On her 18th birthday, Olivia Rodrigo achieved a milestone of success seen by few performers before her. The star had become such an overwhelming presence in the TikTok generation zeitgeist that she inspired a sketch on “Saturday Night Live,” eventually appearing as a musical guest in a later episode. For those reluctantly labeled geriatric millennials, it may have raised the question: who the heck is Olivia Rodrigo? For Zoomers, the star’s moment was hardly a surprise.
Rodrigo might be barely old enough to drive without adult supervision. As she suggested in “Brutal,” the opening track on her debut album, “Sour” (which was released on May 21, 2021), she hasn’t even mastered the delicate art of parallel parking. The same can’t be said for songwriting. Rodrigo’s breakout single, “Drivers License,” smashed streaming records, racking up the most Spotify streams in a single day (aside from holiday songs, since it’s hard to beat Mariah Carey on Christmas day). According to the BBC, the track also made Rodrigo “the first female artist to have a song debut at No. 1 since Lauryn Hill in 1998,” which happened five years before the singer was even born.
Part of Rodrigo’s success can be attributed to her authenticity, a rare sight in the realm of highly-curated Disney Channel stars. She’s a new kind of pop star, proving there’s power in heartbreak, uncomfortable teenage emotions, and the occasional curse word. So, who really is Olivia Rodrigo? Here are some things you didn’t know about the star.
Olivia Rodrigo's journey began like most other Disney Channel stars
Olivia Rodrigo followed a very traditional path to child stardom. According to BBC, she grew up in Temecula, California — a town about an hour and half outside of Los Angeles that’s better known for its wine than its star power. Her mother, a school teacher with a penchant for alternative rock, introduced her to artists like The White Stripes and No Doubt (a clear inspiration for “Sour” tracks like “Good 4 U”). Rodrigo started taking voice lessons when she was around five years old and began performing in talent shows a couple years after that. Then came the Hollywood auditions, and Rodrigo’s family found themselves driving back and forth to Los Angeles hoping for her big break.
When Rodrigo was just 12 years old, that big break finally came. In 2016, the star landed a role on the Disney Channel series, “Bizaardvark”, opposite Jake Paul, who famously got fired after starting fires in his swimming pool and basically terrorizing the town of Beverly Grove. According to Elle, Rodrigo quickly “became a showbiz kid.” Her family moved to Los Angeles, she “left public school,” and she started work on the series.
Though those years were described as “lonely” for the star by the outlet, Rodrigo’s role as Paige Olvera allowed her to do what she does best — sing — but first she had to learn how to play guitar, and that ended up changing everything.
She scored a $2 million record deal after writing a song for Disney
Olivia Rodrigo’s success with Disney wasn’t a one-off fluke. When “Bizaardvark” ended in 2019 after three seasons, she graduated to “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” The mouthful of the bizarrely meta Disney+ show follows the supposed real students from the school where the “High School Musical” trilogy was filmed. While Rodrigo, who stars as Nini Salazar-Roberts, may never have found herself in a spontaneous karaoke duet with a lip-syncing Zac Efron, she did get to flex her songwriting skills.
According to Billboard, the show’s creator, Tim Federle, wasn’t aware that Rodrigo was a songwriter when she was cast, but after discovering the original songs she posted on Instagram, he gave her a chance to write a tune for the show. “I sent Olivia this email, being like, ‘I think Nini needs a song, and I think you should be the person who tries to write it,'” Federle told Billboard. “And I remember three days later, Olivia was sort of sheepishly like, ‘I’ve got a little something, do you mind if I show you?'”
The final track, an emotional piano ballad called “All I Want,” ended up going viral on TikTok, which led to her record deal with Geffen. According to Billboard, Rodrigo’s deal was rumored to be worth around $2 million.
Olivia Rodrigo met her Sour producer on Instagram
For Olivia Rodrigo, social media is a secret weapon — first inadvertently giving her a shot at writing her debut hit and then inadvertently helping her secure a record deal. It only makes sense that it would also bring her a producer. Enter Daniel Nigro, a producer and writer who’s worked with the likes of Lewis Capaldi, Conan Gray, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Sky Ferreira.
According to the BBC, it all began with one fateful Instagram post in January 2020. Rodrigo had just written the song we now know as “Happier.” She posted a video of herself singing lyrics like, “Find someone great, but don’t find no one better / I hope you’re happy, but don’t be happier.” Nigro took notice and slid into her DMs. “It was a combination of the way she sang it, the intensity in her voice and the lyric,” he told the BBC. “It just hit me and I was like, ‘This is it.'”
