The current reigning pop monarch may have risen to fame through Nickelodeon, but Disney is no lightweight when it comes to popping out new stars. More recently, we’ve had Sabrina Carpenter, and before her, the generation of Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Jonas Brothers. Preceding them, was the generation of Hilary Duff and Raven-Symoné, and before them was the Mickey Mouse Club generation of Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake. The Disney lineage runs deep and based on her debut single, “Drivers License,” Olivia Rodrigo looks poised to join that family tree.
One of the stars of Disney+’s hit show High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Olivia has been teasing “Drivers License” since July. Admittedly, if you weren’t a fan of her or a viewer of the show, you likely learned of the song upon release. In a way, the initial surprise of just how good the song is makes it sound even better. Written and produced by Dan Nigro (a frequent collaborator of Conan Grey and Carly Rae Jepsen) and Olivia herself, “Drivers License” basks in its obvious Taylor Swift influence as Olivia works her way through a melancholic narrative of betrayal. Like Taylor (“cardigan,” “willow,” etc.), Olivia picks an object as her primary metaphor, in this case, a driver’s license that symbolizes the complexities of freedom and maturity, to ground the song. She opens with “I got my driver’s license last week/Just like we always talked about” and steadily progresses into detailing the betrayal of her significant other that turned the sweetness of her driver’s license sour: “And you’re probably with that blonde girl/Who always made me doubt.”
“Drivers License” excels because, first and foremost, it feels age-appropriate. The teen-pop machine has a nasty habit of presenting teenage artists in a more mature fashion than they need to. With her debut single, Olivia captures the layers of teenage emotions in the face of crumbling romance without sounding like she’s relaying experiences that aren’t hers. Obviously, Olivia wrote “Drivers License” herself, so that helps. Secondly, and just as important, this is a damn good pop song. Olivia’s voice is terrific. She’s able to shed the almost-robotic teen-pop tone that so many Disney stars start off with and instead combine glimmers of a quiver, an ever-so-slight rasp, and a hint of “indie-pop voice” to add more emotional layers to the song. Every section is great, with the chorus being particularly strong. It is the unexpected bridge, however, that truly commands attention. After building from a whispery first chorus to a powerfully sung second chorus, the song morphs into a Lorde-esque torch song by the bridge. From layers of haunting background vocals to sparser production and more pronounced percussion, it’s basically perfect.
“Drivers License” is a strong debut from an artist that seems to be filled with promise.