Next in Pop: Olivia Rodrigo

That feeling of freedom when a teenager gets their license is already a universal right of passage, but for newcomer Olivia Rodrigo, it seems a #1 song and unprecedently strong entrance into the music industry is included in that packaged deal.

It’s hard to believe she’s only 17 years old with the confidence and poise she already possesses. As of a week after the song debut, Rodrigo has broken multiple records with her introductory single, “Driver’s License”. Along with many other platforms that has Rodrigo shaking up their catalogs, Spotify in particular as their eye on her, as she broke multiple historic records (and counting) with the streaming giant; the biggest single day streams of any song by a female artist, the biggest single day streams in the US of all-time, and the highest single day stream peak in the US. If that wasn’t even impressive enough, Rodrigo is the first Asian American woman to hit #1 on the US iTunes and Apple Music charts.

While her first release is garnering new worldwide attention by the second, she wasn’t completely unknown before this thanks to her starring role as Nini in the hit Disney+ series, High School Musical The Musical The Series. Due to the show’s nature, she’s been able to simultaneously show off her acting and vocal chops, creating a solid support system that’s rallied around her and declared her as the show’s standout since the series first premiered. The ballad she wrote for a season 1 episode, titled “All I Want”, was certified gold a year later.

It’s easy to see how her inspirations, namely Taylor Swift and Lorde, have inspired her musical stylings, and it’s exciting to see in real time how the next generation of powerhouses are coming to be. The “capturing a specific moment” storytelling approach to her lyrics is very Swift-esq and the booming bridge and angsty tone are reminiscent of 2013 Lorde. Additionally, she’s already excelling in another area: PR. As fast as the song’s notoriety has spread, so has the rumors of who it’s about and the specifics of her love life (examine the lines, “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”), making it the perfect storm to continuously reference, both for fans and her future work.

To round out the reasons why this song and Rodrigo’s rise are really resonating with so many requires a more layered analysis. Her voice is very unique and enticing with something familiar, but yet feeling entirely fresh. There’s something to be said about the fact that not only does she write her own songs, but even at such a young age those songs are well fleshed-out with meaning, creativity and relatability. She’s able to embody the girl-next-door persona to a tee, but her seemingly overnight sensation quality makes her the one to watch. Maybe most importantly, the issues of Disney darlings past, desperately trying to break out of the Disney shell, doesn’t seem to be a future problem for Rodrigo. A decade ago, an up-and-coming young artist shouting the f-word in her first solo song would cause immense outrage, but now, it’s a smart move of demanding to be taken seriously that’ll do wonders for her career growth. Instead, this track allows her to be respectful to the popularity she has achieved because of The Mouse and have her own completely different identity outside of it.

“Driver’s License” is the storybook breakthrough all artists wish to have, and thankfully it’s well placed in the hands of this natural-born talent. With her debut album slated for a much-anticipated arrival later this year, Rodrigo now finds herself perfectly positioned as the next possible pop princess.

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