Live Report: Olivia Rodrigo – The O2 Arena, London

A stunning live experience...

At just 21 years of age, there’s no doubt that Olivia Rodrigo is one of the biggest success stories of the past decade. After shattering records with her chart-topping, four-time platinum album ‘SOUR’, the GRAMMY award-winning artist returned with her second album ‘GUTS’ in September of last year, exploring a whole new soundscape within her field of genre. Cascading through the air of The O2 Arena, waving down at the fans whilst performing sitting down on her signature ‘floating’ crescent moon, the first London show of her GUTS tour was concrete proof of her international dominance and the cult fanbase she is continuously building. 

With major anticipation for her GUTS tour throughout the UK with the four-day residency instantly selling out, people had made it down early to secure a standing space as close to the stage as possible. Amidst the colourful wave of purple and glittery skirts, merchandise-wearers and iPhone flashlights, the California-hailing American export took to the stage shortly after eight-thirty; wild screams constructed a cacophony through the air as Rodrigo was accompanied at the front by her live band consisting of a drummer, three guitarists, a solo-keys player and two backup vocalists— all ready to perform to the first ten-thousand people to see her in London this week. 

Standing as an unapologetically relatable outlet for the youth generation of today, Olivia and her fandom have become a phenomenon worldwide, a conclusion more than evident from the North Greenwich environment alone. The teenage girl we once discovered from her sentimental, infectious acoustic love ballads and songwriting has no doubt levelled up in her artistry. Brimming with confidence and an undeniable stage presence, the star throughout the show switched between playing both the guitar and the piano, whilst for other tracks she presented the audience with a very ‘live’ sounding reimagined version of her latest album. Accompanied on stage for some tracks with a host of talented dancers, the choreography notably remained remarkably intuitive throughout – it didn’t feel like just a gig, but more of a show and thorough performance. 

Allowing us a window into her childhood at times, the performance of ‘Teenage Dream’ featured a nostalgic backdrop featuring clips of Rodrigo as a child singing at family events and parties. Despite the track being emotionally symbolic, lyricising at times the sadness of growing up, her outlook and positivity lend a welcoming arm over her fanbase’s shoulders, reassuring them that growth into adolescence is something to be embraced and not feared.  Performing ‘driver’s license’ just before seemed only fitting also, with Olivia visually and noticeably reflective of her breakthrough track, being not only a staple point in her career but her life as a whole. 

Continuously interacting with her fans throughout the concert, Rodrigo made a point of waving, greeting and complimenting fans throughout the show. Intertwining herself with British culture, she declared her love for jaffa cakes and Percy Pigs in one of the series of dialogues she held with the infatuated fans all around. Never taking her position for granted at any point, the star made an extra effort to collectively sing “Happy Birthday” in the arena for one of her fans, who stood patiently by the barrier with a cardboard cutout sign with promise throughout the evening. Immersing herself within the room, an impeccably designed set allowed Olivia to float through the whole arena on a crescent moon; with the ability to engage with her fans at the back of the room as she completed a circuit of the whole venue whilst mid-air, this ten-minute span stood as a wholesome and captivating period that separated this show from the many others at The O2. 

As showcased in her new ‘GUTS’ album, Olivia’s music explores a more rock-infused soundscape. With a handful of song selections from her new project allowing us to see her in a ‘rockstar’ light, it felt that as her career has elevated, so has her talent and innovation. Switching up between this rock, 90s MTV-style song selection, she possesses a gift to transition so effortlessly from energetic, passionately charged jump-up music to sentimental, emotional ballads that can captivate an audience with every word. In particular, Olivia and her guitarist took it back to the basics for her delicately powerful “favourite crime” – by stripping back the extra productional aspects from the set, the audience was led into encapsulation by her isolated vocal, and despite most Rodrigo fans singing every single word back to her, the emotion was somewhat tangible within the arena. 

Despite many concerns post-COVID surrounding the lifespan and ‘buzz’ around the live music industry, Olivia Rodrigo and her fanbase are living representations that modern-day fandom is still very much alive, with the live industry now being arguably at a pinnacle throughout recent years. Closing the set with an encore of ‘good 4 u’ and ‘get him back!’, the crowd were given two final tracks to sing their hearts out, something met with inevitable passion. The set hybridisation between relatable and angry-at-times love music and more emotional, sentimental tracks crafted a nostalgic introspection upon the eager and reflective crowd, which, partnered with the level of stage direction and gravitas on show, intertwined for the perfect concert. Olivia Rodrigo, take a bow. 

Words: Harvey Marwood

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