Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Olivia Rodrigo Chicago performance screams Gen-Z, announces deluxe album release

Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer
With multiple Chicago concerts and a larger venue, Olivia Rodrigo had fans on their feet and singing at the top of their lungs.

Pop superstar and singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo commanded the crowd’s attention Tuesday night during a booming performance at a packed United Center. Rodrigo last performed in Chicago in April 2022 while touring for her debut album, “SOUR,” at the mid-sized Byline Bank Aragon Ballroom. For her sophomore effort, “GUTS,” however, she has upgraded to comfortably filling Chicago’s largest indoor venue.

Rising pop star Chappell Roan opened the show for Rodrigo. She performed hits from her debut album, “The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess,” and waxed lyrical between songs about her Southwestern Missouri upbringing.

“It’s so great to sing about the Midwest in the Midwest,” Roan said with a smile.

When Rodrigo entered, she seized the crowd’s attention with the roaring, stomping rock choruses of “bad idea right?” and “ballad of a homeschooled girl” off of “GUTS.” Capitalizing on this immediate resonance with the audience, Rodrigo proved her ability to shift seamlessly from slow, stripped-down ballads to raucous choruses and back again.

Perhaps no song invited as much singing along as the building anger of “traitor,” when Rodrigo’s fans repeatedly drowned their own idol out. Rodrigo soon took an intimate turn with her performance of her anxious, coming-of-age anthem, “teenage dream,” playing clips on the backdrop screen from her early childhood endeavors in dance and theater. The high-pitched giggles of a younger Rodrigo played over the arena speakers, reminding the audience just how much of her most vulnerable, formative years were spent in the public eye.

Backup dancers made limited appearances, though they had a poignant moment to shine in the body image anthem, “pretty isn’t pretty,” following Rodrigo while being engrossed in handheld mirrors. 

They later played a role in the biggest surprise of the night, during the closer, “get him back!” The dancers handed Rodrigo a crumpled piece of paper, who then opened it up to face the crowd and freeze in place, with a cheeky smile. “GUTS Deluxe Out Friday,” the note read. Previously unannounced, “GUTS (spilled)” debuted five additional tracks including “obsessed” and “so american.”

The experience of the crowd on Tuesday provided a tangible, visceral, and ever-so-sonic glimpse of Rodrigo’s ascendency into pop superstardom. The performance felt like a roaring release of raw emotion and a celebration of Gen Z womanhood, often just as sarcastic as genuine. 

Rodrigo’s audience ranged from little girls with their parents to gaggles of twenty-somethings. Even as Rodrigo — and her music — matures and grows, she proudly remembers what it’s like to be a young woman of any age. Rodrigo knows she has her finger on the pulse of her fan base, and as a result she keeps it simple. 

The concert featured relatively few of the set pieces an arena-sized performance allows for, especially when stars like Madonna or Aerosmith are in town. Rodrigo instead opted for a modest setup of a giant HD screen and one sequence in which she rode a suspended crescent moon over the crowd to sing “logical” and “enough for you.”

The emotional and sonic climax of the night came during the song “all american bitch,” when Rodrigo, repeating a moment seen in other legs of the “GUTS” tour, encouraged her fans: “I want you all to just think about something or someone that really pisses you off, and scream it out as loud as you can in a moment. Okay, are you ready?”

My ears were still ringing as I finally made it home.

Never to be underestimated, Rodrigo released her debut album “SOUR” at 18 and just turned 21 last month. Her performance showed that she will be around to grow up with Gen-Z for a long time to come. 

Despite being launched into the spotlight very early, Rodrigo still displayed an uncanny ability to connect with her audience, smiling, sharing anecdotes and encouraging them to cathartically scream out every rueful heartbreak or youthful mistake. 

As pink confetti twirled from the roof at the end, and the arena-wide choruses finally relented, it was suddenly apparent what a truly communal experience I witnessed, and how lucky I was to see that rare artist that might earn that impossible, perennial title: “voice of a generation.”

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