Amidst the clothes thrown by the bed, a messy table with books and notebooks on top of each other and a smartphone or computer open on social media or other websites, the teenager remains as the most complex being of all. There is no other animal in nature as complicated to understand. Teens feel everything and nothing at the same time. They can feel confident at one moment, and down in the other. What they feel is not understood by the majority of people — sometimes not even by the emotions’ owner.
Flesh, bones, blood and paranoia. Those things form the person who is within twelve to eighteen years old, according to UNICEF. A seven years limbo turned to be the most difficult challenge in their life. An age that will define your whole existence forever, where the teen learns about the world, money, economy, democracy and themselves. And with all that, pressure, anxiety and insecurities appear — resulting in self-destructive and chaotic thoughts.
Understanding all those pieces of information is not easy, and not for everyone. To the novice in this world, you can fall into wrong assumptions of how we live, eat, feel and exist.
But there is one person who is moving an entire generation with their music filled with details about the adolescent experience. A person who started their career in Disney Channel and who, in 2021, burst into the charts with the song drivers license — reaching stardom as a musical artist. And that person is Olivia Rodrigo. The 18 years old actress and singer released her first album Sour — a collection of outbursts and reflections about topics that many adolescents today experience. The album now has four singles — drivers license, deja vu, good 4 u and brutal. This piece’s focus is on the latter.
In brutal, Olivia invites us to join her pity party — not only to complain but also to expose the reality of the contemporary teenager.
Therefore, grab your brutal stickers — a snack as well — and let’s go to Olivia’s little party.
Part One: The Ballerina
brutal is a music video that, in the first place, transmits the chaos that is a teen’s mind — with lots of scenes, characters and little details assembled in two minutes and 54 seconds. The design is inspired by “choose your player” games. The characters in the set will appear throughout the video.
The first player, we meet Olivia Rodrigo as a ballerina surrounded by other dancers. She is in a pastel blue dress with a light blue wig. A few seconds later, the gracious and tranquil creature transforms itself into a rebel and dark version, induced by an ankle wound. Fallen to the ground, the new ballerina wears black ballet shoes with black fishnets covering legs and arms, in addition to a pastel pink tutu and black hair tied in a bun. Heavy guitar sounds invade suddenly.
A failed attempt in being gracious, light, calm… perfect.
Reaching perfection, an illusion that’s about to be broken.
Part Two: The News Anchor
The second player is Olivia as a news anchor.
On her side, we see a male anchor. In his face, there are drawings similar to ones made in plastic surgeries.
Both of the newscasters are watching a commercial photoshoot behind the scenes. The product is a drink. The model — also portrayed by Olivia — is visibly uncomfortable, because of the producers who touch her constantly and throw balloons at her.
And then a wound appears on the model’s arm. The blood is captured by a close-up on the camera, then to her face — which has some cracks on it. The anchors look at the filming, but surprise or worry isn’t their reaction. It seems that they feel entertained by the model’s suffering.
This scene connects to the part of the lyrics where Olivia says that she’s tired of her job, wanting to give up and start a new life. Mentioning that if she does that, everyone will be disappointed “’cause who am I if not exploited”, as she says.
All she wanted is not to be slavered on a job that only brings sadness and sorrow. The feeling of being forced to suffer and humiliate yourself in a job to gain the validation of others — people that face this kind of torture as the only way to be “dignified”. And the person who doesn’t fall in this narrative — who wants to maintain their health intact or who doesn’t allow themselves to lose their sanity studying for some test, for example — is seen as stupid, inferior, irresponsible, useless, careless… derelict.
An obligation imposed by society, family and media, that we, unfortunately, replicate to fulfill the desire to please every person in our life.
Because after all, we’ll only be glorious with a sacrifice made in the name of that cause, isn’t it?
Part Three: The School
The first environment where we socialize with other people, after our relatives. A place to learn about the most diverse topics, where good things happen, like making friends or acquiring some knowledge. But at the same time in that place, bad things happen — being lonely or not acquiring any knowledge. As the second social institution that we’re inserted in, the school is converted into a location where family values are applied in practice. Values like respect for the elders, love, friendship and fraternity, as well as segregation, superiority and prejudice.
On the other hand, Olivia brings the school not as the main subject, but as the background for an assumption that many people have about the teenager — the majority being adults.
In the scene, she is in a classroom. Her face has falling tears stickers on it. Students surround her. Some of them are messing with their hair while others are scratching the school book. All of them are blue and down. The teacher is doing her role but gets no response from your potential pupils. In a close-up, she says the verse of the lyrics “Enjoy your youth” aggressively, as a form of repression for the teens.
