In between singing and soundcheck, Olivia O’Brien squeezes in an interview. If you didn’t catch the implication in that sentence, the singer is busy—or rather, booked and busy, balancing a national tour with an album release when the Californian would rather be, well, at home.
“It’s hard to live out of a van and shitty hotels,” the 19-year-old laments.
That might not be the first thing an artist would admit in an interview. In fact, complaints are divulged rarely-to-never. To be a music journalist is to become exceedingly familiar with the word “grateful.” “Grateful” is the squeaky wheel that, no matter how much grease you apply, perseveres, while “blessed”—gratitude’s reverently pure younger cousin—comes in close second. There’s little wonder why the adjectives crop up so frequently. Press has the power to propel and prolong a career: more tours, more albums, more fame. Olivia O’Brien, however, just doesn’t really care.
Waiting for her music to drop? “A fucking slow death.” LA socialites? “All fucking suck.” Her sound? “Whatever the fuck [she] wants.” Her lyrics are all imbued with a kind of self-aware immaturity, a conscious rejection of rationality. The result is an authenticity that clearly very much resonates with fans, many of whom are also Gen Z-ers (“I know my fans are going through the same things I am, so when I put those things in my songs, they relate to them”). “I Hate U, I Love U,” her first single, shot straight onto the Hot 100. It’s the doing “whatever she wants,” both sonically and visually, that she claims made her album, Was It Even Real, unexpectedly cohesive. When asked if she ever considers how a project might be received during its creation, I might’ve predicted her response.
“Honestly? Not really, I don’t care. I feel like I have a solid fan base, I know my fans are going to listen to the album, and if it doesn’t get me new fans then that’s fine. I just hope my fans are happy with it.”
“I Don’t Exist,” one of the album’s stand-out tracks, was a product of flash inspiration after an extended writer’s block. It speaks to O’Brien’s disillusions with LA living, perhaps even her group of friends—many of whom likely dominate your Instagram feeds. “All of the people and all of their friends look so good together and I don’t fit in,” she croons in the pre-chorus, “because they’re picture perfect and I’m on the end, crop me out the photo so they can pretend that I don’t exist.” When I mention another LA-based singer around O’Brien’s age who bridges influencer territory, she bristles.
“Once you ride through it it becomes sad, almost, to watch,” she says. “I used to care about being in the social scene in LA, I wanted to go out and those people to respect me, then I realized that they all fucking suck and I don’t give a fuck. I don’t want to go to Poppy on a Tuesday night. That’s where the shift happened. Like, I just don’t care.”
The singer claims she once struggled to separate herself from the “influencer” community, but no more. Now, Olivia O’Brien is intent on posting, doing, singing, being, you guessed it, exactly what she wants. She’s perfected the art of giving zero fucks, and it’s working.
“I don’t FaceTune the fuck out of my photos or try and pose like an Instagram model,” she notes. “I don’t really do brand deals anymore, I’ve tried to stay away from all that. You have to navigate it. It took me a couple of years, but I just want to take everything back to music.”
Listen to Was It Even Real? below.