Though the pair’s initial recording plans were thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic, when things calmed down a bit months later and they were able to enact proper safety protocols, Rodrigo and Nigro got to work on “Sour.”
She wrote nearly all of Drivers License by herself
If you look at the album credits from most Disney Channel artists, you’ll find a myriad of credited songwriters. This isn’t the case for Olivia Rodrigo. On “Sour,” she’s got sole claim to two tracks, “Enough for You” and “Happier.” Beyond that, her producer — who’s the only other person credited on most of the other songs — admitted that Rodrigo does a lot of the heavy lifting.
The old songwriting adage goes “change a word, get a third.” That kind of rings true for “Drivers License.” The Disney star wrote this record-breaking hit almost entirely on her own. As Nigro told the BBC, the draft she brought into the studio was almost exactly the same as what you hear on the radio today. All it needed was a bridge, and they ultimately came up with the “red light, stop signs” part together. Nigro also helped her “arrange the chorus” to have “more of a sense of release.”
Today, “Drivers License” stands as a testament to the true power of teenage feelings. Now, more than ever before, something a teenager writes in her bedroom can change the world.
Who was Drivers License really about?
There’s been a lot of internet drama regarding the real meaning of “Drivers License.” The song’s success almost hinges on the speculation. If it wasn’t as personal, it probably wouldn’t have been as successful, but because it’s so personal, people want to know: Who had the audacity to hurt Olivia Rodrigo? In the eyes of some fans, this very well may be an old fashioned Disney Channel love triangle (think: Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff’s now-iconic early aughts feud over Aaron Carter). Let’s break it down.
Pretty much as soon as “Drivers License” surfaced on TikTok, fans began to suspect that it was about Rodrigo’s “High School Musical” co-star, Joshua Bassett. The theory was so pervasive that even “Saturday Night Live” referenced Bassett in its “Drivers License” skit. Per People, the evidence for their rumored relationship lied in their “on-screen chemistry, Instagram activity, and affinity for writing music together.” Plus, they play on-screen love interests. Not to mention, Rodrigo once admitted that Bassett taught Rodrigo how to drive. The pair never confirmed anything, but Rodrigo dropped a major hint about a breakup in a TikTok she captioned, “And that’s on failed relationships.” The TikTok featured her track, “All I Want,” which her character originally sang to Bassett’s character in the series.
So, who’s that blonde girl that always made Rodrigo doubt? Fans think it’s former “Girl Meets World” star Sabrina Carpenter, who was spotted hanging out with Bassett around the same time Rodrigo posted her breakup TikTok.
Did Drivers License spark two Disney Channel diss tracks?
While Olivia Rodrigo and her alleged ex may not be spitting fire like Eminem and Drake, fans think that “Drivers License” did spark a musical clapback from Joshua Bassett and Sabrina Carpenter. Mere days after Rodrigo dropped her record-breaking single, Bassett released a track called “Lie, Lie, Lie” and Carpenter released a song called “Skin.” Do these have anything to do with Rodrigo? The answer is a hard maybe.
According to Vulture, Bassett announced his song on the same day Rodrigo announced “Drivers License,” which isn’t exactly a way to thwart speculation. A quick listen to the lyrics shows that it’s clearly about an unnamed person who’s lying about someone else, but to this day, Bassett has only confirmed that it’s about a friend. Here’s the catch though: It’s a friend that he also calls “darling,” which seems to be enough proof that this so-called friend is more like a girlfriend.
As for Carpenter’s single, the Disney star uses seemingly pointed lyrics like, “If I met you in another life / Maybe then we could pretend / There’s no gravity in the words we write / Maybe you didn’t mean it / Maybe ‘blonde’ was the only rhyme” — blonde. Carpenter later admitted that she didn’t “write a diss track” after being “bothered by a few lines in a (magnificent) song,” but some lyrics did “address a specific situation,” which sounds like a partial admission, if you ask us.
Olivia Rodrigo's net worth is already impressive
Olivia Rodrigo’s estimated net worth has ballooned since the success of “Drivers License.” As we first reported in January 2021, Popbuzz estimated that Rodrigo’s net worth was around $500,000. That’s not too shabby for a teenager, especially considering most of us were making a few bucks an hour babysitting for the neighbors at that age. At the time, she had been working with Disney for about five years, and her only other role was a cameo on Fox’s hit sitcom, “New Girl.”
