Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Drivers License’ Hit No. 1 in a Week. Here’s How.
The music industry’s first runaway hit single of the year is instantly a proven model – a Disney actress turning to pop with a catchy and sectarian break-up ballad – and also an unprecedented TikTok smash of a teenager.
“Drivers License” by Olivia Rodrigo, 17, debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on Tuesday after a record breaking first week on streaming services such as Spotify and Amazon Music. Along the way, the autobiographical song sparked speculation across tabloids and social media as listeners tried to piece together its real-life parallels like it was a song by Rodrigo’s hero Taylor Swift. TikTok videos resulted in blog posts that resulted in streams, news articles and back again. The feedback loop made it unbeatable.
“It was absolutely the craziest week of my life,” said Rodrigo, who actually got her driver’s license last year, in an interview. “My whole life changed in an instant.”
During a shaky and uncertain time for the music business, amid the pandemic and unrest, “Drivers License” was released across platforms and with a music video on January 8th by Geffen Records. The song was then streamed more than 76.1 million times a week in the US, according to Billboard, the highest sum since Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” in August (93 million). On Spotify, Drivers License set a daily global stream record for a non-holiday song on Jan. 11. and then hit his own number the next day and eventually set the service’s record for most streams in a week worldwide.
The title reached # 1 in 48 countries on Apple Music, 31 countries on Spotify and 14 countries on YouTube, Rodrigo’s label said. Billboard reported that it sold 38,000 downloads in the US, most this week, and had 8.1 million impressions from radio airplay viewers.
“We definitely had no idea how big it was going to get,” said Jeremy Erlich, Spotify’s co-head of music. “It just flown into this monster, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. And I think differently than anything anyone has seen before. “
The company, which accounted for more than 60 percent of the song’s worldwide streams in the first week, responded to the initial interest with increased advertising for the track, which is now on 150 official Spotify playlists. “It’s definitely not going to slow down,” said Erlich. “It’s the topic in the company and in the industry.”
The song, written by Rodrigo and the producer Dan Nigro starts out very simply: “I got my driver’s license last week,” Rodrigo sings about a basic piano part, “just like we always talked about it.” But at the end of the first verse she cries “in the suburbs” and the music swells until a cathartic bridge strikes with a type-breaking swear word. The song “successfully balances dark but crisp melodrama with a bold melody, gently pointed singing with sharp images,” wrote the critic Jon Caramanica. “It’s a modern and successful pop song in every way.”
“Drivers License” may represent Rodrigo’s real debut as a solo artist, but thanks to her Disney roles, she came with a built-in audience. Born and raised in Southern California, she became a regular talent show at the age of 8 and was first cast on “Bizaardvark,” which aired three seasons on Disney Channel between 2016 and 2019. Rodrigo, who learned to play guitar for the role with Paige Olvera, a teenager who makes songs and videos for an online content studio.
She can currently be seen as Nini Salazar-Roberts in the Disney + series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”. Last year, a song written by Rodrigo, “All I Want,” became the show’s most successful track to date.
But like Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato before her – and Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera before them – Rodrigo recorded her experience in the Disney machine and tried to translate it for a wider, more adult audience. Fans have speculated that “Drivers License” is about Rodigro’s “High School Musical” co-star Joshua Bassett, who released his own single- and car-centric video on Friday.
Erlich, the executive director of Spotify, said that for Rodrigo “there was a lot of X-Factors that made this the perfect storm” including the gossip, the quality of her song, the marketing plan prepared in advance by her label, and the support of celebrities like Swift and the TikToker Charli D’Amelio. “It aligned perfectly and faster than anything we’ve ever seen,” he said. “We saw such an alignment, but it usually spans three to six months – it happened in a day and a half.”
Rodrigo called the song “a little time capsule” of a monumental half year that she had experienced last year. Acknowledging the “archetype” of the Disney star turned pop star, she said she was nervous about the collision of reactions from “people who have never heard my name and people who have been with me on TV grew up. “But she was thrilled to find both groups interested.
“The cool thing about ‘Drivers License’ is that I’ve seen so many videos of people saying, ‘I have no idea who this girl is, but I really love this song,’ which was really interesting to me because For so long I’m really only tied to projects and characters, and that’s how people know me, ”she said. “It’s really cool to be introduced to people for the first time through a song that I’m really passionate about.”