Olivia O’Brien broke into the music industry in 2016 when she collaborated with Gnash on the song “i hate u, i love u.” The song went on to become a viral sensation, eventually peaking at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. O’Brien, who was just 16 at the time, exhibited promising musical talent. The song originated with her own songwriting prior to the collaboration. The success found with “i hate u, i love u” led the young artist to a record deal with Island Records. Now, three years later, O’Brien has released her debut album, a piece of work that shows she’s not a one-hit wonder.
O’Brien’s album “Was It Even Real?” displays the artist’s deeply personal songwriting as she explores themes such as relationships, self-love and mental health. The first track on the album, “purpleworld” sets the tone for the project as it comes across as a venting session for the singer-songwriter. This is a track that may be familiar to fans as it features lyrics that O’Brien previously posted in videos of her singing over acoustic instrumentals. The song features a minimalistic production utilizing guitars along with electronic and trap drum tones, a common theme throughout the album.
Following the opening track, the album delves into the themes of depression and mental health with the song “I Don’t Exist.” The song explores the topics of self-medicating and the false romanticism of Los Angeles. O’Brien elaborates on the difficulties within her life as she sings, “All of these people and all of their friends / Look so good together and I don’t fit in.” This line touches on the problems with attempting to fit in in a new place, a problem that may be commonly associated with high school but this emotional track presents itself as a universal theme.
The song “Just Friends” takes a stripped back approach as the instrumental of the track features guitar as the central element. O’Brien explores a relationship that walks the line of romance and friendship. The song presents a relatable experience to listeners as she grapples with attempting to maintain a friendship while struggling to keep herself from falling into their old tendencies.
A standout track on the album that presents an important theme is “UDK,” which served as the lead single for the project. Through this song O’Brien presents and explores the negativity associated with the prevalence of social media. The lyrics examine how individuals can be quick to judge others based on their appearance on social media and through rumors.
“So how can you hate me before we’ve have a conversation?” O’Brien asks in the song’s pre-chorus.
Throughout the album there is a similar tone within the production techniques. On “Just A Boy,” this changes as the instrumentation presents a nostalgic feel featuring production elements reminiscent of the ’80s. The song is driven by a funky bass line and expands upon the sounds with a simple drum beat and melodic synth tones. Lyrically, O’Brien paints a picture of all the aspects she despises about boys her age.
The album concludes on a high note with the empowering self-love track “Love Myself.” The song highlights the importance of showing love for yourself despite all other aspects of life. The lyrics present an interesting theme as it kicks off with the singer-songwriter questioning various aspects of her life and portrayal of herself.
“I don’t need to know who I am yet / I don’t need to have a solid plan yet / I don’t need to be the same as everyone else / I just need to m—–f—-n’ love myself.” The track acts as the perfect conclusion to a project featuring a number of deeply personal themes and puts O’Brien’s impressive songwriting abilities on display.
While the debut album took some time to release after Olivia O’Brien came onto everyone’s radar, it shows that the artist is among the best in the pop genre. O’Brien differs from the rest of the pack as she serves as the primary songwriter on all of her records. Although she carries the bulk of the songwriting credit, O’Brien understands the importance of collaboration as she teamed up with Anton Segerstad and Tobias Frelin for a majority of the album. O’Brien also collaborated with prominent producers such as Teddy Geiger, Jesse Shatkin and OAK, who have worked with Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello and Demi Lovato, respectively.
“Was It Even Real?” puts forth a cohesive sound while O’Brien’s mature songwriting brings themes that can be associated with teenage angst to universal appeal. The album serves as an impressive debut, fully displaying the talent Olivia O’Brien has as a singer-songwriter and proves the start of a promising career.