Since then, news surfaced of Rodrigo’s rumored $2 million deal with Geffen, and “Drivers License” clung to it’s No. 1 spot on the Billboard Global 200 and Billboard Global Excl. U.S. charts for a record-breaking eight weeks. With “Sour” projected to hit 200 million audio streams by the end of its first week, Rodrigo may have one of the biggest openings of 2021. This has all contributed to the star’s impressive net worth, which Celebrity Net Worth estimates to be around $4 million.
In other words, the Filipino-American star can definitely afford to buy a brand new car — and honestly, is crying while you drive through the suburbs so bad if you’re cruising in a Maserati? Do tears stain brand new leather?
This multi-talented star is the opposite of camera shy
If you’re wondering the type of circumstances that lead to a chart-topping vocal performance, it’s absolutely nothing like you’d think. We’ve heard of stars recording in a closet (like Selena Gomez did when she collaborated with Charlie Puth) or opting to go nude in a secluded vocal booth (like Jenny Lewis did when she recorded the song, “I Never”) — but not Olivia Rodrigo. The star did not want privacy when she recorded “Sour.” Instead, she suggested that producer Daniel Nigro film her while she was singing, because she actually sings better when cameras are watching. Apparently, Rodrigo thrives under pressure.
“I’m a person who buckles under pressure. You put me on camera and all of a sudden I get in my head and I can’t perform,” Nigro told the BBC. “But with Olivia, it’s the exact opposite. You’d say, ‘OK, we’re filming you, people are watching,’ and all of a sudden she gives the performance of a lifetime. It became a bit of a joke between us.”
Such is the life of a Disney Channel star who’s trained to know that cameras mean business.
Olivia Rodrigo's Sour was originally an EP
At the time of this writing, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album hasn’t even finished out its first week, but its overwhelming success is undeniable. Four days after “Sour” was released, Billboard announced that the album’s third single, “Good 4 U,” had become Rodrigo’s second No. 1 debut on the Billboard Hot 100 (the first was “Drivers License,” and though “Deja Vu” did chart, it debuted at No. 8). Thus, another record was broken. “Sour” became the first ever debut album to have “two No. 1 Hot 100 debuts.” As Billboard points out, the only other artists to come close were Mariah Carey, Drake, and Ariana Grande — but they did it on their fifth albums, not their first.
Weirdly enough, “Sour” almost never happened at all. When Rodrigo initially released “Drivers License,” she had only planned to make an EP. “I had an EP ready, like five or six songs,” she told the BBC. “Then ‘Drivers License’ came out and I was like, ‘I’m just not super-proud of this.'”
Rodrigo decided to add to her existing body of work, pulling overtime while filming the “High School Musical” series in Salt Lake City. She’d write new songs in her downtime, then trade files with Nigro, who was back in his Los Angeles studio. Eventually, “Sour” was born — a true product of modern technology, both in how the album was written and how its meteoric success played out on TikTok.
How Taylor Swift became a credited writer on Sour
Though most of “Sour” is written by Olivia Rodrigo and Dan Nigro, Taylor Swift and her longtime producer, The Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff, have a surprising writing credit. As fans already know, Rodrigo is a major Swiftie. The singer-actor even posted an Instagram snap of “Drivers License” below singles from “Evermore’s” deluxe edition on the iTunes charts. “Next to Taylor on the U.S. iTunes chart,” Rodrigo captioned the post. “I’m in a puddle of tears.”
Yes, Rodrigo fangirls just like the rest of us, but she’s also got a lot more to fangirl about. As Rodrigo told Billboard, she is in possession of a handwritten note of encouragement from the “Folklore” singer herself. According to People, Swift even gifted Rodrigo a $3,200 ring. The pair finally met IRL at the 2021 BRIT awards, and the resulting photo op instantly went viral.
Fans have been hoping for a collaboration since the moment Swift commented on Rodrigo’s Instagram, which is exactly why the internet went into a frenzy when — ahead of “Sour’s” release — it was discovered that Swift and Antonoff co-wrote one of the album’s songs. As it turned out, this was not a collaboration. Rather, “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back” is an interpolation of “New Years Day,” the last track on Swift’s 2017 album, “Reputation.” The numbers are an Easter egg themselves. Together, they make the number 13, which is symbolic in the Swift extended universe.
