Article by Katie Dyson

Image from:

If you’ve listened to the radio or scrolled through any social media platform in the past month, you’ve probably heard of “Drivers License.” From practically the moment it was released on January 8, 2021, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut single captured the attention of the general public. The music video on YouTube has amassed over 133 million views, and the song currently sits at No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Spotify Global Top 50. 

So what is it about this song that has given it such surprising staying power? Let’s take a look at the meteoric rise of “Drivers License.”

COVID-19 And The Billboard Hot 100

Since the pandemic started, artists have not been able to tour or otherwise promote their music as they normally would be able to, so many have held off on releasing their projects for the time being. Some, like Taylor Swift, have continued to release music despite this, but for the most part, there has been much less music put out into the world. This means that the Billboard Hot 100 has not shifted its entries as dramatically over the last year as one would expect. In fact, some songs still on the charts, like “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd, were released back in 2019. 

The slight shifting of the charts due to COVID-19 is one of the reasons why so many people were shocked by “Drivers License.” On January 23, barely two weeks after the song was released, it debuted on the Hot 100 at No. 1. As of this article’s publication, it has stayed at No. 1 every week since. This is an incredible feat for an artist’s debut single, especially in such a strange time for the charts.

 The “Drama”

Olivia Rodrigo was already an actress who has starred in shows such as Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and Bizaardvark before the conception of her music career. “Drivers License” was allegedly written about her High School Musical co-star, Joshua Basset, about his current girlfriend, Sabrina Carpenter, in one of the lyrics. In response to the song, both Bassett and Carpenter released their own response tracks: “Lie Lie Lie” and “Skin,” respectively.

Due to the quick turnaround from Rodrigo’s release, some have speculated that this is an orchestrated stunt, though there is no real proof for or against this claim. It has, however, made way for a Saturday Night Live sketch that aired on February 20 where the song’s meaning is discussed over a game of pool. 

So…Why Is It So Popular?

The most common theory is that TikTok is the main culprit behind the song’s success. Some users tried to figure out who the song was about, while others commented on the relatability of the song. From there, many people began to stream and support the song until it debuted at No. 1. 

There hasn’t been a song that has dominated the public sphere quite like this one since “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X in 2019. The difference between the two is that “Old Town Road” brought together country and hip-hop in a way that threw the music industry for a loop, while “Drivers License” doesn’t have those genre-bending qualities. It is generally agreed on as a solid teenage ballad, though. 

Regardless of how it rose to popularity, “Drivers License” is taking the music industry by storm, and it’s not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. Only time will tell if this marks the start of a promising music career for Olivia Rodrigo, or if it’s just a lucky hit that came out at the right time. Either way, its impact on the charts is already making itself known, and it points to a revitalization of popular music.