Ever since Olivia Rodrigo motored onto the scene in 2021 with her chart-topping ballad “Driver’s License,” she’s been the Next Big Thing in pop. Still, even as she was showered with Grammys and co-signed by everyone from Alanis Morissette to Jack White, there’s been a sense of unease among some of her millennial and Gen X fans, particularly men, who feel weird for relating so deeply to the innermost feelings of a now-20-year-old.
That sensation—so hilariously captured in a viral SNL skit where a bunch of older guys sing-scream along to “Driver’s License”—doesn’t appear to have diminished with the release of Rodrigo’s sophomore album, Guts. So why can’t the dudes of the world just stop worrying and learn to wear their Olivia love on their sleeve?
Maria Sherman, a music writer at the Associated Press, has noticed a recent evolution in the demographics of Rodrigo’s fanbase. “We’re seeing that conversation evolve where it’s accepted that people of all ages, particularly older women, are relating to and feeling for Olivia Rodrigo, and now there’s a connection with men, too,” she tells The Daily Beast. “Not to say that they weren’t listening to it, but I’ve certainly seen this conversation come up quite a bit.”
For some older male fans, the draw to Rodrigo’s music might actually stem from the generational divide itself. Jeff, a 35-year-old from Brooklyn, says he’s a fan of Rodrigo because of “the Gen Z of it all. I think I’m just sort of fascinated by that generation. In the last few years, I’ve started realizing that as a smack-dab-in-the-middle millennial, I’m no longer part of the young, fun, progressive generation, at least comparatively. I really like the openness and maturity and vulnerability in her music that I think is indicative of a lot of Gen Z.”
That vulnerability is exactly what many of the male Rodrigo fans I spoke to pointed to when they tried to explain why they resonated with songs like “Driver’s License.” After all, at 20 years old, Rodrigo is part of a generation that seems more able to healthily process their emotions instead of repressing them. The thing that every guy who loves singing along to songs like “Deja Vu” mentioned is exactly what makes Rodrigo’s music popular: that universal teenage feeling.
Jesse, 34, learned about Rodrigo’s music because he teaches at a high school in Oakland, California. He jokes that as a married man in his thirties, a Rodrigo concert might not be the space for him, but he gets at the exact kernel that has made her such a success.
“She captures a lot of the experience of being an insecure teen without compromising a more adult voice to do so,” he says. “Even if you don’t like her music, I don’t know that there are many artists that are able to thread that needle in the same way.”
Sherman adds that Rodrigo’s sound is a gateway for male fans to experience the confessional nature of her music in a way that might make her more accessible than other female pop stars.
“There’s a sort of assumed, I guess, male friendliness of this music, which doesn’t directly reflect the listenership, but has always been kind of understood culturally,” she explains. “I think that allows men who love this music to also love Olivia Rodrigo’s interpretations and sort of explorations in it, perhaps without feeling insecure of liking a young woman’s music. I’m hoping that’s more of a cultural shift, but there is certainly something to the fact that this music is coded or presented historically for men, and hopefully we’re evolving in a certain way where people are now accepting of anybody performing it, which they should be.”
But Rodrigo’s appeal goes beyond the emotion and vulnerability of her music. For 32-year-old fan Ariel, Rodrigo, who is Filipino American, also represents an important diversity shift in pop music.
“In the early days of YouTube, the platform was raised up by young cover artists and songwriters like AJ Rafael and Passion, yet that success never saw the mainstream,” he says. “Filipinos love R&B, rock music, and ballads, and artists like Bruno Mars and H.E.R. are representative of the Filipino American standard of talent and love of hip-hop and R&B. Olivia Rodrigo is the representative of our culture’s other great musical love. She’s a success story that represents what everyone knows about Filipinos: damn, we can sing.”
Ariel’s mention of genre is something that comes up often in the discourse around Rodrigo’s music. Jeff ended up getting into Sour because it sounds like the kind of music he’s always liked; he recalls being an instant fan of the punky, guitar-driven “Good 4 U” because it so closely recalled the pop-punk he grew up on. Likewise, Rodrigo’s ability to seamlessly meld genres like pop, punk, and rock is something that certainly draws a more diverse spectrum of listeners to her music, including men.
“I think she’s cherry-picking certain things that lend themselves to a male, rock-listening audience. I hear Pavement and The Cure in her records as much as I hear Hole and Avril Lavigne,” Sherman says. “I’ve talked to some men about it recently, sort of colloquially, and the assessment seems to be that they really enjoy that she’s a rock star. She’s not a pop star, and that is something that they connect with. It feels a little gender essentialist, but there is something to that idea of male fans who were more rock-oriented wearing their Olivia Rodrigo fandom openly, as opposed to hiding from it simply because of who she is.”
Indeed, the majority of guys I spoke with were initially drawn to Rodrigo’s sound because it was reminiscent of what they grew up listening to—bands like My Chemical Romance, Paramore, and Dashboard Confessional. But Chandler, 30, mentions a piece of the puzzle that may have more male fans clamoring to Rodrigo’s music.
“I also believe that mainstream music, both in songs by female artists and by male artists, has become a bit more emotional and moody,” he says. “Like, the explosion of sad-boy rap, the growth of the emo revival, [with] MGK, Meet Me at the Altar, Yungblood, and Halsey going pop-punk—those are all part of the story to me.”
So if we’re finally getting more music that’s allowing men to be in their feelings on a more mainstream plane, why not get into a pop girlie that toes the line of all of the above? Andy, 33, a Los Angeles-based Rodrigo fan, certainly feels that her music goes beyond outworn gender boundaries: “Gonna be real, I kind of take umbrage with that assessment,” he says. “Nora Ephron wasn’t making movies for women, she was making movies about women for everyone. Show me a guy who didn’t get emotional during You’ve Got Mail and I’ll show you someone who has been lying to himself.”
Presumably, Guts will convert even more men into fans—and make the ones who are already on board even more passionate. Many of the guys I spoke to mentioned being huge fans of lead single “Vampire,” and seemed excited about her leaning more into punk territory on album two. As Jeff excitedly puts it, “If Sour was crying into a pint of Haagen-Dazs, I think Guts will be taking a baseball bat to the windshield.”
Guts certainly shakes off the sophomore slump by proving that Rodrigo’s universal appeal is still firmly intact as she continues to grow as a person and a pop star—and that her fans, whether they’re 18 or 81, man or woman or nonbinary, are along for the ride.
“She definitely writes from a young woman’s perspective,” Andy says of her appeal, “but I’d say so much of what her songwriting is about is pretty universal to the experience of being a teenager, or having the fortune of being young and in love, or the misfortune of being young and infatuated. She’s walking the same ground as the indie-rock and power-pop darlings men in my generation were surreptitiously spilling our feelings to in the mid-aughts. Yeah, I’m a 33-year-old straight bald man now, but I can guarantee me and my dude-bro peers felt insecurity, yearning, and angst just as hard as the 19-year-old girl unpacking her freshman dorm this week. Whether or not my peers want to cop to that is their own problem.”