Getting older is constantly feeling like you have been living under a rock for most of the day. Though my application for Gen Z was accepted, my faux millennial mind still lingers. I’ve gotten to grips with TikTok but my knees aren’t strong enough for the dance routines. Generally, I prided myself on being hip to the newest trends yet I was completely blindsided by a song and an artist that seemed to be breaking global records on an almost daily basis. Her name? Olivia Rodrigo.
Who is Olivia Rodrigo and why is her Driver’s License so important?
If you are like me and needed a quick refresh don’t worry I’ve got you.
Newest Addition on the Disney Roster
The 18-year-old California actor is the newest addition to the Disney Roster. Her first project with the company came in the form of Bizaardvark. Similar to Nickelodeon’s adoption of social media in iCarly, Bizaardvark leans into the current fascination of YouTube stars. Rodrigo stars as one of the two vloggers on the show whose comedic videos go viral on a platform called Vuugle (faux YouTube). Arguably the series was a hit and gained Rodrigo popularity among the tween set.
High School Musical: The Musical – The Series
Following Bizaardvark’s ending in 2019, Rodrigo signed herself up for a new project – High School Musical: The Musical – The Series
Starring as Nini Salazar-Roberts, a high schooler who is picked to play the part of Gabriella Montez in her high school drama rendition of the original. A mockumentary on the franchise, the Disney+ series is surprisingly more mature than your typical Disney project. Rodrigo’s character is raised by two moms and the comedic style of the show could raise a few chuckles from those who have long left secondary education.
Songwriting for Disney
There’s long been a standing rumour that it is written into every Disney teen star’s contract that you must be able to sing at least one octave. Though very few will make it beyond the Radio Disney playlist, we must not forget that Disney has produced some of our fave pop stars – Hilary Duff, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, etc. Thus it’s no surprise to see Olivia join the crew.
However Rodrigo’s story is a bit more unique than her predecessors.
The story goes that a High School Musical producer heard a snippet of a song that Rodrigo had posted onto her Instagram page. They loved the song and believed it could be adapted onto the show. Early on they realised instead of recruiting the series songwriters to reshape the song, they were best just leaving it to Rodrigo. The result is “All I Want” with her having sole writing credit.
The song has since gone Gold and the star has gone on to co-write the soundtrack song “Just for a Moment” with co-star Joshua Bassett.
How Olivia Rodrigo Wrote “Driver’s License“
Finally we arrive at the sensation that is “Drivers License”.
Following her success with “All I want“, Rodrigo signed with Interscope in 2020 and released her official debut single “Drivers License” on January 8th, 2021. Co-written with producer Dan Nigro, Rodrigo immediately became an overnight success.
The song has broken Spotify’s record twice for most daily streams ever for a non-holiday song and as of now has garnered over 700 million streams. Furthermore debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 at no. 1, Rodrigo is now only one of four artists born in the 2000s to ever have achieved this.
How and why has this song achieved so much success you ask?
Well allow me to break it down for you…
The Beauty That Is Drivers License
Admittedly on the first listen, I concluded the song to be a generic teen pop ballad. Still, I was perplexed by its success.
Not only did I decide to give it another spin on the speakers but the song slowly became a mini case study for the next week.
I needed to know what was the key formula that propelled the song to such glory.
Reason 1: The Perfect Power Ballad.
Oftentimes the 90s are seen as the glory days of Power Ballads with songs such as One Sweet Day by Mariah Carey and All The Man I Need By Whitney Houston reigning the charts. Personally, I believe the foundations of the genre were really solidified in the 80’s by Glam Metal/Classic Rock bands such as Foreigner and Bon Jovi.
The formula is simple – A soft intro mixed with an orchestral backdrop, add a dash of an emotional vocal climb with a spritz of a key-changing grand finale, and boom you have a hit!
The structure of Drivers License meets all the criteria to be classified as a Power Ballad – a simple opening of a repeated faint note on the piano, strings slowly introduced in the middle of the first chorus. Percussion doesn’t appear until the second verse. The bridge section is the most important as it aids in escalating the song to its emotional peak with soft layered vocals that sound almost like a chant creating a dreamlike feel to the track.
Furthermore, the melancholic nature of the production beautifully captures the angst, sadness and insecurity of a teen heartbreak.
Reason 2: TikTok Strikes Again!
In the way Disney has expanded the Marvel Universe, TikTok has reimagined an alternate world to Driver’s License. The rabbit hole of content surrounding the song on the app is incredible. Listeners have literally built an extended narrative to the song using their own versions from the perspectives of multiple characters. Some fans have rewritten the song from the point of view of the ‘blonde girl’, others were more curious to hear the ex-boyfriend’s side of the story. Another fave is the ‘best friend version’ where the song has been reworked to reflect a failed friendship rather than a romance. Hilariously there is even a POV from the actual Drivers License.
The ease in which a song can be rewritten lends credit to brilliant songwriting. The pain of a failed relationship is universal thus almost everyone can relate to Drivers License in some shape of form.
Graduating from the Taylor Swift school of Music, Rodrigo and Nigro build a story around the monumental moment that is achieving one’s drivers license. An accomplishment meant to be shared with her lover she now mourns the relationship on her frequent drives down her ex’s street –” Yeah, you said forever, now I drive alone past your street”.
Deja Vu…Not Quite.
Rodrigo’s recent release “Deja Vu” is a continuation of Rodrigo’s breakup anthems. With a distorted guitar-sounding synth in the backdrop, the song is reminiscent in tone. Rodrigo once again builds a narrative around a failed romance, singing about all the ‘unique things’ that she and her ex used to do and how he must get deja vu now that he’s doing them with his new girlfriend. It’s a sassy sentimental pop song but perhaps not as replayable as its predecessor. Of course, after such a tremendous debut it is unfair to even make the comparison.
The visual is entertaining, to say the least. Directed by Allie Avital, Rodrigo plays a scorned ex who is obsessed with her ex’s new lover (played by Talia Ryder). A twist on the love triangle from the former, the video surprisingly reveals the mutual infatuation between both girls.
When is Olivia Rodrigo’s Album coming out?
Announcing her debut album Sour will be released May 21st, mystery still surrounds what the album will actually sound like. Though her first two singles were mainly pop centred, Rodrigo strikes me as a versatile artist. I envision the forthcoming album to be a Gen Z-inspired take on Demi Lovato’s Here We Go Again, blending elements of both mainstream pop-rock and folk genres.
Feature-wise, I would prefer Rodrigo to take the J cole road. However, if Taylor Swift comes knocking on the door please do answer!
A back and forth between the two ladies will surely send fans and stans alike into a frenzy.