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‘Mom, You’re Not Grunge Enough’: Olivia Rodrigo Fans Thrash in the Desert

‘Mom, You’re Not Grunge Enough’: Olivia Rodrigo Fans Thrash in the Desert

On Friday, just outside Palm Springs, Calif., you might have thought a strange mirage had appeared: One or two zillion tweens descended upon an arena, all wearing platform Doc Martens.

Had some official communiqué been issued, at a frequency undetectable to those older than 25? Had everyone been subconsciously nudged to pair boots with fishnets and leg warmers?

No one seemed to care that it was hot out. What did matter was that the boots, punky symbols of past musical rebellions, were central to the unofficial-but-conspicuously-official uniform of Olivia Rodrigo’s Guts World Tour, which began that night.

Each recent tour by a major pop star has seemingly birthed an aesthetic microclimate that follows the artist from show to show, usually evaporating when the tour is over. Dressing up for concerts is not new — see Grateful Dead fans in their tie-dye, the ’90s Madonna fans in their regalia — but last summer’s blockbuster tours have upped the ante. Imagine showing up to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour without a cowboy hat or attending Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour without looking at least a little bit like a shimmery disco ball.

These uniforms grow out of fans’ desire to emulate their favorite artists and to visually identify with one another. Now social media gives people a chance to share and see what everyone else has been wearing. And it doesn’t hurt that e-commerce sites like Amazon and Shein make it easy to order and receive a pair of sequined, thigh-high boots in the time it takes for Beyoncé to fly from Vancouver to Seattle.

For fans of Ms. Rodrigo, the current poet laureate of adolescent vulnerability, what was the look going to be? They arrived at the first stop on her worldwide Guts Tour already dressed in startling unison.

In the parking lot before the concert, fans waited in long lines in every direction — for the merchandise truck, for V.I.P. tickets, for porta-potties — each one a slow-moving runway show. Purple was everywhere. Butterflies, too. Many followed the singer’s lead in drawing from riot grrrl and grunge fashion from the ’90s, like Lucy Elfelt, 14, who had some pointers for her mother on dressing to emulate a decade that only one of them had actually lived through.

“She was like, ‘Mom, you’re not grunge enough,’” Alicia Elfelt, 49, said. “I’m like, my hair’s purple.”

The uniform evoked femininity laced into combat boots, as if to outfit its wearer for the rugged territory of emotional catharsis. There were plenty of girlish details like bows, corsets and spangly miniskirts, but not without a chunky shoe or a swipe of sludgy eyeliner.

For some, maybe it was a reflection of Ms. Rodrigo’s ability to refashion the humiliations of adolescence into lethal songwriting weapons. “It’s like she read my diary,” Bridget Lee, 20, said of the artist’s songs about feeling naïve, embarrassed, vengeful, insecure. “Every song is literally me,” Diego Soriano, 19, said. Others say they relate to her because she is a Pisces, because she is of Filipino descent or because she gets angry about the same things they do.

“I love the way she screams,” Val Mok, 28, added. “Like, story of my life.”

Ms. Lee wore a tiered Betsey Johnson dress that she had found on the secondhand clothing app Depop, simply by searching for “Olivia Rodrigo.” She and a group of nine other superfans had been planning their outfits in a group chat for months. Did they follow those social media accounts that posted breathless updates on each new piece of tour merch? They giggled. “We are the accounts,” one said.

Many fans see Ms. Rodrigo’s fashion sense as flatteringly emblematic of Generation Z. But Tegan Astani, 18, said that some students at her arts high school thought Ms. Rodrigo was “basic.” Whose music do they listen to instead? They prefer less well-known artists, Ms. Astani said: “Have you ever heard of Led Zeppelin?”

When doors opened at 6 p.m., a parade of purple bows filtered into the arena. Natalia Adams, 20, settled into a seat between her parents, who were marveling at the youth of the crowd. Her father, Matt Adams, 58, remarked that there had been a long line for snow cones but no line to buy beer.

A few days earlier, when Ms. Rodrigo had released commemorative shot glasses for her 21st birthday, a user on X, formerly known as Twitter, responded that they had never seen an Olivia Rodrigo fan of legal drinking age: “What are they gonna take shots of…juice???” It was not too much of an exaggeration: A 7-year-old sat in the back row with her ears covered by massive purple headphones.

When fans dress alike, how does one stand out? Ms. Mok had constructed an entire outfit around the artist’s lyric “Coca-Cola bottles that I only use to curl my hair.” Ms. Astani had sewed a cheerleader outfit based on a costume in Ms. Rodrigo’s music video for “good 4 u.”

Others were perfectly happy to be dressed like everybody else, to slip into a sense of belonging that both a fandom and a dress code can afford. Sometimes the nudge comes from the top: Beyoncé went so far as to encourage fans to wear silver items on her tour. If Ms. Rodrigo did not offer such specific instructions, her Instagram posts and her pale purple merch offered hints of the kind of look she was going for.

Her fans turned out to have interpreted those clues correctly. When Ms. Rodrigo took the stage, she was wearing the same platform Doc Martens as everybody else.

“Did anybody dress up?” she asked a screaming crowd.

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