Olivia Rodrigo uses her mom as a sounding board
In just a year, Olivia Rodrigo’s career has snowballed. She’s built an undeniably strong professional team. Some could even argue they’re among the best in the business. Nonetheless, the singer still uses her mom as a sounding board. During Apple Music’s First Listen event, Rodrigo told Zane Lowe that her mother is still usually the very first person to hear her new songs.
“Her favorite music is punk music and metal music and really hard, gritty stuff, so she’s always been the one that has instilled in me that, ‘I don’t care [about] the technicalities if it makes you feel something, then it’s good music,'” Rodrigo said (via People). “… If my mom doesn’t like it, I know it’s not music that makes you feel.”
That’s not to say mom always knows best. The then-18-year-old singer admitted that her mother was not a fan of the bridge in “Drivers License.” When Rodrigo played her the track, her mom said, “The bridge is really weird. It’s too much; it doesn’t fit with the rest of the song.” Of course, Rodrigo didn’t listen (chalk it up to a tiny teenage rebellion and a strong creative vision). The rest is history.
This Disney star is a sustainable shopper
Today’s culture of fast fashion has accelerated trend cycles. For every staple piece someone adds to their wardrobe, there’s another person purchasing dozens of new duds and posting their haul on TikTok. According to Business Insider, the fashion industry is responsible for “10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions” and “is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply.” This has led Zoomers to prefer sustainable, environmentally conscious fashion — and Olivia Rodrigo is no different.
In an interview with Nylon, Rodrigo — a self-admitted “shopaholic” — revealed that the Netflix documentary, “The True Cost,” opened her eyes to sustainable, ethical fashion. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, people are getting paid below minimum, living wages for me to wear this T-shirt.’ It’s so stupid,” she said. “You can’t empower one woman in another country at the expense of another woman in another country. It doesn’t make any sense to me.” Rodrigo has since become a “big vintage shopper,” though she told Nylon that her favorite way of switching up her wardrobe is trading clothes with her friends. “It creates no excess consumption, and it’s super fun,” the hitmaker explained. “Sometimes you just get bored of your clothes, it’s not like they’re bad or anything, and it’s time to switch it up.”
As Rodrigo leads the charge towards a more sustainable, ethical fashion industry, she also proves that it’s possible to be both a teenage millionaire and someone who rarely buys new clothes.
Olivia Rodrigo's dream is to be a songwriter for other people
Olivia Rodrigo has been in the spotlight since she was 12 years old, but she’s actually not that fussed about it. Her main focus is songwriting, and as she told Billboard, she has big plans beyond “Sour” that don’t involve her being the star of the show. One of her biggest dreams is to write for other people — and she plans to dive in ASAP.
“The second the album cycle for this is over and I’m not traveling, that’s the one thing that I want to do so bad,” Rodrigo said. “I always said that I wanted to do that: Maybe when I was, like, 30 or something and I had kids — I’d stop making music and just write for other people. Because I just love songwriting. I love songwriting more than putting out songs.”
As it turns out, commercial viability (which seems to define most debut albums from Disney Channel stars) isn’t even a thought in her mind. She makes music for the love of it. “If my music becomes really commercially successful, that’s incredible, and that means I did a good job,” Rodrigo told Billboard. “But some of my favorite artists are not commercially successful, and that doesn’t mean that they’re any less amazing.”
Hey, at least she also has her day job as a Disney star to fall back on. It could be worse.
Yes, Olivia Rodrigo is doing great
“Sour” cemented Olivia Rodrigo in her reign as the queen of teenage heartbreak. Her album was so gutting and emotional, that the day it was released, Refinery29 did a deep dive into “why it literally hurts” to hear. The singer isn’t exactly rejecting her title, either. She even curated Spotify’s “Broken Heart” playlist and filled it with so-called “sad girl songs” from artists like Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, and Kacey Musgraves. Don’t be fooled though: Olivia Rodrigo is doing just fine.
In an interview with the BBC, the multi-talented star revealed that she used to be “borderline addicted to social media” and “felt crippled by the comparisons” (which is explored in her song, “Jealousy, Jealousy”). She obviously experienced a devastating breakup (at least, if we’re assuming that “Drivers License” and “Deja Vu” have factually accurate, ripped-from-her-diary lyrics). These days, though, that’s all behind her. Rodrigo is a sad girl no more, even if she still loves a good breakup ballad.
“Oh gosh, I am so much happier than I was when I wrote all of those songs,” Rodrigo told the BBC, “but it’s also really cool that I made something out of those feelings. And now I get to look back at them and be like, ‘Ha-ha! I didn’t know anything!'”
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