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From a public breakup to the most-streamed song: The meteoric rise of 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo.

When we bid goodbye to 2020 and welcomed in 2021, none of us expected the upcoming year of pop culture to be dominated by a Disney star in a Disney love triangle.

But within days, the Olivia Rodrigo train had left the station - and it's showed no sign of slowing down ever since.

If you haven't heard the name Olivia Rodrigo yet, you've heard the voice.

Watch: The star signs when going through a breakup. Post continues below video.


Video via Mamamia.

She's been on the radio and in every Spotify playlist since the release of 'drivers license' on January 8, singing about how she misses her ex and drives past his house, just because. The song has been unescapable, so thankfully, it's really bloody good.

It's been a long time since a star has made such a splash in pop music, so quickly. Even Billie Eilish took years to release an album. Rodrigo's speedy success is reminiscent of another teenager; then-16-year-old Lorde with 'Royals' in 2013.

With two just-as-good follow-up singles, and the release of her (already critically acclaimed) debut album, Sour, earlier in May, Rodrigo has cemented herself as a major player in less than six months.

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Pre-'drivers license', 18-year-old Rodrigo was mostly known within Disney circles. 

She starred in the Disney Channel series Bizaardvark from 2016 to 2019, before being cast as the lead, Nini, in Disney+'s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.

Plenty have made the transition from Disney to mainstream popstar before Rodrigo, but she's doing a few things differently.

Firstly, it takes less than 40 seconds into her album before you hear an f-bomb. As much as she may have wanted to, 18-year-old Miley Cyrus could never. Rodrigo is signed with Interscope and Geffen Records, rather than Disney's subsidiary Hollywood Records, giving her more freedom in her image and sound. 

She's also taken lessons from those who came before her. A long-time Taylor Swift fan, Rodrigo has full control of her master recordings.

She's still a teenager, and Gen Z as hell, but Rodrigo is the next big thing in music. She's here to stay, so we may as well learn what makes her so successful, huh?

A love triangle, behind-the-scenes drama and a debut album.

Besides being a truly good song, Rodrigo's first single was bolstered by interest in her personal life. Namely, a Disney-love triangle with her ex-boyfriend and co-star Joshua Bassett and his new girlfriend, Sabrina Carpenter.

The release of 'drivers license' saw the internet dissecting all the lyrics, trawling their socials for evidence and piecing together what happened with them behind-the-scenes.

The love triangle; Sabrina Carpenter, Joshua Bassett and Olivia Rodrigo. Image: Getty/Instagram.

This isn't to say the song wouldn't have been well-received without the drama. Taylor Swift praised the song in a rare social media post, and the kids over on TikTok embraced it wholeheartedly. It broke the record for the most single-day streams for a non-Christmas song on Spotify, and I doubt all of those listeners knew about a simmering Disney feud.

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Soon after came songs from Bassett and Carpenter too.

Both their singles were seen as responses to Rodrigo, though all three have been coy, preferring to let their lyrics do the talking. That's only upped the intrigue.

Neither Rodrigo nor her team expected 'drivers license' to blow up how it did. 

They'd originally planned to release an EP, but after its success, this evolved into a full-length album, Sour.

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The title represents all the "sour" emotions young women "are often shamed for", like anger, jealousy and sadness, she explained to The Face

In a Billboard interview, Rodrigo said she tried to balance out the "sour" songs with love songs, in order to avoid being pigeonholed as "the heartbreak girl", but it didn't feel authentic based on where she was at this point in her life. So she just... didn't.

There are segues into how being a teenager is actually pretty shitty, with opener 'brutal' and 'jealousy, jealousy', and a LBTIQI+ acceptance narrative on 'hope ur ok', but there's no doubt about it; Sour is a break-up album.

What's telling is how we've all approached that.

We're finally taking young women seriously.

The string that ties this all together is that Rodrigo is a young woman unapologetic about all her angsty, messy, and sometimes petty feelings.

For those around her age, it's relatable.

For those of us that are older, it's tapping into some major nostalgia. We may not have all sung Billy Joel's 'Uptown Girl' with our teenage loves, but we can all remember the world-ending feeling when it's over and you don't have the perspective of knowing that life goes on.

Sl*t-shaming and jokes marred much of Taylor Swift's early career. The narrative was that famous men needed to 'watch out' in case their actions were turned into songs.

Rodrigo assumed similar was probably going to happen to her. I'm sure those conversations are happening somewhere, but it's not in the mainstream like it once was.

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"I'm a teenage girl, I write about stuff that I feel really intensely - and I feel heartbreak and longing really intensely - and I think that's authentic and natural," she told The Guardian, calling out the "sexist criticism of songwriters like me being told that they only write songs about boys".

Almost all artists write about their personal experiences. It's only been a problem when a young woman does it.

But now even the most 'serious' of music reviewers have acknowledged the gravity of Rodrigo's debut, and focussed on the music rather than the famous relationship/s that led to it.

The Guardian called it 'perfect first breakup soundtrack'. The Washington Post labelled it 'world-beating'. Rolling Stone "Revelatory". Even Pitchfork (which is often criticised for its harsh ratings of mostly female, mostly pop artists) was positive.

It feels like progress.

There has long, long been a tendency to downplay and mock the thoughts and feelings of women. Especially young women and teenagers.

Olivia Rodrigo is only 18, but we should be taking her very seriously. 

Feature image: Geffen Records/Getty.

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