olivia rodrigo

Inside the breakout success of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License”

Disney Channel star Olivia Rodrigo released her debut single, “Drivers License,” just two weeks ago. But since then, this pop anthem of teen heartbreak and pining has become one of the biggest hits in the world. 

17 year old Rodrigo, who is best known for her role in the Disney+ original series “High School Musical the Musical the Series,” had previously only released music through the soundtrack of this show, such as the RIAA certified gold hit, “All I Want.” However, in the year and a half since this show’s debut, Rodrigo has been focusing on her own music. She first teased “Drivers License” last summer with an Instagram post captioned “Wrote dis the other day. vv close to my heart. gonna call it drivers license I think lol.” After sharing snippets of the song for several months, Rodrigo announced her debut release on January 4. 

The power ballad is an ode to teenage love and heartbreak, following Rodrigo as she drives through the suburbs, reminiscing on a past relationship and processing the raw pain of seeing her ex move on. The song’s success lies in its relatable and genuine lyrical content, as she pines for someone who no longer loves her back. The soft verses, emotional, sweeping chorus, and powerful bridge give listeners a space to sink into their feelings, and the sound has prompted comparisons to stars like Lorde, Adele, Billie Eilish, and Taylor Swift. Many fans have speculated that the heartbreak anthem is about Rodrigo’s ex-boyfriend and “High School Musical the Musical the Series” co-star Joshua Bassett. These theories surrounding “Drivers License” have helped build the songs’ hype as millions of people have been drawn into the drama by lyrics that seem to refer to Bassett’s new girlfriend, Sabrina Carpenter, such as “And you’re probably with that blonde girl / who always made me doubt / she’s so much older than me / she’s everything I’m insecure about.” When asked if these rumors have any truth, Rodrigo said the song is “resonating with people because of how emotional it is, and I think everything else is not important.” 

“Drivers License” became the first massive hit of 2021 almost instantly upon its January 8th release, receiving much critical acclaim from music lovers across the globe. Critics have praised her lyrical honesty and the song’s highly emotional production, and fans have shown support by trending “Drivers License” and “Olivia” on Twitter and making the song go viral on TikTok, where over 1 million videos have been posted using the song as of January 21st. 

The emotional ballad saw extreme success in its first week, receiving 76.1 million streams and 38,000 U.S. downloads and rising to Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Global 200, and Global Excluding US charts. Spotify executives were shocked by Rodrigo’s unprecedented success as “Drivers License” broke the record for most global daily streams for a non-holiday song on the Monday after its release with over 15.17 million streams. Then Rodrigo outdid herself again on Tuesday, breaking her previous record with 17.01 million streams. The head of Spotify’s Global Hits, Becky Bass, said in an interview with Billboard that “we’ve never seen anything like this, where you have a newer artist that just comes out of the gate in such a dominant way, and just continues to grow.” And two weeks later, “Drivers License” is still growing. 

Other musicians have taken notice of Olivia Rodrigo on social media, including stars like Cardi B, Halsey, Niall Horan, Kevin and Joe Jonas, and (most excitingly for the self-proclaimed “huge Swiftie”) Taylor Swift. The Evermore singer commented that she was “really proud” on Rodrigo’s Instagram post the week after the song’s release. 

The success of “Drivers License” perhaps came as the biggest surprise for Olivia Rodrigo herself. In a recent interview, she said that “It’s quite insane… I didn’t really expect it to chart or do anything … so the fact that it’s No. 1 in the world right now is absolutely mind-blowing. I can’t believe any of it.” “Drivers License” is the first song on her upcoming debut EP that is expected to be released early this year, and the whole world will be listening eagerly for whatever the young star does next. 

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