Have you heard the news? What am I saying, of course you have, you’re reading this.
As of now, “drivers license” — the musical debut of 17-year-old former Disney actress Olivia Rodrigo — has broken Spotify’s record for the most streams on a song per week. Pushing over a week as the No. 1 song on the UK charts, the song has practically exemplified overnight success, essentially blasting Rodrigo into the spotlight.
Truly puts things in perspective when you’re writing about the record-breaking success of someone a year younger than you.
While the song’s themes and surrounding lore are excellently addressed by a fellow writer, I will instead attempt to analyze precisely what made “drivers license” as popular as it was, and the potential ramifications of the performer’s overnight success.
Power, presentation, palatability
There are three cardinal truths that make “drivers license” (seriously, what happened to proper capitalization and apostrophies?) the juggernaut that it is — its modest presentation, its unique appeal, and its vocal power. The latter is the most obvious — Rodrigo has a fantastic voice, a great mix of powerful highs and creeping lows, and prior experience on the Disney channel certainly gave her the experience (and motivation) to put on a dramatic show.
This leads us into presentation. Melancholy has been the name of the game since about 2016, and “drivers license” uses this melancholy in a restrained, down-to-earth manner that makes its sorrow and angst seem all the less manufactured. The ending climax of the song is carefully built up to, the vocals and instruments growing in intensity until the end, analogous to the emotional curveball inside a shattered heart.
The video itself is humble, simple, having a worn-out polaroid vibe. Pay attention also to the simple, almost monochromatic yet perpetually shifting color pattern — pale yellows, nocturnal purple and red with a drifting background that conveys the experience of stumbling through life in the wake of loss. The unassuming underdog persona Olivia has (likely inadvertently) crafted for herself brings her emotions to a much more raw light, putting you, the audience, right alongside her.
Just like the song I have been building up to a final thesis, and here it is. The real weapon of this song, what made it stand out in a boundless sea of hotshots, what I think is the secret ingredient to its success, is insecurity.
Plain, old, simple insecurity, a shangri-la of potential I’m surprised marketing execs haven’t sunk their claws into. With the current generation statistically more anxious than ever before, the simple feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and self-loathing are bluntly yet fluently expressed by Rodrigo throughout the song. The situation she finds herself in isn’t particularly unique in — the metaphorical and straightforward conveying of her emotions is. The song basically centers around getting a new driver’s license — what’s more relatable to a teenager than that? The song’s bluntness, combined with restrained, careful use of the dramatics and thorough relatability, I think let it creep into the hearts of teenagers everywhere, and ensure its status as an early year standout.
Pitfalls of the entertainment industry — and how they can be avoided
Now, to talk about what this sudden bout of fame may mean for Olivia. Having had acting experience, I certainly think she is prepared to handle the spotlight. But, let’s take a slightly serious nosedive here and agree, Hollywood is still a profoundly treacherous place. While the recent years’ slew of allegations and incarcerations helped put many high-end predators behind bars, the problems plaguing the entertainment industry still remain. Combined with the incessant media pressure and inevitable fan attention, sudden fame can take a toll on the best of us.
But, even in this, I think Rodrigo has a secret weapon — connections. She has received attention from celebrities like Taylor Swift and Niall Horan, and even allegedly connected with them on a professional level. Beyond how utterly surreal it must be for her, these seasoned celebrities can provide something else — guidance. All too many promising acts have been boosted through the ranks by a runaway hit, only to crash and burn under the internal and external pressure suddenly upon them. We’ve all seen the meltdowns. The industry as it is today, however, I think has the power to prevent more of such meltdowns from happening.
I think it’s the responsibility of these seasoned stars and starlets to help Rodrigo adjust to her new life, just as I think it’s equally the responsibility of media to treat her with dignity and respect, prioritizing their subject’s well-being and continued success over the short-term desire for publishable dirt. We have been seeing the industry undergo massive changes with the rise of activism, the #MeToo movement, and a more open conversation about complex topics like identity and mental issues.
I wish Ms. Rodrigo continued success, and I hope what is set to be a promising career will also be a microcosm through which the changes and detoxification of mainstream music will shine.