If there is one song from this year that really struck a chord in me, it is Olivia Rodrigo’s “Traitor.” Hailing from the 18-year-old indie/pop/alt singer-songwriter’s debut album Sour—which sent pulse waves throughout the music industry in early 2021 with its lead hit single, “Drivers License”—”Traitor” is just about as emotionally raw as a song can get. It is truly devastating, and you can feel the emotions beaming from this talented young woman’s harrowing vocals as she laments a recent breakup in which her ex started dating a new girl two weeks after breaking up with her. She typifies him as a traitor because he clearly started talking to the new girl while dating Rodrigo, and there is a sense of candid teen delirium to this track that I find priceless. It isn’t something I necessarily relate to the way I used to, but I still can’t get enough of this song. I don’t know if those of you who have never experienced a scenario like this will fully connect with “Traitor” on a subliminal level, but if you know you know. In my experiences, there was never a way to truly express how I felt while flailing in the aftermath of a breakup. Still, Rodrigo captures the agony of this situation in a way that many humans (not just teen girls) can feel. So, this is my favorite song of 2021. It might not be the most catchy or eye-popping per se; still, it is certainly the most endearing.
You betrayed me
And I know that you’ll never feel sorry
For the way I hurt, yeah
You talked to her when we were together
Loved you at your worst, but that didn’t matter
It took you two weeks to go off and date her
Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor.Chorus #1
In terms of actual structure and composition, “Traitor” is an indie-pop and guitar-rock ballad, featuring a gradual cinematic rise and fall of acoustics—as well as a layering of harmonies. The song manages to convey Rodrigo’s absolute vulnerability in a tangible manner (sonically, lyrically, and vocally). “Traitor” features some of Rodrigo’s highest, longest, and most powerful notes—and the quivering in her voice as she relives a tragic recent past manifests itself through her effusive and emotional belting. Indeed, there are lots of sonic and vocal elements alike, and it is tough to frame this mercurial track in a set of defining parameters. There are lots of genres, vocal expressions, and sounds at play. Sour as a full-length album is already stunning, yet this is (in my opinion) its shining moment. It stood out to me within seconds of my first time hearing it—just the sensual fragments of emotion and the seriousness of the tone as channeled through the production & sound engineering—but it continues to stand out further as I let this song simmer in my mind. It does not attempt to cover too much ground in terms of lyrical diversity, but each word Rodrigo does save for “Traitor” feels needed, potent, & moving.