The Star Behind The Wheel In “Driver’s License”

Graphic by Erin Sass

At the beginning of 2020, I fell head over heels with the Disney+ show High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Amid long reading lists and gloomy cold days, this TV series offered me a much-needed distraction from the real world. This meta-show takes place at the high school where High School Musical was shot, and it follows a group of students who perform this Disney classic themselves.

While I loved the clever mix of original songs and old favorites, as well as the quirky cast of characters, Olivia Rodrigo was what truly made the show stand out for me. Rodrigo plays Nini Salazar, a musical theatre enthusiast who has always been just a chorus girl but decides to try out for the lead role of Gabriella after a summer camp adventure. 

When I wasn’t rewatching the show, I was listening to her songs on repeat, convinced that one day she would take the world by storm. 

Even though she was only sixteen when High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (HSM:TM:TS) was being filmed, Olivia Rodrigo was given the opportunity by the producer Tim Federlie to write two songs: one by herself and one with her co-star Joshua Bassett.  It was so refreshing to see a high school student played by an age-appropriate actor, as this is so seldom the case in the entertainment industry. This authenticity, alongside her killer vocals and vibrant personality, made the show all the more entertaining. When I wasn’t rewatching the show, I was listening to her songs on repeat, convinced that one day she would take the world by storm. 

On January 8th, my hopes became reality when Rodrigo released her debut single, “Driver’s License.” Though I eagerly awaited the midnight release, and I have been listening to the single on repeat ever since, I didn’t expect this song to blow up as quickly as it did. Within days of the release, stars like Taylor Swift and Niall Horan were talking about it online, hundreds of thousands of TikToks were using the song as a base for their videos, and Jimmy Fallon even did a sea shanty cover of it. She reached 100 million streams within nine days, making it the fastest any song has hit this milestone, and, at 17 million streams, it has also broken the record for most Spotify streams in a single day.  

Whether or not you’ve been in a romantic relationship before, I think that everyone can relate to the heartbreaking moment when you realize that the person you used to share everything with is no longer a part of your life.

“Driver’s License” is a very simple song, but it’s heartachingly relatable and gut-wrenching. In it, Rodrigo reflects on the bittersweet event of getting her driver’s license, lamenting over the fact that the one person with whom she was looking forward to sharing this milestone isn’t a part of her life anymore. No matter how much I listen to the song, the line “you said forever, now I drive alone past your street” hurts my heart, and the bridge always astounds me. Whether or not you’ve been in a romantic relationship before, I think that everyone can relate to the heartbreaking moment when you realize that the person you used to share everything with is no longer a part of your life. It’s obvious that this song came from a place of extreme vulnerability, and this raw honesty is what makes it so entrancing.

While I think Olivia Rodrigo’s songwriting and vocals speak for themselves, many people have chosen to focus their attention on guessing who the song is about.  Lyrics such as “you’re probably with that blonde girl” and “guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me” have people on the internet speculating that the song is about her HSM:TM:TS co-star Joshua Bassett. Bassett plays Nini’s love interest, Ricky Bowen, and their chemistry on the show was so convincing that fans wondered whether it might be more than just a “showmance.” However, Bassett has been seen over the past few months with Sabrina Carpenter, which has led fans to believe that she is the blonde mentioned in “Driver’s License,” and that Bassett chose Carpenter over Rodrigo. 

Hearing about this love triangle may be what makes someone listen to the song once, but it’s Rodrigo’s heart-wrenching lyrics and impeccable voice that have left people listening to it on repeat. 

To complicate matters even further, a week after Rodrigo’s song came out, Joshua Bassett released a song called “Lie, Lie Lie,” about someone who’s been spreading lies about him. Even though Bassett wrote this song in 2019, before HSM:TM:TS had even aired, people are convinced that this song is about Olivia Rodrigo. 

We need to move away from this misogynistic habit of defining a woman’s talent by the men who surround her.

While it’s natural to be curious about the subject of “Driver’s License,” I don’t think that should be people’s main focus when talking about this hit single. Rodrigo is an incredibly talented singer, and her song stands on its own. The drama definitely adds to the intrigue of the song, but some articles have gone as far as saying that it’s this intrigue that has made this song so popular. Hearing about this love triangle may be what makes someone listen to the song once, but it’s Rodrigo’s heart-wrenching lyrics and impeccable voice that have left people listening to it on repeat. 

It doesn’t and shouldn’t matter who “Driver’s License” is about. What matters is that Olivia Rodrigo took something that was incredibly personal and painful and turned it into something beautiful. We need to move away from this misogynistic habit of defining a woman’s talent by the men who surround her. Maybe Bassett did inspire this song, maybe he didn’t, but it shouldn’t matter. It’s Rodrigo’s talent alone that’s responsible for the success of “Driver’s License.” If this song hadn’t blown up, I am sure that another song later in her career would have. I am certain that this is just the start of Rodrigo’s flourishing musical career, and I can’t wait to see where this first, smashing success will take her. Keep those roads clear. This artist is just revving her engine. 

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