Under Review: Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License”

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Junior Chloe Zhao shares her opinions on Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License.”

Chloe Zhao, Staff Writer

When Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” comes on shuffle, I plug a pair of headphones in my ears to close my eyes and yearn for the heartbreak I’ve never experienced, picturing myself driving with the license I never earned. As an avid listener the most seasoned break-up songs written by artists such as Taylor Swift and Lorde, nothing has really struck me like “Drivers License.” 

After acting on Disney Channel, Olivia Rodrigo released her first single on Jan. 8 and achieved overnight success. In the next few days, Rodrigo’s song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, broke the record for most Spotify streams in a single day for a non-holiday song and started its very own TikTok trend, where users attempt to hit Rodrigo’s notes in the chorus with their friends. 

This wasn’t the first time pop music fanatics latched onto a ballad. Classics such as “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston and “Hello” by Adele have broken numerous records. The pop world might seem exhausted from yearning for pop ballads. Maybe it is. Or maybe it just needs a different approach to singing about heartbreak.

Instead of filling “Drivers License” with four minutes of cheesy metaphors and generic lines, Rodrigo reflects on old memories with an unnamed subject that broke her heart. The first few seconds contain an audio recording of a car’s engine starting, as if she were taking the audience on a car ride, before a piano plays and she dives into her first line which she sings with a crisp clarity: “I got my driver’s license last week, just like we always talked about.”

Once the chorus hits, Rodrigo presses on the pedal to gradually speed up the car, building a crescendo with each line. Every detail—from syncopated hand claps to Rodrigo belting out the lyrics—seems to be pining along with her. During this almost-sacred twenty seconds, I hold my breath and wait for the tension to build and then collapse with the line, “‘cause you said forever, now I drive alone past your street.”

The entire song packs a punch, but its real power comes from its bridge. With layers upon layers of echoing vocals and percussion, it’s hard to not imagine yourself as the main character of a coming-of-age film dealing with first heartbreaks, growing pains and failing your driver’s test for the seventh time. It’s Rodrigo’s final cry before settling into the chorus for the last time.

“Drivers License” takes few songwriting risks by adhering to the typical structure of a pop song (verse, chorus, repeat, bridge and modified chorus) and stripping the instrumental music down to a minimalist production, but Rodrigo uses these characteristics that would often be seen as weaknesses in songs to enhance her swelling vocals.