Olivia Rodrigo talks about her driver’s license, Deja Vu and a new album, Sour
It was a strange day in a strange month in a strange year.
“So weird,” said Olivia Rodrigo, sighing in a way that was both genuine and mocking, before labeling the tsunami weird that was her life that morning at the end of March. At just 18, she was 48 hours away from releasing her second single, “Deja Vu,” the sequel to “Drivers License,” the heartbreaking anthem that catapulted her from a Disney star to a pop supernova. which topped the charts for eight. weeks straight, broke streaming records, and is probably still playing in a corner of your brain and your mother’s. She also woke up on the first morning to “live in a hotel” in Los Angeles, as her parents had just returned to the family home in Temecula, the Southern California town where Rodrigo grew up. During that time, she had exactly one day to put the finishing touches on her debut album, Sour, which she had been busy working on in the studio – a dizzying fit that kept her from concentrating on the end of her senior year of high school. “I’m very late,” she told me, speaking of the hotel above Zoom, a day after we met on the set of this magazine’s photo shoot. “The past month has been the busiest of my life. I was 18; I had to move, be alone, work 12 hours a day, finish this record. It looks like a crash course in adulthood. “
The release of “Deja Vu” occupied, at that time, most of his psychic space and tested his central nervous system. Although Rodrigo, who wore a vintage Kurt Cobain t-shirt, wrote songs as far back as she can remember, she now did so under unlikely circumstances: “Drivers License” had just become the first song of 2021 to be released. Streamed over a billion times, and millions were eager to see if Rodrigo was the latest blockbuster or the next incarnation of some of his idols, like Taylor Swift and Lorde. “Honestly, I am really terrified!” Rodrigo told me. “I always have to remember that in the end, I would write music even if no one was listening. I don’t write songs for the charts, or even for people to like them. But it’s weird that your first song is so successful and breaks all those records. How do you follow this? Like “Driving license”, “Deja Vu” speaks of grief, but tonic, it is devious and burning, where his predecessor was shamelessly anxious. “It was really important for me not to put out another heartbreaking ballad,” she said. “I love heart-wrenching ballads, but I didn’t want to fall into that category of writing songs for sad girls.”
In person and in conversation, Rodrigo strikes the same alluring range as in her music, resembling both the teenager she is and also someone who remembers her teenage years. Exhilarating and restless, with watery brown eyes that blink when she’s aroused – which always is – she’s both vulnerable and ready: a pro, in short, but not in the packed and shiny-cyborg way one. expects those high on the sound stages. The latest in a line of Disney stars who left the underworld of Tweendom thanks to pop music – from Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera to Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez – she is also a departure, or a subversion. “I love these girls so much; I grew up listening to them and idolizing them. But I think there is a specific Disney star turned pop star archetype that I didn’t want to follow, ”said Rodrigo, who always identified himself as a singer-songwriter who ended up on TV. more than like a child actor deciding to give. music a shot. Although it remains a lead on the mock Disney documentary High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, she broke away by streaming music through Geffen, where she can do things like freely drop the f-bomb, but in a way that doesn’t sound like an aggressive distancing from her childhood character. “It wasn’t calculated,” she assured me, laughing. “But what if that naturally separated me from the Disney archetype?” That’s great.”
The global pandemic has, in some ways, isolated Rodrigo from the molten core – and potential burns – of insta stardom. Like you and I, she’s spent most of the past year indoors, streaming but invisible. She was the subject of a viral SNL skit and spawned a virtual nation-state of imitators on TikTok, but she has yet to perform her hit for a live audience. (Her first TV spot, on Tonight’s show“So my song is number one, and I stay up until two in the morning doing my stat homework – that’s how it went,” said Rodrigo, who was homeschooled. in a charter school since she was in seventh grade. “I feel like it’s pretty cool to create without seeing the scale of the song’s reach. When you look at a computer screen and say “number one in the world”, it’s still a computer screen. It would be different if I looked at the faces of the people who were affected by the song. The pandemic, of course, has reduced those of us long removed from adolescence to a youthful state of angst and uncertainty, preparing the general public for a song of such a free release. “I think it gave catharsis to the people who were stuck inside,” Rodrigo observed. “We all feel sad. It might not be about heartache, but it moves you and squeezes your heart, and maybe it’s something we all need.
Navigating the pressures of sudden fame, however, was not without some bloody moments. “I’m really overwhelmed easily,” Rodrigo told me. “I am very sensitive from an energy point of view. When there are a lot of things going on, different opinions and emotions, I stop. A week before we met, she had done just that in the studio, having something of a micro-fusion that stuck in her memory. “I was not happy with what we were doing. I wanted to give up, ”she says. Her producer, Dan Nigro, insisted she take a few days to breathe out and pull herself together, a new concept for someone who has spent their conscious life as a tireless workhorse. “It’s hard to be creative on time,” she says. “I’m exhausting myself. I don’t write as well. It forced me to learn to take care of myself. I’d heard things like, “It’s 75% of the job, 25% of personal care,” and I would be like, whatever. She rolled her eyes, as if addressing herself younger. “Uh, no, it’s real. It’s a lesson I had to learn last month. “
Rodrigo describes Sour like a sound autopsy of a broken heart, most of his new recordings tapping into the emotional vortex of soured love. “I tried writing all these songs about other things, and I just didn’t feel like it resonated with me; it didn’t feel authentic, ”she said. “I want my songs to sound like something I need to say. I prefer to have songs that feel personal to me rather than songs that people can dance to. While being aware that embarking on such a path risks being seen as frozen in a state of grief, with his personal life fueled by a dizzying forensic analysis, for Rodrigo it has only been emboldening. . “In the six to eight months since I wrote this song, I have gained a lot of perspective and clarity on what I want in my life and what is important to me,” she said. said about the “driving license”. “I gained a lot of self-confidence. When you are going through heartache and are really young, it feels like the end of the world. You just don’t have the experience to know that other things are going to happen in your life. Even my favorite artists – I’ll listen to the heart-wrenching songs they wrote at 17 vs. 25, and the younger ones are pathetic and upsetting in that really cool way. She laughed. “It’s ironic, because the ‘driver’s license’ is so sad and so self-destructive, and honestly, it was the most empowering time of my life.”
As we spoke, Rodrigo waited to see if an Airbnb rental in the desert was coming. She was planning on going out, celebrating the release of “Deja Vu” and getting away from the “LA New York vibes” that can throw her off balance. As trying as this was, it was clear that Rodrigo was also looking beyond, to embrace the autonomy she was beginning to carve out for herself. “It’s scary to go from an environment like Disney – where every day you are told what to do, what to say, what to wear – to being an artist, where you have an absolutely blank canvas,” she says. “I think I’m more immune than I thought I was. I am not pampered, but I am an only child. I grew up as a weird child actor. I am delighted to have more independence. She paused, searching for the words to describe what she saw on the horizon. “It’s like learning to have a little life. I think sometimes as celebrities get big their albums get worse because they don’t live as long. They’re so engrossed in this weird thing in the Hollywood industry that they’re out of touch with reality. She walked away for a moment, perhaps imagining the life she would like to live and, inevitably, turn into music. “What are you going to write about when you’re in the studio every day?”