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Music Culture cheat sheet: Olivia Rodrigo, Harry Styles, and more

Jan. 20, 2021
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Watch: Another Round (dir. Thomas Vinterberg)

I’m a sucker for movies about people going through a rut, from the coming of age of suburb-born teens to stoic fortysomethings asking their wives if they’ve turned boring. They never fail to tap into something innate and universal despite the stakes being extremely low, the human experience encapsulated in a small story of some person lonely in their own home. Another Round is no different: it centers on Martin (a brilliant Mads Mikkelsen), a high school teacher feeling increasingly uninspired by his stale career and family life. It’s only when he and his friends decide to test a hypothesis proposed by a philosopher—that humans perform better with a constant .5 alcohol blood concentration—that he jolts awake.

The premise makes it appear like a cautionary tale against addiction, but it’s definitely more than the sum of its parts. Behind the film is Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, who got the idea when his teen daughter Ida told him stories about youth drinking culture. The original story, written as a play, was a celebration of alcohol on the basis that history would be completely different without it. (Martin teaches history in the film, and many of his classroom scenes involve discussing historical figures’ drinking habits.) Ida was the one who pleaded that he adapt it for the big screen, even garnering a role as one of Martin’s children. When she was killed in a car accident four days into filming, everything came to a halt; but with advice from therapists and the cast and crew, as well as the knowledge that Ida was among the film’s first believers, Vinterberg chose to continue. The script was reworked to be more life-affirming: “It should not just be about drinking. It was about being awakened to life,” the director told Vulture.

Skipping the alcohol-is-bad rhetoric to opt for a moving introspection guaranteed the film’s success, which made festival rounds before its recent digital release. Don’t get me wrong: this movie is funny—it’s joyous, cathartic, melancholic, frustrating, and so, so full of empathy. It’s still a celebration, not of alcohol but who we become when we drink, of bridging the gap between all the people we are. “If you ever laugh at this movie,” Vinterberg said to L.A. Times, “it’s because there’s four actors and close friends of mine who try desperately to make their director laugh at a time where it wasn’t really possible.”

Another Round is available on digital.

Listen: “Treat People With Kindness” by Harry Styles

Phoebe Waller-Bridge is not afraid to give her audience what they want. After working with Phoebe Bridgers on a music video starring Normal People’s Paul Mescal, she is now dancing with Harry Styles in matching Gucci suits for the singer’s latest single, “Treat People With Kindness.” The music video dropped on January 1st, and like the Hollyweed prank that also happened on New Year’s Day in 2017, many are convinced this is a good omen for the year to come.

“Treat People With Kindness” is the sixth single from Styles’ sophomore album Fine Line, released over a year ago. Even before the song came to be, its title had already been part of the artist’s musical canon: merch from his debut self-titled tour was already branded with “TPWK,” and fans were quick to include the motto in their vocabulary. Styles’ years-long plea for graciousness culminates in this church-choir-esque anthem, his velvety vocals donning a new layer of zest not often found in the grungy textures of his solo music. Waller-Bridge’s dancing gives a rosy tint to the already booming crescendo of the song’s final verse, too. I don’t really remember Fine Line being up to par with Styles’ previous album, but this—the foggy grayscale, the white pantsuits, the dancing, the fact that photos of both Styles and Waller-Bridge hang on my wall—is making me question my earlier judgment.

Watch the music video for “Treat People With Kindness” by Harry Styles here

Listen: “drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo

We all know TikTok has become the invisible hand predicting music charts, but you need not be on the app to have noticed the sudden enthusiastic emergence of one Olivia Rodrigo and her debut single “drivers license.” 

Rodrigo’s story isn’t exactly A Star Is Born—she’s a Disney star, most known for being in the popular High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and penning a song from the show which also earned the TikTok stamp of approval. She’s currently signed to Geffen Records and co-wrote “drivers license” with producer Dan Nigro, who previously worked on singles by Carly Rae Jepsen and Caroline Polachek. 

This doesn’t mean the single feels lab-manufactured, though. Rodrigo allegedly wrote it for rumored ex-boyfriend Joshua Bassett, her love interest in HSMTMTS who is now apparently dating Sabrina Carpenter, an older, blonder Disney star (read the full tea here!!!!). Fans have lauded the breakup ballad as Swiftian for the Easter egg-laden lyrics, and Swifties quickly jumped aboard the Olivia train when Taylor Swift herself said she was proud of the younger artist. Other listeners are hearing hints of Melodrama in it too, but I think this is because Lorde has just been gone for too long—and the songwriting feels more similar to the distinctly teenaged, indulgent heartbreak of Conan Gray rather than the meeker Fearless-era Swift. (Producer Nigro has also worked with Gray, which actually explains a lot.)

Nevertheless, it’s easy to see the reason behind “drivers license” going viral. In some twisted way, its hyperspecific emotional narrative made me miss being 17, and now that I think about it, this song fulfills a collective gaping need in the cultural zeitgeist for a pure, unadulterated confession of heartbreak in the most unpretentious way possible—this is a quintessential breakup track in all its blunt, vulnerable glory.

Watch the music video for “drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo here.