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It's not just Olivia Rodrigo – the angry teenage girl is fueling popular music

EYDER PERALTA, HOST:

Who run the world? Girls. Apparently, teenage girls. Eighteen-year-old Olivia Rodrigo ruled Billboard's albums and Hot 100 charts last year, making her the top new artist and top female artist of 2021. But Olivia Rodrigo's success contributes to a bigger trend in music right now, teenage anger.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD 4 U")

OLIVIA RODRIGO: (Singing) Well, good for you. You look happy and healthy. Not me, if you ever cared to ask...

PERALTA: Cyrena Touros is an NPR music contributor and freelance critic. She says part of it is that pop punk music is actually cool again.

CYRENA TOUROS, BYLINE: This is such a great year for female rage, especially the female rage from teenagers. And I think it does have a lot to do with we're hitting a new cycle in which the young women who grew up with pop punk are now coming of age and writing their own songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD 4 U")

RODRIGO: (Singing) Getting everything you want. You bought a new car, and your career's really taking off...

TOUROS: The angry teenage girl is not a new phenomenon, but I think what's especially interesting in this new crop of artists is that the songs that they're writing are not just about heartbreak and romantic trysts. They're social commentary about the state of the world and what it means to grow up in 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRUTAL")

RODRIGO: (Singing) They say these are the golden years, but I wish I could disappear. Ego crush is so severe. God, it's brutal out here.

CHASITY HALE, BYLINE: I think that the sort of pop punk tradition really lends itself to expressing these difficult feelings.

PERALTA: That's music writer Chasity Hale.

HALE: I think that it's always been a really great outlet for angst because of some of the, like, conventions of that kind of music. Like, they can have electric guitar and, like, heavy drums and this sort of, like, very explosive instrumental.

PERALTA: She notes that it's exciting to see artists who formerly prescribed to other genres rocking out, like Willow pivoting from R&B to this collaboration with Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRANSPARENT SOUL")

WILLOW SMITH: (Singing) I knew a boy just like you. He's a snake, just like you. Such a fake, just like you. But I can see the truth. Transparent soul. I can see right through, just so you know...

HALE: They are sort of a reminder that feelings are meant to be felt and that it's OK to feel resentful or to feel sad. And it's really wonderful to see artists, especially teenage girls, be open about these difficult feelings that we're sometimes told not to express so loudly.

PERALTA: But it's not just the artists going through teenage turmoil right now that are writing about it. Cyrena Touros says...

TOUROS: A lot of songwriters in their early 20s have been re-examining their adolescent periods, going back to that time and thinking with a lot of anger about the societal attitudes that were taken for granted at the time when they were growing up. And so one album that I really loved was called "Death Of A Cheerleader" by Pom Pom Squad. And Mia Berrin is the singer-songwriter of that group, and she wrote a lot about what it felt like to be a young woman of color in high school and the way that stereotypes about gender impacted the way that she viewed herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAME REACTIONS")

POM POM SQUAD: (Singing) Is there a way for me to kill the girl I wish I were? Won't let me be because I'll never be enough for her...

PERALTA: And there's something else these pop-punk songs and artists have in common.

TOUROS: I think it's a genre that has historically excluded women and people of color. And it's super refreshing to see that the people who are moving it forward and making waves are no longer white or male or straight. The most exciting new artists making pop punk in 2021 are women and people of color.

PERALTA: And Cyrena Touros hopes to see that continue in 2022. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.