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01st May 2024

Olivia Rodrigo in Dublin, turning 30 and lessons from confident girls

Sarah McKenna Barry

This is what we talk about when we talk about girl power.

My grandmother Letty used to cry at every Christmas carol service.

Specifically, she cried when a chorus of junior infants belted out Away In A Manger. The week I turned 30, I found myself in her very shoes as I sat in the audience of a drama school production of Oliver! sobbing quietly as the tiniest class made their theatrical debut. Hand in hand, they shouted their lines, sang their songs and beamed at their proud parents.

I put my emotional response down to the connection I have to the drama school. Having taught there for 10 years, this was my first time on the other side of the curtain. I cried as the teenagers I first met as five-year-olds navigated intricate choreography, sang in perfect pitch and brought the Dickens’ classic to life – all while minding the school’s youngest charges.

The next night, however, as Olivia Rodrigo took to the 3Arena for the first Dublin night of her GUTS tour, I was similarly teary-eyed. My reaction was less about personal connection, and more about seeing confidence in girls and young women.

For two hours, the high energy singer bopped around the stage, free of inhibitions, delivering hit after hit, supported by her all-female band and dance ensemble. At one point, she travelled through the arena on a floating moon, serenading the crowd and waving to her youngest fans. A girl in my section reacted as if Olivia had waved at her personally, and part of me feels like she did. At another point, as she approached the shrieking climax of all-american bitch, she instructed her fans to think of someone they hate and scream their name into the void.

Throughout the GUTS tour, Olivia’s young fans danced from their seats, occasionally taking breaks to euphorically hug their parents who brought them here. The median age of the crowd was particularly apparent when their high voices harmonised to Vampire, or when the 13,000-strong audience sang Happy Birthday to a nine-year-old fan.

I left with songs in my head, a smile that wouldn’t fade and the reassurance that girl power is not only alive and well, but it might be stronger than ever.

It felt fitting that the week I turned 30 ended up being a celebration of girlhood. And, if there’s one lesson I can take with me into my next decade, it’s how to create a space where girls can feel confident, and I can thank Oliver! and Olivia in equal measure for this lesson. Confidence blooms when girls feel connected to the women they admire, whether that’s their mothers, their teachers or their favourite pop star. Confidence blooms when they feel like they can express themselves, without inhibitions. And confidence blooms when they have a moment that feels like only theirs.

So let’s create these spaces, let’s give them their moment and let’s watch as they instill that same confidence in the young girls that follow afterwards.