Critics And Punters Reckon This 17-Year-Old’s Debut Track Is 2021’s Big Pop Moment
Olivia Rodrigo's 'Drivers License' is being talked about everywhere - and with good reason.
In the last three days, you’ve probably seen the name Olivia Rodrigo float around.
The seventeen-year-old just released her debut single ‘Drivers License’, which has already been heralded as a very early contender for 2021’s song of the year, and is tipped to debut at #1 on the US Billboard Charts.
There’s a pretty simple reason why the song’s so hyped: ‘Drivers License’ is really, really good. It’s near-perfect pop for the moment, a breakup ballad that blends together the slow-build piano-belters and bridge breakdowns of Lorde’s Melodrama with Swiftian songwriting, playing off real-life ‘love triangle’ fodder that simply doesn’t matter for anyone above the age of eighteen, but provided the platform to give the song enough buzz to breakthrough.
But even break-through is something of an understatement. As Pilerats notes, there’s a good chance Rodrigo’s track will hit #1 on the US Billboard Charts, where she’d join an elite club of artists whose debut track landed at the top slot. And most of those acts had some kind of context, such as an awaited solo career breaking free from a group (Lauryn Hill, Zayn Malik) or the backing of cultural juggernauts like American Idol.
That’s not to say Rodrigo has literally come from nowhere: she was on Disney sitcom Bizaardvark from 2016-19, and starred in 2019’s Disney+ show High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, a mockumentary about a high school production of HSM: The Musical. The latter is surprisingly popular, and allowed Rodrigo to build a pretty big fanbase on TikTok and Instagram.
Fans knew she was a singer: she belts in both shows, and co-wrote two of HSMTMTS‘ songs with her co-star Joshua Bassett, who ‘Drivers License’ is allegedly about (“you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me”).
BuzzFeed has the full run-down of the ‘tea’, but essentially, Rodrigo has created a break-up song that’s full of easter eggs for fans, who are currently trawling through her and Bassett’s social media to piece together the true story. It’s all very Swiftian, who has showered Rodrigo with love on Instagram, calling her “my baby”.
That’s certainly helped the song gain attention. And let’s not pretend Rodrigo is Lil Nas X 2.0: she’s releasing her debut single already signed to Universal imprint Geffen Records, and co-wrote the track with producer Dan Nigro, who is behind critical (if not commercial) hits by Caroline Polachek, Carly Rae Jepsen, Empress Of and Sky Ferreira.
This isn’t A Star Is Born, but ‘Drivers License’ does have an irreducible quality, capturing a very specific heartbreak. Rodrigo is singing to her ex about how she’s finally got her license, ‘just like we always talked about’ — a symbol of teenage freedom and frivolity, but all she can do now is drive around alone, ‘past your street’.
The song keeps the feeling alive, for now, a joyous pain contained in the twee handclaps and desperate release of lines like “cuz I still fucking love you”. When Rodrigo sings lines like “I know we weren’t perfect/But I’ve never felt this way with anyone”, it could be easy to scoff, but the song sweeps you up in the world-shattering, self-important feeling of first love lost.
‘Drivers license’ is a soundtrack to its own story (which is why it begins with the sound of a car starting up): it demands to be scream-sung while driving around alone with the windows up, and pretending you’re in a music video. It’s indulgent, over-dramatic and slightly embarrassing — exactly what you need in heartbreak anthem.
Listen to the track below, before you start to hear it everywhere.