As new trends usually start, one morning, it seemed videos of TikTok users from around the world singing their hearts out started flooding social media. Lip-syncing face camera, users turned into performers, crying as they sang the heart-breaking lyrics from Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License.”
“Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me/‘Cause you said forever now I drive alone past your street,” the 17-year-old wrote.
After Rodrigo released her emotional bop on Jan. 8, “Driver’s License” became an instant success on TikTok. But Rodrigo’s success extended far beyond the platform. “Driver’s License” made a historical debut with massive first-week stats. The song accumulated almost 200 million streams on Spotify in the first two weeks.
Who is this 17-year-old topping the charts? Rodrigo’s career began very early on at 12 years old when she starred in An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success. She then acted on the Disney Channel show Bizaardvar for three years. It wasn’t until 2019, however, that Rodrigo truly established herself as the multi-talented young woman that she is when she was cast as the lead in the Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. She was able to not only act but also write parts of the soundtrack. Her song for the series, “All I Want,” had also gone viral in 2019. The year-old track is now experiencing a second wave of success worldwide thanks to the momentum around “Driver’s License” and reached No. 119 in its second week on the Global 200. “I wrote that song in my living room during finals week of sophomore year,” Rodrigo wrote on her personal website.
“Driver’s License” has had the biggest debut since WAP, performed by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, which started with 93 million in the week ending in Aug. 13, 2020. “Driver’s License” reached 50 million U.S. streamers in its first two weeks.
While both songs quickly became extremely popular TikTok trends, “Driver’s License”’ success is also credited to its relatable lyrics, heart-wrenching breakup story as well as Rodrigo’s background on Disney+.
So what is the song about?
“Driver’s License” lyrics clearly hint at a painful breakup: “And I know we weren’t perfect/But I’ve never felt this way for no one/ And I just can’t imagine how you could be so okay now that I’m gone,” Rodrigo wrote. The song’s storyline could have remained as simple at that: a breakup that most listeners could identify with and cry to in the shower, alone in their bedroom, or how teens do it nowadays – on TikTok.
But fans have obsessively taken to social media to share speculations and theories around the backstory of the song. Many have come to the conclusion that “Driver’s License” is about Rodrigo’s breakup with Joshua Bassett, her former High School Musical: The Musical: The Series co-star – and alleged ex. While the two never confirmed their relationship, the pair allegedly broke up in 2020. Bassett allegedly started a new relationship with Sabrina Carpenter. According to fans, Carpenter would be no one else than the “blond girl” that Rodrigo refers to in her song: “And you’re probably with that blonde girl/ Who always made me doubt”
The rumors may have been put to rest if it wasn’t for Carpenter’s release of her own hit on Jan. 21, “Skin” which many believe is a direct response to “Driver’s License.” Dissecting the lyrics like a true-crime investigation, fans found clues in “Skin”: “Maybe you didn’t mean it/ Maybe blonde was the only rhyme,” Carpenter wrote. But it doesn’t stop there, as things come in threes and this saga is no exception. Only a couple days after “Driver’s License” was released, Bassett came out with his own single, “Lie, Lie, Lie.”
“So they told me all the things that you said/”Running all over my name,” Bassett’s single starts. Bassett later continues with, “ You can’t seem to get me off your mind, oh/ I know you’re lying through your teeth.” Many are now speculating that the releases of these three singles are perhaps almost too perfectly timed. On TikTok, theories about a potential PR stunt organized by Disney are already surpassing the heart-felt crying lip-syncing videos.
Taylor Lucas posted this now-viral video of a clip from Disney’s 2014 sitcom Girl Meets World. There, we see Rowan Blanchard’s character, Riley, reading a poem to her class called “The Girl with the Long, Blonde Hair.” Looking directly at Carpenter’s character, Riley goes “We could have been friends, maybe in some other life,” a line fans directly recognized from “Skin.”
Following the videos, users are calling on Disney to provide explanations. While speculations behind “Driver’s License” backstory might be fueling the hit’s current buzz for now, they might also distract from the song’s well-earned merits. As Billboard reported, “Drivers License” streams mark “a new weekly best for a female artist’s first single properly promoted to radio, streaming services, and other platforms.” Rodrigo’s hit also got a co-sign from no other than Taylor Swift, who is proud of her “baby.”
Crediting “Driver’s License”’s success solely to the thriving rumors surrounding the song’s backstory or to Rodrigo’s background on Disney would be misleading.
As Chris Molanphy, feature writer and critic for Slate wrote, “a song by an artist this little-known outside of Disney circles doesn’t crash-land on top of our biggest chart on gossip alone—otherwise, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan (and Alexis Rose) would have all scored No. 1 hits.”
While Rodrigo hasn’t addressed any of these rumors yet, she thanked fans on her Instagram for the support around her single. “Thank u guys endlessly for listening. Y’all have managed to turn one of the scariest most painful moments of my life into something so positive and powerful.” She ended her post with: “Sad girl sh** forever,” getting everyone to agree on at least one thing.
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