‘Drivers License’ stuns with reflection and maturity
January 28, 2021
Looking for a power ballad to blast during your midnight drive? Olivia Rodrigo’s newest piece, “Drivers License,” might just be up your lane.
Rodrigo, a 17 year old Disney star most known for her role in the Disney+ series, “High School Musical: The Musical,” has recently topped Spotify charts, surpassing Taylor Swift. Her debut song, “Drivers License,” paints a backstory of attaining her license with an overlay of a disappointing heartbreak.
Opening the song with a car alarm that slowly morphs into a nice beat accompanied by a soulful piano, the musical tone of this piece is already quite deep and almost grey—signaling an entry to a power ballad. Unlike other pop songs, however, where a sequence of beats typically follow repeatedly, Rodrigo continues with the single piano note, mimicking the sound of the car alarm that had introduced the song.
As she progresses through the piece, the background track begins to add different layers of instrumental music—starting with off-beat claps to discreet techno cadences. Interestingly, the background music continues with the initial pattern, with just a couple new beats added to it. This, however, truly amplifies Rodrigo’s strong vocals and foreshadows the coming emotional layers.
Reaching the verses, Rodrigo tears through the words by singing in a quieter, softer voice with an occasional high note in between. She allows her emotions to tell the story with the lyrics functioning like a backdrop, her voice hushed under the pain of facing her fallen romance. Although the lyrics could be seen as a little repetitive, it helps reiterate her sound frustration and disappointment.
Moreover, her quiet vibrato in the verses of her song builds up a resounding chorus as she pulls through what feels like the pinnacle of a repressed performance. Crescendoing into a thundering reflection of, “And I just can’t imagine how you could be so okay now that I’m gone,” she quickly brings the depths of her voice back to the low, soft resolution of “Cause you said forever, now I drive alone past your street.”
Despite showing off this grand array of vocal range and control, Rodrigo ups her performance with a sharp, contradicting but unique bridge. It rips away all previous symmetry established in the piece and lays a new, fresh foundation of emotions. Taking a more choral, anthemic approach with distinct echoes, this portion of the song reaches beyond just lyrics and notes; it conveys a moment, an accumulation of her memories and feelings. Likewise, the words mirror this by breaking up the text into smaller pieces, grabbing little details of driving and tying it to her past relationship.
Slowing the pace of the music with the conclusion, Rodrigo transforms back into the quiet tone she had opened with, bringing a satisfactory resolution to the piece. “Drivers License” surprisingly encapsulated multiple genres, with hints of Lorde and Taylor Swift’s musical and theatrical styles, adding to the overall individuality of the piece. Yet underneath the contrasting highs and lows, Rodrigo lets her clear and solid tone dominate the story bringing impact to every verse and line.
Beyond the technicalities of the song, “Drivers License” was an extremely raw, emotional piece. It didn’t force the typical emotional maturity or a perfect solution; it was about her own ambivalent mix of hurt which she let play out. Rodrigo truly delivered from the heart, allowing for a personal anecdote to unfold in our earbuds.
With her debut song already being such a hit, her voice and passion holds a lot of promise for her music career. So put your seatbelts on—this is only Rodrigo’s first stop.