Why Is Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License” So Popular?

By Saysha Mahadevan (‘24)

You’ve probably heard of Olivia Rodrigo’s new viral song, “Driver’s License”, a slow, emotional song involved in a lot of drama right now. Released on January 8th, this song has already blown up over the span of just a few weeks. It’s getting recognition from famous celebrities, and Rodrigo has broken many records with it, all at the age of only 17. With all this happening in such a short time, you may be wondering, why and how is this song getting so popular?

First of all, who is Olivia Rodrigo? Her name might sound familiar to you; she rose to fame by playing Paige Olvera in Disney Channel’s Bizaardvark, and she currently stars in the popular series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (HSMTMTS) as Nini Salazar Roberts. However, Rodrigo isn’t only an actress. She is also an obviously talented singer-songwriter. Rodrigo can also play the piano (as depicted in the first song she ever wrote,“All I Want” from High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) and the guitar. She has amassed a massive TikTok following as well (3.5 million followers), which contributed to the popularity of her latest single, “Driver’s License”, which was originally released on January 8th. It’s only been a few weeks since the release, yet the song has already spread all over TikTok. Tiktokers have sung to it, danced to it, discussed it, and made parodies of it. It has become such a popular song partly because of the love triangle that is supposedly behind it. The drama surrounding this song is thick and has been made even thicker by fans’ theories. These theories have prompted multiple covers of the song to be made by fans, some even from other characters’ points of view. 

Who are the other characters in this drama? Rumors are swirling that this song isn’t just about a heartbroken teen driving around the suburbs crying over an ex-boyfriend who has since replaced her. Many people think that this song is actually about Rodrigo’s HSMTMTS co-star, Joshua Bassett, and the well-known Sabrina Carpenter, also an actress and singer-songwriter who started on Disney’s 2014 series Girl Meets World. After the two were spotted hanging out together recently, fans started theorizing that Bassett and Carpenter might be in a relationship. Fans also think that Rodrigo and Bassett might have been dating a while back, although nothing has been confirmed about either rumored relationship. Recently, certain lyrics in Rodrigo’s new song have fans thinking that this song is about Bassett replacing her with Carpenter. For example, one of the most popular lyrics is when Rodrigo sings, “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…” Fans were quick to point out that Carpenter is 4 years older than Rodrigo and she is a blonde. Even more suspicious is the fact that Rodrigo changed the lyrics in an early version of the song from her being replaced by a “brunette” to being replaced by a “blonde”. Rodrigo also had the lyric “Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me” in “Driver’s License”, meaning that the boy she’s singing about could be a singer-songwriter like Bassett is.

To add to the drama, a week later (Jan. 14), Bassett released his new song called “Lie, Lie, Lie”, which is about the lies a friend had been spreading about him. Bassett released a demo back in 2019 of the song, but fans aren’t convinced about the interesting timing of the release of his actual song. Then, a week after that (Jan. 22), who decides to drop her new song? Sabrina Carpenter herself. Carpenter’s song is named “Skin”, and it’s about her not getting along with someone even though if things had gone differently, they “could’ve been friends”. She sings about the other girl being jealous of her and trying to get under her skin. Fans think that she may be referring to Olivia Rodrigo. Additionally, Griffin Gluck, Carpenter’s former boyfriend and Tall Girl co-star, promoted “Driver’s License” on his Instagram, involving himself in the drama.  Some eagle-eyed social media detectives noticed another mystery as well: many HSMTMTS co-stars liked Olivia’s Instagram post about the release of “Driver’s License”, whereas only one co-star liked Joshua Bassett’s post where he announced his new single, “Lie, Lie, Lie”. Bassett and Carpenter have not commented on any of the drama. However, according to Billboard, Rodrigo has told them that, “I totally understand people’s curiosity with the specifics of who the song’s about and what it’s about, but to me, that’s really the least important part of the song”, going on to say that “It’s resonating with people because of how emotional it is, and I think everything else is not important.” 

Many people seem to agree with Rodrigo and aren’t listening to the song so they can speculate about the drama. Instead, they are relishing the refreshingness of a unique new voice singing about relatable topics. Several fans are enthralled by the painful heartbreak portrayed by the emotional high notes as well as the low whispers. Even better is the fact that Rodrigo mostly wrote the song herself, painting pictures of pain and longing in the listener’s heart. According to a TikTok video made by Rodrigo, the song started as her posting on Instagram about getting her driver’s license and how she was excited to “drive alone thru the suburbs crying” (crying with music, no mention of Bassett). Then, when she thought about it, Rodrigo liked the idea of making it into a song, so she played her song for her producer and he liked it too. Soon, it became the hit song it is today. Many people can relate to a song about heartbreak, and Rodrigo’s emotional voice and message makes it even easier to do so. Fans have also compared her storytelling-while-songwriting abilities to Taylor Swift’s, who is actually one of Rodrigo’s inspirations and icons. Rodrigo also embodies some of Lorde and Kesha, but she’s very unique in her own right, making her compelling to all sorts of audiences. Many fans have stuck with her even from her Disney days, and this song can also sort of symbolize that breaking-away-from-Disney phase that every Disney star goes through, because this is the first time that Rodrigo has used an explicit lyric in a song. Her fans may have taken this as a sign of her growing maturity and that may have extended their love of her character and emotion. 

Rodrigo’s massive fan base has propelled her to earn many awards for this hit. According to Spotify, three days after “Driver’s License” was released, it hit the most streams in a day of a non-holiday song. A day later, it broke its own record. The song hit the #1 position on Apple Music and Amazon music charts globally. It also attained the #1 position on the UK Singles Chart, passing up Ed Sheeran’s hit “Shape of You” for the highest number of streams of a non-Christmas song. As well as smashing other records, the most prominent achievement that Olivia Rodrigo received was when she claimed No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. This is a huge achievement and Rodrigo was shocked that it had even happened. She promptly took to social media to express her shock and overjoyment. Many famous celebrities, co-stars, and friends of hers also took to social media to congratulate her on the success of her single. Some notable celebrities that congratulated her were singer Halsey (she gave her a cake to celebrate),TikTok celebrity James Charles (he even made a ballad cover of it!), and Rodrigo’s icon herself, Taylor Swift. 

It’s clear that Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License” was a startlingly successful single because of her ability to storytell so effectively that we are now all caught up in many theories behind her song. “Driver’s License” has proved to the world just how powerful her voice and storytelling skills are, and people have fallen in love with her for that. Seeing how eagerly the world embraced this song, we are all waiting for Rodrigo to release more of her refreshing, unique music. 

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