Is it too early to call song of the year? Olivia Rodrigo’s debut single, “Drivers License,” makes it difficult to not believe that both she and the moving power ballad are meant to completely dominate 2021.
Rodrigo’s nostalgic, piano-assisted song builds slowly as a story about the 17-year-old finally getting her license to drive. But the monumental occasion is soured by her heartbreak: She was supposed to celebrate the accomplishment with her ex, who has moved on to an older blonde who she reveals is “everything I’m insecure about.” So Rodrigo drives through the suburbs, heartbroken and angry, wondering if any of the feelings were ever even real.
As the song progresses, Rodrigo’s voice builds to cathartic howls of pain, and the bridge is a lush, layered release as she reveals “I still fuckin’ love you.” The arrangements and Dan Nigro’s production are reminiscent of Lorde’s Melodrama, providing surprising theatrics to Rodrigo’s singer-songwriter confessional. The lyrics and detailed storytelling are all from the Taylor Swift School of Music, with the young star channeling Swift’s Fearless, where the then-19-year-old was balancing both her dreams of a fairytale romance and the way her vision of that fairytale was quickly souring. Like Swift, Lorde, and all their heroes before them, Rodrigo is able to create something moving and relatable without losing the unique specificity of her storytelling that makes you feel like you’re watching a movie of her life play out in your earbuds.
Before “Drivers License,” Rodrigo was building a name for herself over the past five years through Disney. She got her start on Bizaardvark, and has been the lead on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, a Disney+ exclusive. Through the series, she began showing off her writing chops, contributing songs that she wrote with her co-star Joshua Bassett to the soundtrack. (Bassett is also the rumored subject of “Drivers License”).
If Rodrigo is already penning songs this emotionally potent at age 17, and as her mere debut, it’s anyone’s guess where she’ll go from here. She could likely become pop’s next great raconteur. Until then, we’ll just be driving through the suburbs, blasting this song, feeling and reliving all her first-love feelings right along with her.