There’s something so genuinely real about singer-songwriter Olivia O’Brien. From her experiences being bullied throughout middle and high school, to losing, and finding, herself in the mess of her teenage years, O’Brien’s extremely relatable past has played an instrumental role in the pop princess’ songwriting style. They always say, “Never date a musician if you don’t want them to write about you,” O’Brien IS that musician. She’s heard every “lame excuse” in the book, and her debut album Was It Even Real? follows her journey, navigating the relatively rocky landscape that is the human mind, both her own and her lovers, reevaluating if the love she shared was even real.
O’Brien knows the struggle, firsthand, of insecurity, depression, and many other issues plaguing young people today. She wanted this album to be the sunshine, warming up people’s hearts and brightening their day, as mentioned,
“I wrote this in a really dark place and I hope I can help other people who may be in that same spot. My idea was for you to listen to the album when you’re feeling sad and by the end, you’ll feel better without even realizing it.”
And she does just that. Track by track, the sun shines through, just as it does almost every day in her current home in Los Angeles. Her unique blend of shimmering pop, with hints of soulful R&B, demonstrate the advanced maturity of the 19-year old. She kicks off her album with a hopeful tune discussing how a man made her feel worthless, but through his mistreatment, a new door opens. “purpleworld” explores the personal significance of the color purple to O’Brien, “a fresh start, a new meaning.”
Following the revelation sparking “purpleworld” is the hard-hitting “I Don’t Exist.” Living alone in LA since a young age, O’Brien has been thrown into the suffocating culture of Instagram models and pilates instructors. It’s made her lose herself and question if she’s even real anymore. After losing herself in the toxic LA culture, she strips it back for “Inhibition (omw),” realizing that it simply isn’t just others who ruin things for her. Sometimes, she’s her own biggest demon, ruining things for herself before they can even start – she’s “self-destructive.”
Once she gets past her inner demons, she looks outside of herself to find love. Unfortunately for her, she seeks love in the wrong guy – the kind who only wants the benefits, without the relationship. He wants to keep them “Just Friends,” even though he realized that she caught feelings. The misfortune for O’Brien continues, as she covers in “We Lied To Each Other.” Ironically, she lies to her lover that she doesn’t have feelings,, and he lies to her that he has feelings. This slow-burning is drawn out, just like her false relationship, and yet she’d “do it again.”
After that relationship is finally over, comes the first single from Was It Even Real?, “UDK.” While she deals with the artifice within LA, there’s a whole other frontier to combat: social media. People judge her by her online presence, and she’s sick of it. Quick judgements have consumed her life and ruin her image in real life. Even with that tarnished reputation, she still finds a “lover” in “Care Less More.” What can barely be described as a relationship, O’Brien finds solace in a man to fill the other side of the bed, as he uses her for the same reasons. The comfort of another body momentarily distracts both parties from memories of their ex, which is all they really seek.
O’Brien’s mission to fill the hole left by her ex quickly becomes a venture to move on as she seeks another lover in “Just a Boy.” The pop-infused bop denounces the immature man-child she met at a party, who doesn’t directly express what he wants out of their relationship. After that relationship fails, she reflects on a different failed relationship in “Call Me!!!” in which her ex moves on, but she can’t bring herself to. O’Brien wishes for nothing more than to be his significant other again, and begs for him to call her as she sits by the phone, drinking away her sorrows.
To conclude her superb debut album, O’Brien presents the empowering “Love Myself.” Throughout the whole album, we heard stories of O’Brien letting others affect her judgement and measure her self-worth, but she finally realizes that happiness comes from within. She shared,
“I should love myself, but I don’t, I should treat myself better, but I don’t. It doesn’t have the same unattainable note that a lot of happier, confident songs have. So much other shit is like, ‘I already love myself. I’m confident. I’m great’. This is more attainable. It starts with being easier on yourself. So many kids are depressed. I wanted to end on a high note.”
And that she did. The high note, dually from her impressive vocal range and positive conclusion to her album. Be sure to experience the thrilling emotional rollercoaster that is Was It Even Real? below: