For six straight weeks starting in January, the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 has been held by just one song: “Drivers License,” the first solo single by a teenager who either came out of nowhere or was already a star, depending on whom you ask.
Olivia Rodrigo, who turned 18 last week, had appeared in lead roles on two Disney shows, “Bizaardvark,” which ran from 2016 to 2019, and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” a current streaming success. But when she released “Drivers License” on Jan. 8, via Geffen Records, the top line on Rodrigo’s résumé suddenly switched to chart-topping singer-songwriter.
“Drivers License” was an immediate sensation, debuting at No. 1 after setting streaming records on Spotify, ruling TikTok and riling up both Disney fans and newcomers with speculation about the real-life breakup that inspired the lyrics. More than a month later, the song has pulled away as the defining runaway pop hit of the year so far.
In the latest episode of “Diary of a Song,” which breaks down the making of a track, Rodrigo speaks about writing “Drivers License” following a good suburban cry session last year, not long after she got her actual license. Documented in previously unheard voice memos and demo recordings from throughout the process, Rodrigo then brought a sketch of the piano ballad to her producer and co-writer Daniel Nigro, formerly of the band As Tall as Lions, for weeks of fiddling.
Together, the pair played with tempo, texture, alternative lyrics (a “brunette girl” became a blonde) and the song’s rousing bridge (which contains an un-Disney expletive), before landing on the version that now dominates radio and streaming playlists. Rodrigo also revealed that she wrote a piano transition from “Drivers License” with future fan-made TikTok videos specifically in mind, and was gratified when listeners took her cue.
See how the song came together, and changed Rodrigo’s life, in the video above.
“Diary of a Song” provides an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at how pop music is made today, using archival material — voice memos, demo versions, text messages, emails, interviews and more — to tell the story behind the track. Subscribe to our YouTube channel.
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