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  • Matt Tobin

Olivia Rodrigo’s Rise to Stardom

Cover Art: Sophie Cheng

One year ago, the only people who would have responded to the name “Olivia Rodrigo” would be the fans of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Now, she is a global sensation and household name. With her first three singles all reaching the top three on the Billboard Hot 100, and her premiere album hitting #1, everybody not under a rock has heard Olivia Rodrigo’s music. Her first single, drivers license, reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100, making her the youngest artist to top the charts on their debut. In the span of three months, she went from being joked about in a Saturday Night Live skit to performing as a musical guest. At 18 years old, Rodrigo’s sudden rise to stardom seems unprecedented. However, these singles were hardly the beginning of her career.

Prior to her musical career, Olivia Rodrigo was an actress. She was the co-protagonist of Bizaardvark, where she depicted a content creator who sang and played guitar. However, it was High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (HSMTMTS) where she truly began to rise in prominence. Just like Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus before her, Olivia Rodrigo’s career in television undoubtedly helped boost her musical career. In fact, HSMTMTS allowed not only for Rodrigo to demonstrate her skills in songwriting and singing, but it also connected her with her now-notorious co-star, Joshua Bassett.

Although unconfirmed by Rodrigo, it is widely held that Bassett was the inspiration for her first single, drivers license. The story goes that Rodrigo and Bassett were in a relationship during their time together on HSMTMTS, but he broke things off. Shortly thereafter, it is believed that Bassett started dating Sabrina Carpenter, another Disney star. In drivers license, Rodrigo references a “blonde girl” who’s “so much older than me.” This likely refers to the blonde, 22-year-old Carpenter. The speculated relationship between Bassett and Rodrigo, and then Bassett and Carpenter, is supported by the fact that both Bassett and Carpenter released songs of their own after drivers license. Despite personal hardships, it was quite clearly Rodrigo who came out on top; drivers license reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and stayed there for eight weeks consecutively, the longest run of a debut single at #1. The single also broke the record for most streams in a single day on Spotify, not once, but twice, with 15.7 million streams on the third day after its release on January 8, 2021, followed by 17 million streams the next day.

drivers license had multiple paths that helped it skyrocket. The song became one of the top sounds on TikTok and the speculation about Rodrigo and Bassett led to large analysis of the song, placing it in the spotlight of HSMTMTS. During the middle of the COVID pandemic, many artists were not making music, setting the stage for drivers license to be discovered. Common themes of dating, heartbreak, and how difficult it is to be a teenager are relatable to a large audience, giving Rodrigo’s music a universal appeal and allowing listeners to be drawn in.

After taking the world by storm, Rodrigo released her next single, Deja Vu, on April 1. The single debuted at #8 on Billboard Hot 100, making Rodrigo the first artist ever to have their first two songs debut in the top 10. It eventually peaked at #3. Deja Vu is also speculated to be about Bassett and Carpenter, specifically about Bassett doing all the same things with Carpenter that he used to do with Rodrigo.

Rodrigo released another single, good 4 u, on May 14. Again believed to be about Bassett, good 4 u debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. One week later, Rodrigo released her debut album, Sour. Sour had the unique distinction of being the first debut album ever to contain two singles that reached #1. Sour also debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 for albums. On June 29, Rodrigo released her first concert, a virtual event titled Sour Prom. The live-streamed performance featured an array of venues, including a limousine, a football field where she was joined by a marching band, and, as expected, a high school prom. The recording is still available on YouTube and has since amassed over 9.7 million views.

Rodrigo’s rise to fame has not been without controversy, though. From the beginning, some questioned how a teenager could write a #1 song from their bedroom and they accused her of using a ghostwriter. However, Rodrigo has been open about the entire process. In her album description, she credits her music producer, Dan Nigro, for helping to edit her songs, and other songwriters, including Taylor Swift, as Rodrigo interpolated one of her melodies. Additionally, following Rodrigo’s concert, Courtney Love accused her of stealing the design of the Sour Prom poster from her album cover, Live Through This. Love made direct accusations against Rodrigo, saying she stole the idea from her album without giving credit. After Love made an Instagram post of Rodrigo’s poster, Rodrigo commented saying that she loves both Love and her album. Love responded to this sarcastically, telling Rodrigo the name of her favorite flower shop and saying she looked forward to reading an apology note. Many point out that it seems inappropriate for an adult to dedicate so much attention to complaining about a teenager in the infancy of their career, especially since Rodrigo's success can, in no way, be credited to the poster.

Even so, Olivia Rodrigo, after just one album, has shown a promising future. By some measures, she is already one of the best artists of all time. After setting the record for the longest run of a debut single at #1 and breaking the Spotify record for most streams in a single day, twice, the world is practically waiting on its toes for her next release. She has proven herself to be a talented artist-- and not one to shy away from drama. Undoubtedly, we will be hearing her name often in the future.

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