to keep people interested, but not too much – to maintain that air of mystery that leaves them wanting more. On the fame front, pop singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo has done just that. Since wrapping up promotions for her blockbuster debut album SOUR last year, she has only given fans brief glimpses into her life on social media. People missed not only her music, but the brutally diaristic songwriting that opened her life up beyond the curated glitz and glam of the Instagram feed.
Come June 30, 2023, the release date of her lead single “vampire” via Geffen Records, Rodrigo had revealed little about her sophomore album GUTS, leaving fans speculating on its sound and lyrical subject. With her debut, she opened up several potential avenues by dipping her toes into a diverse genre pool, ranging from pop punk to folk and alt-pop. On top of a few whirlwind romances since SOUR, Rodrigo had a world of possibilities for her second album right at her feet.
“vampire,” produced by her SOUR partner-in-crime Daniel Nigro, is not a hard pivot. Rather, it’s an evolution – a culmination of all her sounds coupled with matured vocals and writing.
I see the parties and the diamonds
sometimes when I close my eyes
Six months of torture you sold
as some forbidden paradise
I loved you truly
You gotta laugh at the stupidity
A sentimental piano melody opens the track, careening around a barren soundscape that allows Rodrigo’s ranting first verse to take centerstage. Contrasting its damning lyrical material, she addresses her ex with blue-tinged bitterness. “Look at you, cool guy, you got it,” she cheeks. There is an added layer of self-deprecation that underlies the accusatory, with Rodrigo blaming herself for allowing herself to love him. Whereas SOUR captured intense snapshots of emotion, her hindsight on “vampire” brings new emotional depth to her songwriting.
‘Cause I’ve made some real big mistakes
But you make the worst one look fine
I should’ve known it was strange
You only come out at night
I used to think I was smart
But you made me look so naive
The way you sold me for parts
As you sunk your teeth into me, oh
Every part of the song swells as she enters the chorus, and it’s clear from this point that “vampire” is not a traditional pop piano ballad. Over a rising synth, her impassioned vocal performance brings the song to its first of many peaks. “Bloodsucker, fame f*er,” she sings as the building tension suddenly cuts, like all the air drained out of the room. “Bleeding me dry like a goddamn vampire.”
Every girl I ever talked to told me
you were bad, bad news
You called them crazy, God,
I hate the way I called them crazy too
You’re so convincing
How do you lie without flinching?
(How do you lie? how do you lie? how do you lie?)
Ooh, what a mesmerizing, paralyzing,
f*ed up little thrill
Can’t figure out just how you do it,
and God knows I never will
Went for me and not her
‘Cause girls your age know better
The piano adopts a hastier pace to distinguish the second verse, the energy becoming more frenetic while her words sound more assured. Her ex’s faults stockpile in succession, and she punctuates it with his worst crime: “Went for me and not her / ‘cause girls your age know better.” She fashions a grittier chorus, backed by strong percussion and choral vocals that transform the track’s overall tone from embittered sorrow to resentful anger.
Pulsing hits of an electric guitar and drum line kick the song into a third gear as she launches into a searing bridge that rips into her fame-hungry ex. She admits, “I tried to help you out, now I know that I can’t, ‘cause how you think’s the kind of thing I’ll never understand.” Throughout the song, Rodrigo has shown herself to have the best of intentions, placing her trust fully in her ex, only for him to manipulate and lie to her.
But she is a quick learner.
“vampire,” a product of reflecting on her missteps, translates personal growth into creative prowess.
The song’s tremendous climax, booming strums of a distorted guitar, caps a sprawling summary of what she has learned as a musician, a writer, a person.
You said it was true love,
but wouldn’t that be hard?
You can’t love anyone ’cause that
would mean you had a heart
I tried to help you out,
now I know that I can’t
‘Cause how you think’s
the kind of thing
I’ll never understand
When it comes to fame, Olivia Rodrigo has mastered the art of withdrawal, knowing exactly when and where to pop back into the public eye. But in love, if “vampire” is anything to go by, she continues to put her heart on the line. It is this enduring openness to falling in love fully that captivates her audience—and remains one of her greatest artistic assets.
Stream: “vampire” – Olivia Rodrigo
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© Larissa Hofmann
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