At the tender age of just 19, you might be forgiven for thinking Olivia Rodrigo would be just getting to grips with widespread fame and international recognition. The American-Filipina songstress exudes such confidence and poise, however, that she inevitably comes across as a seasoned veteran, one quite au fait with global renown. Indeed, Rodrigo has embraced her celebrity status with a maturity that truly belies her age and the rapidity of her rise to worldwide acclaim.
The 2022 Billboard Woman of the Year’s trajectory to pop stardom is very much the stuff dreams are made of, an outcome she describes as “overwhelming! And exciting…and lucky”. A truly talented singer and songwriter, she has taken the world by storm with her emotionally charged songs of heartbreak, jealousy and the traumas of growing up. As her music is every bit as catchy as her lyrics are accessible, her fan base now straddles every border and every age group.
Born on 20th February 2003 in the city of Murrieta in Southern California, she got her first real taste of fame in 2019 when she starred in High School Musical: The Series, a major hit for Disney+. This was a big break for the then 16-year-old, the only child to her Filipino therapist father and her German-Irish mother.
Although making her a familiar name to millions, High School Musical was far from her TV debut. In 2015, she played the all-singing lead in the Grace Stirs Up Success, one of the American Girl series of family movies. The next year she was cast as Paige Olvera in Disney’s Bizaardvark TV comedy series. It was really High School Musical, though, that saw everything change for her. Looking to follow the success of the movie of the same name, the series followed a group of high-school drama club members as they stage various musical performances. In 2019, the series showcased All I Want, Rodrigo’s own composition, which she followed with a second self-penned track in 2020, Just for a Moment, a duet she performed with co-star Joshua Bassett.
Keen to continue writing and performing songs, she released Driver’s License as a single in 2021, a teenage heartbreak ballad that went to number one on the Billboard chart, making her the youngest person ever to achieve such a feat. The song went on to break Spotify records for the most streams of any non-holiday tune in a day (17 million) and in a week (66 million).
A few months later she followed up with Déjà Vu, a co-written song that went straight in at number eight on the Billboard chart, making the first singer to have both of their first singles debut in the top ten. She followed this up later that year with Sour, her first album, a blend of pop, folk and alternative rock that bought her album both critical acclaim and commercial success.
Her hard work and perseverance paid off again in 2022 when she won Best New Artist, Best Pop Solo Performance (Driver’s License) and Best Pop Vocal Album (Sour) at that year’s Grammy Awards. Keen listeners will have little trouble in identifying the overarching theme running through Sour, as it is basically a clearly personal treatise on heartbreak, emotionally documenting the sweet and sour drama of teenage relationships while lamenting their almost inevitable painful endings. On Driving Home 2 U, for instance, she laments “The heartbreak that kept on giving,” While she has never named the ex-partner in question, she has not been afraid to elaborate on other details, such as how she cried in a parking lot when she felt “like my world was ending every day”.
Eminently relatable, another of Sour’s most memorable tracks, Jealousy, Jealousy deals with the feelings of anxiety triggered by social media, whilst Hope Ur OK is an unashamed message of support for those coming to terms with their sexuality. Brutal, meanwhile, is an up-tempo pop-punk-esque track penned in response to public interest and speculation about her private life, her music and the loneliness she has not been afraid to discuss. Recalling that time, she says: “It was very strange. I remember feeling lonely and I remember wanting a boyfriend really bad.”
Where many musical artists release films merely as a means of showcasing their favourite live performances “Driving Home 2 U”, a film covering the making of Sour, feels infinitely more
personal and provides unique insight into not only Rodrigo’s life but her artistic process. It is also a true testament to her undeniable talent as both a singer and songwriter.
Outlining just why she felt she had to make it, she says: “I really wanted to make this film for my fans, especially those fans who maybe couldn’t see me on tour. I thought it’d be really cool if they got to see new arrangements of the songs, kind of as if it’s a whole new concert.
I had a lot of fun playing with different sonics and different ways that you could kind of position these songs that I’ve gotten comfortable with over the past year. It was kind of like stretching a new creative muscle.”
While it may appear that Rodrigo’s talent allows her to flex those creative muscles with almost effortless ease, the truth is an incredible amount of hard work seems to go into her every single song, with Rodrigo maintaining she is her own harshest critic. Expanding on this she says: “I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself all the time, There were bits of that in the film where I talked about how I was like: ‘Oh, I don’t like this song. It can be better and sometimes that can be hard…I’m way too hard on myself, sometimes past the point of being truly productive.”
While she may be hard on herself, the famously prolific songwriter has not let that stop her from churning out hit after hit, an impressive run that looks set to continue as she returns to the studio with collaborator Dan Nigro to work on a follow-up to her smash hit debut album. In fact, Rodrigo already has a name for the new album and more than a few songs in the pipeline.
Offering a tempting glimpse of what lies in store for fans, she says: “It’s really exciting to think about what’s coming up from me next. While I just love writing songs, I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself and just sort of explore and have fun right now.”
If her success and ever-growing fan-base are any indicators, Rodrigo’s love for music and incredible talent is as infectious as it is universally appealing. For this particular 19-yearold the future looks bright, something she herself acknowledges, saying: “I’m so excited to make my next record and explore more colours and textures and feelings, while I continue to grow as both a person and an artist.”
(Text: Hans Schlsikier)