In Olivia Rodrigo’s new song for “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” the 20-year-old singer-songwriter exclaims, “I’m here, I’m there, I’m everywhere, but you can’t catch me now.”
Though the lines of “Can’t Catch Me Now” were written for Lucy Gray Baird — the protagonist of the “Hunger Games” prequel — Rodrigo herself has become an omnipresent force. The song recently earned her a Hollywood Music in Media award, while her latest full-length, “Guts,” is up for six Grammy Awards, including her first recognition in the best rock song category for “ballad of a homeschooled girl.”
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Rodrigo and her co-writer and producer Dan Nigro assembled “Guts” as the follow-up to Rodrigo’s Grammy-winning 2021 debut, “Sour,” which established her as a vivid narrator for her generation. “Sour” touched on her struggle to find herself after a particularly painful breakup – the material was deeply introspective, at times disquieting, but clever, fresh and relatable. Then came the writing sessions for the sophomore record, and with them, a dreary kind of pressure to follow up a blockbuster debut. Nigro summarized the experience at a recent event saying, “I would get home and talk to my wife and she’d say, ‘How was the studio today?’ Like, ‘Well, we had a philosophical conversation about tempos and speeds of songs for 12 hours, and then we both went home crying. That was the day.’”
The pair delivered, as proven by the massive streaming numbers and Grammy nominations.
“When I write, my goal is to capture the essence of what I’m feeling in a way that’s going to be poignant and concise,” Rodrigo tells Variety. “On ‘Guts,’ I felt I had a lot I wanted to get off of my chest – the shame and embarrassment and regrets. All feelings that are hard to externalize in everyday life but I think this record gave me an outlet to process them… It was a very important album for me to write as Olivia the person.”
Here, Rodrigo breaks down her approach to storytelling, reveals the novels on her bedside table and shares the spotlight with her favorite writers.
What was the writing process for “Can’t Catch Me Now”?
I watched the film first and then wrote the song. It was a really interesting challenge for me to write something from the perspective of a character in a movie because I feel like I’m very direct in my songwriting; I write about what’s going on in my life. Even though I tore through the books as a kid, I didn’t watch the films until this year.
With the song, Lucy Gray became the muse. I grew up feeling inspired by people like Carole King, who wrote songs for other people to start her career, and I always thought, “What an admirable thing to do.”
What lessons did you learn from writing “Guts”?
The experience tested my confidence and patience. It taught me some important lessons about songwriting in terms of focusing on your craft rather than just waiting for inspiration to strike. It taught me about the mindset that is most conducive to writing: You can never sit down at the piano and try to write something that everyone will like; that always results in a really bad song. It taught me that I write songs that I want to hear.
These days, I try to write one song every day. I just feel like myself when I’m writing. If I don’t do it, I get depressed. I’m just writing songs to process what’s going on, whether in my personal life or in my perception of the world.
Any storytelling you’ve been impressed by recently?
I saw Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” and I can’t stop thinking about it. I think she’s such an incredible storyteller. I’ve got Patti Smith’s “Year of the Monkey” on my bedside table, and I’ve read “Just Kids” and “Woolgathering.” I’ve also been reading a lot of Dolly Alderton lately. She wrote one of my favorite books — “Everything I Know About Love.”
That book feels chaotic, but in the best, most 20-something-girl way.
Exactly. My mantra in life, anytime something weird or embarrassing happens to me, is “I’m just collecting stories for the memoir.” I’m just here to collect fun memories that I can talk and write about later.
What do you hope audiences take away from your music?
Honest songwriting. It’s what I’ve gravitated towards my whole life — music that helps you process what you’re feeling or comforts you when you’re feeling these big feelings. It’s just nice to know that someone else is experiencing them. It makes you feel less alone.
You start the “Guts” tour a few days after your 21st birthday – how are we feeling about all of it?
I’m so excited! It’s a very serendipitous week, right? And these songs were made to be sung in a crowd… the lyrics, I’m hoping, will resonate even more in person. I think it’s going to be an unforgettable experience especially since “Sour” came during a pandemic. I’m really happy with how everything is going and there’s a lot of fun things we have planned in terms of visuals and stuff like that.
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