Known for her role as Nina “Nini” Salazar-Roberts in the Disney+ original “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” 17-year-old Olivia Rodrigo’s debut single “drivers license” has charmed the Internet with its “sad girl” pop sensibilities.
Released on Jan. 8 alongside the song’s music video, “drivers license” is undoubtedly a momentous occasion for Rodrigo. She recently made Spotify history by having the most streamed non-holiday song in a single day with over 17 million streams on Jan. 12. The track even garnered an Instagram comment from Taylor Swift, “I say that’s my baby and I’m really proud,” of whom Rodrigo is a self-proclaimed “huge Swiftie.” But a Swift seal of approval isn’t exactly unfamiliar to Rodrigo; she also received praise for her 2020 cover of Swift’s “Cruel Summer,” who wrote “THE TALENT. Love This!!! Thanks for this beautiful performance” in an Instagram story.
The track’s timeline points back to mid-July when Rodrigo received her driver’s license and subsequently took to Instagram to share the news. The song’s release also stands in the midst of a presumed love triangle between Rodrigo, Joshua Bassett and Sabrina Carpenter. Many fans speculate that the ex-in-question is Bassett, 20, who co-stars alongside Rodrigo in the Disney+ series. While the exact lifespan of Rodrigo and Bassett’s supposed relationship is unknown, fans speculate the two began dating in 2019 and broke things off in 2020.
Additionally, fans assume the “blonde girl” to be none other than Carpenter, who was spotted with Bassett several times over the course of the pandemic. However, in a recording uploaded to Rodrigo’s Instagram prior to the official release of the track, the lyrics originally read “that brunette girl,” leaving many wondering whether the subsequent public appearances of Carpenter and Bassett stand as the reason for her lyric change. Adding fuel to the fire, Rodrigo sings about how “she’s so much older than me;” seeing as Carpenter is 21, fans agree that she’s the subject of Rodrigo’s dismay.
The song serves as a dual rite of passage for Rodrigo, who earned her license and had her heart broken in one fell swoop. It’s easy to empathize with Rodrigo, who we journey with as she comes to terms with the aching reality of unlasting love: “You said forever, now I drive alone past your street.” But to call it a work borne of some belabored, run-of-the-mill teenage heartbreak would be wholly detrimental to the beauty and heartfeltness of the song. Contrary to most Disney-star-turned-singer-songwriter music, Rodrigo’s debut is captivating, professional and unflinchingly personal.
The song begins with the sound of a car beeping –– a sample taken from Rodrigo’s mother’s car. The track primarily revolves around a piano, subdued with a thumping clap-beat. Rodrigo slowly and softly works her way through the narrative of the emotional aftermath of the break-up, before a sudden cathartic descent that moves past the brink of pent-up anger and frustration: “God, I’m so blue, know we’re through / But I still f***ing love you, babe.” Lush with howling, layered vocals and an atmospheric harmony, “drivers license” straddles the seemingly disparate boundaries between Lorde’s moody, ethereal pop sensibilities and Alessia Cara’s vocal gravitas.
Rodrigo’s prior fame certainly worked in her favor, given the unprecedented immediate success of the song. The collective online consciousness is all too familiar with “All I Want,” a song she wrote for the “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” that went viral in early 2020. Social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Twitter continue to work in tandem with each video, image and tweet to promote “drivers license” even further. Many TikTok users, in particular, have taken a liking to the now trending song, now having been used in more than 320,000 videos.
The accompanying music video shows Rodrigo, quite literally, driving through the suburbs. In other instances, she’s seen walking alone as she comforts herself in her arms. Each clip is cast under a hazy, shimmery sheen; the music video consecutively flashes a whirlwind of relationship memories, lost love and a lamenting Rodrigo, all through a vividly reminiscent lens.
In essence, “drivers license” grants listeners the freedom to live vicariously through Rodrigo’s unrequited love and ensuing heartbreak — all from the quarantined comfort of our homes. The song may, at times, feel relatively simple and refrained. But, it’s ultimately doing what it knows best: emotions laid bare, front and center. Despite all, the song feels incredibly profound even from the perspective of someone who’s never had their heart broken.
For those utterly-obsessed with “drivers license” and itching for more, Rodrigo refers to a debut EP in her Spotify biography that’s likely to arrive in the near future: “[‘All I Want’] has opened up so many doors for me and as I’m writing this, I am putting the finishing touches on my first EP.”
Promising and enthralling, “drivers license” proves that Rodrigo’s Disney-star-turned-singer-songwriter future is unequivocally bright.
Mia Hammett is an Entertainment Intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.