‘Priscilla,’ Olivia Rodrigo and the Year of Girlhood and Longing

‘Priscilla,’ Olivia Rodrigo and the Year of Girlhood and Longing

Rodrigo realizes that, in its first throes, “Love Is Embarrassing.” (It is.) On that throbbing track, she admits the hold “some weird second-string loser” has on her. On another, “Get Him Back,” she jokingly lays out a conflicted revenge plot as the bridge drops to a whisper: “I wanna kiss his face, with an uppercut,” she confesses. “I wanna meet his mom — just to tell her her son sucks.” She’s cataloging her humiliations, but she’s laughing at them, too.

She refuses to wallow for long, and I’m convinced this is partly what gives the album its buoyancy. (It’s an approach that, in hindsight, would have given me more relief than the semester I spent writing love-stricken poetry on tiny notecards at my university’s performing arts library after a brutal breakup.)

Girlhood, strictly marked in years, comes to a close in the waning years of adolescence. But for some, I think this period calls for a less tidy metric, one that makes room for a soft transition into late girlhood, or adolescence — with all of its intensifying feeling — and then post-girlhood, with its own round of heartbreaks. Lauryn Hill was 23 in 1998 when she released a relationship album for the ages. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” multiplatinum and Grammy-winning, tracked her recovery from a series of rumored breaks: with her hip-hop trio, the Fugees, and one of her bandmates, Wyclef Jean, with whom she was said to have shared a stormy romance. For a generation of us, it was as if she’d found our own love letters and read each one out loud.

This fall, reunited with her bandmates, the girl from South Orange, N.J., returned to the stage to breathe new life into that indelible collection. On opening night of a short-lived tour, I watched from the Prudential Center in nearby Newark as Hill wailed the exasperated plea from “Ex-Factor”: “No matter how I think we grow, you always seem to let me know it ain’t working.” It had been 25 years since Hill’s “Miseducation”; a quarter-century for perspective, love and motherhood to right-size once outsize feelings. She sang the words she’d written all those years ago, but this time her voice was tinged with unmistakable joy.

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