V132: It’s Olivia Rodrigo’s World
As the first major Filipina-American popstar, 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo turned a broken heart into a ton of broken records and the explosive success of her number one album SOUR is just the beginning
Olivia Rodrigo’s ascent to pop stardom was perhaps the fastest any of us have lived through. The singer-songwriter, who came to some prominence while starring in Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, (yes, that’s the real name), reached number 1 with her debut single, “drivers license,” where it stayed for eight weeks, making it the longest-standing debut single to ever top the charts. Her follow-up singles, “deja vu” and “good 4 U” cemented Rodrigo’s place as newly crowned music royalty. But when the radio is being flooded with “TikTok music”—bass-laden club tracks that are all relatively similar to one another and so catchy that they must somehow be illegal—how is it that a choral piano ballad like “drivers license” or guitar-heavy breakup tracks like “good 4 U” are topping the charts? Perhaps if we’ve learned anything from Rodrigo—as well as her fans—it’s that society’s collective musical taste is far less prescribed or predetermined than we thought. By putting out an album that doesn’t subscribe to any particular genre, and reaching phenomenal success with it, Rodrigo has proven that the musical landscape is as unpredictable as, well, everything else has been in the last year.
And of course, at the end of the day, there is Rodrigo’s talent—something many of us are still catching up to when trying to understand why she exploded so loudly onto the scene in a matter of days. At her crux, Rodrigo is a songwriter who was able to capture the teenage experience in its charming, agonizing, and often painful glory. For actual teenagers, she voices sentiments they’ve struggled to put their finger on themselves. For the rest of us, Rodrigo’s music brings us back to the melancholia and frustration that surrounds youthful romance, helping us remember our younger selves—as well as offering truths that endure at any age… To better understand pop’s newest obsession, V invited Rodrigo to sit down with SNL’s Bowen Yang, an actor and comedian whose SNL sketch around “drivers license” only furthered the song’s place as a cultural phenomenon.
Bowen Yang: I have to ask a very pressing question that a lot of people want to know. Do you now know how to parallel park?
Olivia Rodrigo: Oh my God. Great question. I did parallel park yesterday.
BY: Wow. In New York?
OR: Oh no, no, no. I’m in L.A. now. I parallel parked on Sunset Boulevard.
BY: I just found out that it has to be one and a half times the length of your car in order to parallel park safely.
OR: I can’t. Math and parking are not my strong suits. That’s not my thing.
BY: About Sour, you’ve spoken about how vulnerable it is to write music. Do you feel like you are reliving the breakup every time you perform a song off the album?
OR: Honestly, no, I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t feel that sort of heartbreak and betrayal, at least not as acutely as I used to feel it. And I remember after “drivers license” came out, I had been feeling so sad and insecure for so long. “drivers license” was the first song that I wrote where I was like, “Oh wow, this actually really captures how I feel to a T.” And it was such an overwhelming feeling that was so hard to externalize. And I remember writing that song and being like, “Wow, I feel really good about that.” That’s the point of artists, to take something that’s so convoluted in your head and make it like something so simple that can be presented to the world. And I remember being so proud of that, and the day after, or a couple days after “drivers license” came out and it was going number one, like breaking all these records, I remember listening to it in the car and, like, driving the literal streets that I talked about driving, crying and being like, “Oh my God, I’m so proud.” This is such a sad song, but it feels so euphoric for me. And I’m so happy. I feel so proud of myself and how far I’ve come. And really, those songs are just like a reminder of that and that journey that I’ve gone through. So I don’t get sad listening to it anymore.
BY: Did you have any big concerns going into your first live performance? Because it is this new phase that you’re going into with the album now that you could potentially tour with it.
OR: I guess for the SNL performance, I just had no idea how I would react to that kind of audience and that sort of pressure. I was like, “Am I just going to go up there and freeze up?” Because it was literally my second performance. I had no idea. So it was kind of an anxiety-inducing thing, but it was so much fun. I think live music is such an important part of life and obviously something that we’ve all been really missing in our lives. I think it’s really fun as an artist to be able to cultivate experience for people. I remember going to see Lorde at the Staples Center from her Melodrama tour. Are you a Lorde fan?
BY: Yes. Huge.
