Stars of 2017: Olivia O’Brien


Olivia O’Brien featured on one of the biggest hits of summer 2016, i hate u, i love u by gnash. She provided the vocal and lyrics that made it resonate with a young audience, but it wasn’t enough to break her as a solo artist. While social media has allowed us to get to know established stars  better than ever, the  growth of streaming, and frequency of one hit wonders like gnash (as well as Lukas Graham, Mike Posner and others leading the top 40  of 2016), has made new artists more anonymous than ever. Even on the radio, you might get a bit of context about the artist from the DJ, but with streaming, the focus is on songs over artists. It’s only when a singer has multiple hits and a compelling story, that they achieve mainstream media coverage and start to be seen as  a human being, not just a voice.

Olivia may not have gained stardom through her appearance on an  international hit, but she has gained an opportunity. The 17-year-old Californian is now signed to Island Records and building towards a worldwide launch in 2017. Just today, while writing this post, I got an email from a UK PR company that has taken her on as a client. i hate u, i love u was based on a voice note that Olivia sent to gnash after he heard  her cover of one of his earlier tracks, and she  posted a demo of  a full version of the song, without gnash, on Soundcloud months before their collaboration came out. Last week she officially released her solo take on the track.

Although the lyrics  seem at first quite broad and timeless, i hate u, i love u really struck  a chord with a teenage  audience, as it expressed  the uncertainty and confusion of young  relationships. In contrast to  the current trend for overproduced tracks full of quirky sound effects, a simple ballad stands out more than ever and appeals to feelings of teenage angst which are just as prevalent for the teens of 2016 as any generation before. Even the slightly whiney way she performs it feels totally teenage. As she works towards a debut album, I’d love to see Olivia using her personal experience and understanding of this generation to write more songs that speak to them, and represent their viewpoint, in such a natural way.

Click here to find out more about This Must Be Pop’s Stars of 2017 and come back on 19th Dec to vote for the artists you think, and hope, will be the biggest pop breakthrough of 2017. The results will be announced in the Future Pop mailer on 2nd Jan.

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