The teacher represents the idea that adolescence is “The Golden Years”, which is being wasted by apathetic teenagers. In their vision, they have to enjoy it while it lasts because when the first white hair shows up as well as the first bill, needing to be paid, they will face the “real” problems in life.
There are reasons for the lack of attention of the young ones, teachers. Maybe it is pure and simple disrespect. Maybe, it is spirals of anxiety. Know how to distinguish.
Part Four: The Live
We’ve reached the chorus.
The scenery is a classic 2000’s teen movie bedroom. Olivia is with a friend who is focused on his phone. They’re sitting on the bedroom floor. We later find that the phone is open on an Instagram live. The person who’s streaming is a young girl — Pisces and New Yorker. The content of the live is her having a meltdown, quickly reaching 20000 people attending.
What makes this scene different is the connection with the lyrics.
All I did was try my best This the kind of thanks I get? Unrelentlessly upset (ah, ah, ah)
They say these are the golden years But I wish I could disappear Ego crush is so severe God, it's brutal out here
The Pisces-New Yorker young girl and her live meltdown is a nod to the presence and influence that social media has in the adolescent’s life and mind. A refuge that unites people with related experiences, but it can also be a realm for torture.
Part Five: The Mall
A gathering place for several young people. A place where we fall into the trap of consumerism, with its countless and endless buying options.
In the video, Olivia appears in the centre of the mall. Everything is dark. There is only one light — above her body. A scene that can be easily neglected, due to how quickly it passes — double attention needed. The thought through this scene is the need and insecurity about being loved and desired. This scene attaches to the verse I feel like no one wants me, followed by And I hate the way I’m perceived — a paranoia that connects love and beauty.
After that, cut to Olivia looking at two promotional posters. Her clothing is ripped with dark and cold colours.
The first one is for the drink “The Golden Years” — remember it?. The model is smiling, without the injury and cracks — quite separated from the self presented to us at the beginning of the music video. The drink’s slogan is “Do you have the guts to enjoy it?”. With that sentence, Olivia tells us the reason why she would cry when someone says anything about the “Golden Years”. She informs us that “The Golden Years” is not enjoyable, the taste is not good. “The Golden Years” is complicated, chaotic, stressful and brutal.
I have been drinking this beverage every day since my early 12’s. The taste hasn’t come out of my mouth and out of my soul. I don’t know when it will come out.
The second one is for cosmetics. A lipstick called “Enjoy Your Youth”. The model is also smiling — is she happy?. Melanie Martinez once said in her song Sippy Cup that All the makeup in the world won’t make you less insecure and with that poster detail, Olivia perfectly represents the influence of makeup, cosmetic products and aesthetic procedures in adolescence — usually attached to a lack of self-esteem. The male anchor’s face drawings are the imagery of a desire to become beautiful.
With an industry that profits over insecurities to make products like “Enjoy Your Youth”, we absorb a toxic model that tells us to deny our inner and natural beauty and worship an unreachable standard. We are wrong, they are right. We are ugly, they are beautiful.
Part Six: The Traffic
Olivia and her friends are in bottled traffic. Several cars honk at the same time. Fed up, she gets out of her friend’s car. She walks a little bit and climbs in another.
And then, close-up on her face as she speaks the last verses of the song:
Got a broken ego, broken heart God, I don't even know where to start
The scenario reveals itself with the camera moving away.
Ballerinas dominate the roofs of cars, making their steps.
There are still honk sounds and dissatisfied people.
A confusing and overcrowded traffic can only mean one thing: a mind full of a lot of things at the same time, like the anxiety about never being perfect, her two real friends, break-up and her lack of self-esteem. And that mind belongs to Olivia. She recognizes that she has a broken ego and heart, not knowing how to start… asking for help.
In general, brutal expresses the challenge that is to be a teenager nowadays but also expresses the desire that we all have, which is to be happy. She wants to be happy without feeling pressure at work. She wants to be happy with her appearance. She wants to be happy with the people around her. She just wants a happy life. And when that doesn’t come true, the ego breaks even more, and the heart weakens faster.
That’s the teenager.
The teenager wants to live a life without sorrow and disappointment.
But we all know it’s hard to find it.
Olivia’s mind is not only hers. Her spirals belong to every teenager, including myself.
The problems of the adolescent are no different from the problems of people of different ages. However, we must understand the brutality that this time makes us suffer. You have to understand them and be patient with them.
It’s late. The party’s over.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Cabral, 17, is a young Brazilian writer. He has a column on a blog called Escritor Brasileiro (Brazilian Writer) in addition to opinion essays on a Brazilian local newspaper – Diário do Nordeste (Northeast Journal). He is active on Instagram (@jonathancabralautor).