OR: I remember going to see her at the Staples Center, being with my friends and crying. She just created this world that we all stepped into and for an hour and a half or two hours, or however long the show was, we were just in this world and we were feeling everything together. Like 10,000 people were just feeling the exact same emotions as each other. And I just remember being like, “That’s such a magical experience.” I wanna be that type of artist who can really cultivate these feelings on such a large scale. So, hopefully, that’s what I’ll do when I go on tour.
BY: Was the BRITS your first time meeting Taylor (Swift)?
BY: We gotta talk. You’re talking to like, a real-life elder Swifty. Can you generally talk about Taylor?
OR: I’ve really just looked up to her since I was very young. I think her writing every single one of her songs was a big inspiration for me. I take songwriting the most seriously out of any career that I have. It’s just so important to me. And I think that’s sort of the same with her. She’s just obviously brilliant at it. And it’s just so cool to also be in a place in my career where people who I’ve looked up to for a really long time suddenly become my peers. That’s such a crazy thing that I still haven’t wrapped my head around. I’m like, the biggest fangirl. And so many artists, other than Taylor, I’ve had that experience with, too. It was so surreal. It’s like, “What is my life?” Two days ago I was at the White House too. It’s like, “What?” I don’t get it.
BY: You stand with Dr. Fauci.
OR: I am a fangirl for Dr. Fauci. Hell yeah. I’m stanning him. He’s incredible. I was so starstruck to meet him. It was crazy.
BY: The White House. How the hell was that for you?
OR: It was crazy. It was the most surreal experience I’ve had in the last year. And I’ve had some really surreal experiences in the last year. The White House, is incredible. You just walk into this place with so much history and it’s just a museum. And they’re like, “Oh, there’s George Washington’s sword over there.” And I’m like, “Oh my God. This is just out there for me to see. That’s crazy.” It was incredible and obviously I went for a really great cause. It’s so important that people at my age are getting vaccinated and it was really awesome that they lent me their platform. And I lent mine. I guess we kind of worked together to spread that message. It was a really meaningful moment for me. And, obviously, I got to meet the president of the United States.
BY: So I’m in Cleveland right now, randomly. I’m walking distance from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And I went. And literally every era of rock is represented, from Billie Holiday to Motown to Beyoncé. And no joke, I thought of you. Not just because we were going to talk today. I felt like Sour was a perfect nexus of all these rock influences, and you did such a good job of encapsulating all of those things. I started thinking about, for professional musicians, how do they think about the full scope (of your career)?
OR: There’s this pressure for young women in pop music. And it’s like this thing where you’re only successful if you’re under 30. I’ve always resented that because I think I’m just going to get better with age. You know what I mean? I’m just going to become a better songwriter and know what I want to say more…I think that’s actually a really fun, exciting part of being in the space that I’m really encouraged to sort of have different eras and reinvent yourself. And I think that’s so much fun, and I am so inspired by so many different genres of music. I love country music so much, and I love rock music so much. And obviously pop music is my favorite. And another thing that I think is really special is that, in 2021, I feel like artists aren’t really boxed into a genre anymore. I look at someone like Billie Eilish, who I’m so obsessed with, and her music is like pop, but it’s kind of rock, too.
BY: I think you are kind of doing something very radical by just existing as a musician and the way that you are as this Asian artist. I don’t know if that ever factors into the way that you approach your career. Because if I think about that too much myself, I get overwhelmed. And so I only open that drawer every now and then. How often do you open the drawer?
OR: I think we share a lot in that sort of space, and that’s incredible to think about. I sometimes get DMs from little girls being like, “I’ve never seen someone who looked like me in your position.” And I’m literally going to cry. Like just thinking about it. I feel like I grew up never seeing that. Also it was always like, “Pop star,” that’s a white girl.
BY: What are you most excited about this year?
OR: I’m most excited to tour. Like we were talking about before, I’m really excited to create that experience for people. And I’m really excited to write more music and suddenly I can work with anyone I want to work with now, which is so crazy and gonna be a really fun thing to explore. Honestly, I literally just turned 18, so there are so many normal teenage things that I’m really excited to do. There’s so much in life that I have to learn and so many experiences to be had. So I’m honestly most excited for that. I love growing up. I feel like I get happier with age, so hopefully that’s a trend that continues.