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Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024
The Observer

In defense of ‘drivers license’

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How I started going to church, and why you should too

By: Mariah Rush, Managing Editor

Just six short weeks ago, it came. I was minding my own business, scrolling through TikTok when I saw Charli D’Amelio, the most famous child in America, doing what I can best describe as an interpretive dance. I scrolled further to see explainer videos — “Here’s the tea behind ‘drivers license,’” and more. So I did the only thing I could think to do, and called my best friend/teen whisperer/Editor-in-Chief Maria Leontaras to ask: “Who is Olivia Rodrigo and why is everyone obsessed with her song ‘drivers license’?” And I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first.

This has been somewhat dissected in the pages of Scene, so we will spare you all the details — basically “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” child star Rodrigo released this song, it blew up and now, for some reason, people are debating the legitimacy of the song dominating the charts for the last month. To preface this, I never watched that Disney+ show and was unfamiliar with Rodrigo or any of her boy drama for a multitude of reasons, but primarily because I’m scared of children who look better than me.

According to my Last.fm account, I’ve gone to church (listened to “drivers license” to completion) 93 times. “drivers license” is my fourth most played song of 2021, sandwiched right between Miley Cyrus’ “Plastic Hearts” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Girls in the Hood.” It is this highly ranked for a very important reason — community. 

Two minutes and 23 seconds into the song, something shifts. Yes, it’s called a bridge, but it’s more than that. Rodrigo was in danger of losing me until that key shift, until the choir-esque “red lights, stop signs” that marks a definitive change in what she’s singing about. I feel mania, desperation and honesty as soon as my friends and I inevitably start screaming the words. Somehow, I identify with this literal child who was most likely gaslighted by a boy who looks like an actual cartoon character come to life. I try to stay out of childrens’ business, but I can’t help being nosy about some good old-fashioned gossip that comes with a side of an excellent screaming bridge! 

I’ve only DLWS (“drivers license”ed While Sad) a few times. A large portion of the other listens comes from the very important communal aspect of Rodrigo’s hit. For a very long time, whenever I picked up friends, we would mutually determine it was time to listen to “drivers license.” The odds of it happening while it was dark outside during the drive would skyrocket it by at least 50%. Scream-singing with my best friends (no matter our state of mind) is something so therapeutic, it truly makes me wonder why people want to ruin it by acting like there’s something wrong with carefreely enjoying it.

So, I couldn’t help but wonder — why can’t we just have a nice thing? I don’t believe this was a record label plant, but I also am amazed at how well Rodrigo’s first major original single is doing. I recognize some Taylor Swift in her words, but I also know that just means we are getting a new young artist who doesn’t have to be compared to other female singers. I just want to know: Why can’t we enjoy something without debating whether or not this 17-year-old girl “deserves” all the good things coming to her? Why can’t we let this girl take a commonplace occurrence like getting your driver’s license, let her apply it to her own life and give it to us as a breakup present to identify with? Personally, I’m just going to mind my business, scream a bridge and be on Team Olivia.

Let the girls get a bag

By: Maeve Filbin, Assistant Managing Editor

I’ve never written a response column, but I’ll always come to the defense of a young woman just trying to cash a check. Many 18-year-old girls have experienced heartache at the hands of a guy with curly brown hair — this is a tale as old as time. The difference between anyone who thought they found their star-crossed lover in second period (me) and Olivia Rodrigo is that she turned her hurt feelings into a chart-topping debut single, while the rest of us ate ice cream in bed. 

This isn’t the first we’ve heard of teenage romance (see: Kat Stratford, Samantha Baker, Lara Jean, Sandy Olsson or any protagonist on a CW show). Rodrigo herself plays a reincarnated version of Gabriella Montez in the newest iteration of “High School Musical,” itself one of the most lasting monuments to falling in love in a high school gymnasium.

So no, “drivers license” isn’t original, but neither are sex, drugs or rock and roll, and there are plenty of songs written about those things.

It’s funny that both Mariah and the original review brought up Taylor Swift, a female artist who is ridiculed for redundant “ex-boyfriend ballads” while consistently dropping well-received, critically acclaimed work. Regardless of whether or not you like her or her discography of summer flings, messy breakups and missed connections, Swift walks around with a net worth of approximately $365 million. She is firmly in her bag, and she got there because she sat down at age 16 and wrote “Tim McGraw,” her first single about — you guessed it — a teenage love affair gone wrong.

For a long time, Swift’s entire identity centered around her role as a victim of bullying; this especially showed through her songwriting (see: “Mean” and her frequent buried references to Kanye West). Since emerging from her cabin in the woods with “folklore” and “evermore” in her arms, Swift seems to have healed most of the deeper wounds sustained from this time in her life. It took years for her to come to terms with the fact that not everyone would like her, and some would actively and publicly voice their distaste. And yet, through all the drama, through every era (even “Reputation”), Swift never stopped writing songs about boys

Rodrigo is a Taylor acolyte, and her storytelling style is similar to Swift’s — seemingly pulled from the pages of a personal diary. I would hate to see a successful emerging artist change direction just because her stories aren’t revolutionary. Everyone knows a girl who knew a guy who broke her heart, and you know what, I’d love to listen to a song about it.

Like every singer-songwriter, Rodrigo had to start somewhere, and I’m glad it was with “drivers license,” a song with a bridge best enjoyed screamed into the dark of night. Or, better yet, behind the wheel of your car while you skrrt through the suburbs with the windows down.

The song has been sitting pretty at No. 1 for six weeks now, and last week, Rodrigo became part of Saturday Night Live canon. Dressed like a bunch of bums clustered around a pool table, Pete Davidson and guest Regé-Jean Page summed up the backstory to Swift, Rodrigo and all our favorite female singers who turned their broken hearts into breakout success.

“Sounds like it’s just some teen girl singing in her room to the piano.”

“And that’s the beauty of it, you got a problem?”