Even at just 21 years old, singer-songwriter Olivia O’Brien already has multiple hits under her belt. In 2016, she featured on the track “i hate u, i love u,” alongside gnash, another pop artist. The song would go on to peak at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts and has received over 1 billion streams on Spotify to date. Last year, O’Brien’s song “Josslyn,” went viral on TikTok, inspiring dances and even a collaboration with rapper 24kGoldn.
O’Brien has never been one to shy away from difficult and raw emotions, remaining honest with her audience about what she is going through. Her first EP, “It’s Not That Deep,” was a collection of five pop tracks. Whether it be about moving on from a nasty breakup or battling depression, “It’s Not That Deep” was a display of what would become O’Brien’s signature brutal honesty. O’Brien followed up with her first album “Was It Even Real?” in 2019, showcasing her artistry as well as a more mature outlook on the more challenging parts of her life.
O’Brien has split her sophomore album into two parts: “Episodes: Season 1,” released earlier this June, and “Episodes: Season 2,” which is set to debut later this year. Like earlier artists Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift, O’Brien has never been known to follow the typical album release pattern. In the last two years, O’Brien has been dropping micro-mixtapes — “It Was A Sad F—ing Summer” and “The Results of My Poor Judgement” — which package tracks with similar narratives together but avoid the demand of a full album.
Upon first listen, “Episodes: Season 1” does not sound like an organized album. The songs vary radically in genre, leaping from pop-punk to R&B and making each song change feel abrupt. This is, however, exactly O’Brien’s intention.
“How can I stick to one thing when I have the freedom to be anything I want at any time? Some people say consistency is key, but I say consistency is a lock,” penned O’Brien in a letter to her fans about the project. “My life is NOT a cohesive project. My life is a messy, scattered, genre-less saga… and so is my album. I’d like to invite you into the episodes of my life. A world of comedy, reality, drama, horror, fantasy and love awaits.”
The album opens with O’Brien telling the tale of a lover who mistreated her with no regard for her feelings in “Sociopath.” In the pre-chorus, O’Brien sets the scene of a horror movie as she sings, “Hands on my neck, but you’ve got no regrets / For the marks that you left / Like your heart’s pumping ice through your chest / And I bet that you’ll do it again / Guess that’s what I get.”
“I genuinely believed that this boy was a sociopath for the way he treated me,” revealed O’Brien in an annotation on the song’s Genius page. “He felt so cold and emotionless… unbothered by the fact that I was wrecked.”
“Sociopath” is the only track on “Episodes: Season 1” with a music video. Directed by Amber Park, the video features some of O’Brien’s closest friends — Kelsey Calemine, Anastasia Karanikolaou and Sydney Carlson — at a sleepover turned sour as an evil ex hunts them all down. As the first visual for the album, it is easy to see O’Brien’s vivid imagination at work, turning an event in her life into a scene straight out of a slasher movie.
The following track, “Call Mom,” takes a more emotional turn. In a shift to a more dramatic tone, a reflective O’Brien longs for the simpler times before she grew up. She wistfully daydreams of the days before she was famous, living life with less pressure on her shoulders. In the first verse, she sings: “I’m sad in my Porsche, I was happy in my Honda / I just can’t afford to be rich any longer / ‘Cause I got so bored of the stuff I was fond of.”
In the chorus, O’Brien, tired of being a grown-up, asks her mom to come pick her up. Her plea is all too relatable for young adults, many of whom struggle with the transition to adulthood. As a personal touch, real voicemails from O’Brien’s mother are also interspersed throughout the song.
With the pop-punk resurgence in full swing, O’Brien tackles the genre with “No More Friends.” The song finds O’Brien at her most experimental on the album — nothing on her discography quite compares. She’s joined by the lead vocalist of Bring Me The Horizon Oli Sykes, and despite the two being an unlikely pair, they’re electric together as they harmonize on the song’s bridge.
“No More Friends” is a song about cutting off a “deadweight” ex after the end of a relationship. According to O’Brien, “I don’t need no more friends / Yeah, I already got too many / So you don’t need to pretend / Like you really give a f— about me.” This piece is angrier than O’Brien’s previous works, showing off a new and raw side of her artistry.
The R&B track “Keep It Movin” keeps the energy up, featuring a confident O’Brien as she enjoys her independence. “I got my own thing goin’ / I don’t need no help / And if I’m not the girl you want / Then I’m good by myself,” she sings at an ex, letting him know that she’s feeling much better off without him, especially now that she knows her worth. The song is reminiscent of “Inhibition (omw),” a song from her first album, “Was It Even Real?”
“We’re All Gonna Die” gives insight into O’Brien’s outlook on life and the album. There’s no reason to worry about what others think — just wear what you want, do what you love and make the music you want to make, regardless of the opinions of other people. Despite how bleak the title may sound, the song maintains a peppy, cheerful tone. O’Brien knows that death is life’s only guarantee, so she is going to live her life to the fullest. The lyrics “I just wanna laugh, you’re scarin’ me / I’ll make my life a parody, oh” demonstrate her realization about mortality empowering rather than frightening her.
The final track serves as a cliffhanger before the eventual release of “Episodes: Season 2.” Fittingly titled “What Happens Now?” O’Brien ponders the next steps of her life, having moved on from her ex. “What happens now? / What happens next? / If I’m not waitin’ for you? / If there’s nothing left?” asks O’Brien during the chorus.
In another Genius annotation, O’Brien wrote about her cinematic inspiration for the song: “It felt like the ending credits of a really good movie where they leave it a little bit open-ended. It’s not quite a cliffhanger, but it leaves the true ending up to the imagination.”
In a year where the beloved sitcom format has been revisited in popular series such as Marvel’s “WandaVision” or HBO Max’s “Friends: The Reunion,” an episodic-structured album filled with different musical styles feels especially apt.
O’Brien did a photoshoot for each track on the album, all of which feature modernized vintage aesthetics and old-fashioned TV dinner advertisements. Like any true sitcom starlet, O’Brien is not afraid to poke fun at herself. The poster for “What Happens Now?” read, “She’s overly dramatic for absolutely no reason at all. Somehow, she even found a way to make it seem sad that she finally got over her ex.” In a trailer for “Episodes: Season 1,” she parodies common sitcom tropes and her own personal woes: a perfect blend of satire and homage.
“Episodes: Season 1” sees O’Brien at her most grown-up, having honed her abilities and having a clear idea of the explorative artist she wants to be. She’s the main character in her own coming-of-age film that certainly ends with her becoming a pop superstar.