The Seven Best Daggers in Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Deja Vu’

Teen Vogue

Ok, yes, it has been more than seven months since Olivia Rodrigo dropped “Deja Vu,” the second single from her debut album, Sour. But you know what, it’s seven months later, and I still can’t get enough of this song. All this time later, it shoots just as many daggers and has me thinking more than ever that Olivia Rodrigo might just be the next Carly Simon.

It’s fitting that “You’re so Vain” was written exactly 50 years ago by Simon, centered around, reportedly, a few different men in Carly’s life all shared that Patrick-Bateman-looking-at-himself-in-the-mirror energy. For the uninitiated, the main dagger in Simon’s hit goes: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you,” a dagger so finely wielded as completely shred all her exes at once.

For her part, Simon still knows how to scythe down those who scorned her, saying in 2015, “I have confirmed that the second verse is Warren [Beatty]… Warren thinks the whole thing is about him,” but she confirmed there were others “stars” of the song, as well.

Now, a song can be petty, and a song can make you reflect on your own experiences, but it’s the rare song that does both as well as “You’re so Vain” and “Deja Vu” do.

One of the little things that I love so much about “Deja Vu” is the way it starts by playing off the assumption that we’re hearing her talk about herself. And in a sense she is, but it’s all in her memory and centered now around what she is picturing her ex doing. It’s a perfect little slight of hand, and her voice tells the tale itself, starting off with a dreamy feeling but revealing the first touch of bite to her voice when she flips the script to reveal she’s actually talking about someone other than herself.

There are little gems like this throughout, like how at the end of the first chorus, she finally loses control a bit. You can feel the lyrics spilling out of her around “I found it first; I made the jokes you tell to her,” but once she’s able to get to “Do you get deja vu” she has clearly grounded herself again, perhaps using this devastating jab as her coping mechanism to level herself.

Of course, this could all be nonsense. I could be WAY overreading into little moments that either don’t exist or are pure coincidence. But that’s the thing with great art, it demands these closer looks, these imagined interpretations, this hallowed praise because it sticks with us long enough that we need to feel the need to speak to it, solve it, share how we feel about it with others.

As such, in the song’s honor, I would like to present the seven most devastating lyrics from the song, ranked from brushed my hand against the stovetop pain to this guy from The Usual Suspects level burnage…

7) “Strawberry ice cream, one spoon for two, and trading jackets, laughing ‘bout how small it looks on you”

This whole list isn’t going to go in song order, but Rodrigo doesn’t wait long to get us all on board. She tosses out a variety of classic couple tropes which as just specific enough to make the listener feel seen and just vague enough to bring literally every single listener in. And really that’s the song in a nutshell.

(This also applies to the line in the second verse about singing together. I’m just more of an ice cream spoon sharer than co-singer, so I went that route here, but they are similar levels of dagger.)

6) The title itself

I would venture to say that every single one of us who has been in more than one serious or even semi-serious relationship who has experienced some relationship deja vu. It’s not something we talk about often because at the moment that we have this relationship deja vu, the person who’d be there to hear it wouldn’t exactly be the prime audience. Not to many partners are keen to know that the “special” moment the two of you just had is actually eerily reminiscent of a moment you shared with someone who, at most, is a neutral part of your current partner’s life.

And honestly, given how common an occurrence it can be, I’m kind of amazed this is the first time I’ve really read or heard someone talking about it. It seems like it would have come up in a Sally Rooney novel (more on her later), or maybe even a Chuck Klosterman essay, but as far as I can remember, this is the first time I’ve seen it referenced, and it’s weaponized to a plutonium level by Rodrigo here.

5) “Play her piano, but she doesn’t know that I was the one who taught you Billy Joel”

This is such a good one for a couple reasons. First of all, it’s a good callback to a lyric earlier in the song that we’ll get to in a bit. The delay between the original Billy Joel comment and the second is so pristine. For me, it conjures up that type of comment that you always have in your back pocket when you’re fighting with your partner, but you don’t take it out to use unless you really want to swing the hammer — and Rodrigo swings the hammer here.

It’s a really petty move, and in real life it’s a shitty thing to do, but as a lyric it’s beautiful and crafted perfectly with a chorus in between to remind her intended audience that she’s still thinking about the two of them singing “Uptown Girl” together, but she can wreck it for them.

The other reason I really like the lyric is because there’s nothing more high school (and while Rodrigo and co. are certainly more mature and world-wise than most high schoolers, this is a decidedly — in a perfect way — high school song) than a guy trying to impress a new girl by “introducing” her to music that he learned from a different girl in his life and trying to play it off as his own depth of knowledge.

4) “Cause let’s be honest, we kinda do sound the same”

If Joshua wasn’t squirming in his seat before, he certainly is now.

3) “I bet she’s bragging to all her friends saying you’re so unique”

This is an elite dagger just in the words itself, but the little “hmmm” after “unique” is what makes Rodrigo a Hall of Famer.

2) “She thinks it’s special”

This is a relatively tame line compared to something of these others, but I have it this high for two reasons. First of all, I just love dichotomy between the fact that one of better daggers in the song is also the most beautiful note her voice hits the whole song. The note she hits during the “e” in “special” is a nice little reminder just how talented she is as a singer in addition to her clear talents as a writer.

The other reason I have it this high is its simplicity. The top-ranked dagger here will come because of its specificity, and a true genius can deploy these weapons across the spectrum: simple, specific, repetitive, or in a one-off, Rodrigo’s arsenal comes fully equipped.

1) “Now I bet you even tell her how you love her in between the chorus and the verse”

This lyric is really what grabbed me about this song in the first place. This line is basically a Sally Rooney novel playing in your ears. I mentioned Rooney in passing earlier, so I had to repeat myself, but really it’s the best comparison point in my mind.

For those of you who don’t know the Scottish writing phenom (all three of you out there), what makes Rooney so magical is that she can write about everything that happens between the lines with an eye-opening clarity. All that communication that doesn’t happen in real life, she brings to the reader in the worlds she creates. You will read her books and find yourself never having felt more seen while also having never put your finger on the exact situation/feeling/power dynamic she just perfectly laid out.

That’s how I felt during that perfectly crafted 18-word dagger from Rodrigo in the second verse. As noted before, Rodrigo lays out plenty of broad enough relationship tropes that everyone can relate, but with this dagger it’s aimed right for Josh’s heart. Clearly that was what he did with her, and it’s not hard to imagine him slipping in to doing the same thing with his next girlfriend. On the one hand, I wouldn’t entirely blame him. On the other hand, is that girlfriend hears this song, there’s no way she ever looks at him the same. It’s a moment perfectly distilled and perfectly located and named by Rodrigo.

Creators being able to pin down something that specific and affecting are rare, and they deserve even more praise, not just from the funny, “petty is great” 2021 internet tone of even this article, but as legitimately incredible creative endeavors. Rodrigo has achieved that time and time again in “Deja Vu,” and that’s why it’s a song that, like Carly Simon’s “You’re so Vain,” will still hold in place in the pop culture imagination 50 years from now.

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Contributor: SBNation (DRays Bay; BtBS). Author: Starting IX: A Franchise-by-Franchise Breakdown of Baseball’s Best Players (Check it out on Amazon!)

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Jim Turvey

Jim Turvey

Contributor: SBNation (DRays Bay; BtBS). Author: Starting IX: A Franchise-by-Franchise Breakdown of Baseball’s Best Players (Check it out on Amazon!)

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