Onstage, a Feisty Olivia Rodrigo Tests Out Life After Girlhood

As a pop star, Olivia Rodrigo wields a rather unusual arsenal of weapons. She is an acute writer and an un-self-conscious singer. She largely abhors artifice. She is modest, not salacious. In just three years, she has achieved something approaching stratospheric fame — a four-times platinum debut album and a Grammy for best new artist — while somehow remaining an underdog.

But the weapon she returns to again and again is a very pointed and versatile curse word, one that she used to vivid effect on both her 2020 breakout hit, “Drivers License,” the first single from her debut album, “Sour,” and also on “Vampire,” the Grammy-nominated single from her second album, “Guts,” released last year. It’s in plenty of other places, too, giving her anguished entreaties an extra splash of zest. She wants to make it clear that underneath her composed exterior, she’s boiling over.

On Friday night at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, Calif., during the opening performance of the Guts World Tour, Rodrigo couldn’t get enough of that word. She used it for emphasis, to connote dismissiveness and to demonstrate exasperation. But mostly she used it casually, in between-song banter, not because she needed to, but because using it felt like getting away with something.

Much of Rodrigo’s music — especially “Guts,” with its detailed and delirious ruminations about new fame and its discontents — is about how it feels to act bad after being told how important it is to be good. It’s situated at the juncture where freedom is just about to give way to misbehavior.

Over an hour and a half, Rodrigo alternately roared and pleaded, stomped and collapsed.Credit…OK McCausland for The New York Times

This was true of her performance as well, which brought the perfection and order of musical theater to the pop-punk and piano balladry that her songs toggle between. Over an hour and a half, Rodrigo alternately roared and pleaded, stomped and collapsed. She led a reverent 11,000-person crowd — a sizable leap from the theaters she played on her first tour — in singalongs that were churchlike and raucous, but never rowdy.

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