Song Drivers License revs its way to No. 1 in one week

Olivia Rodrigo (above).

NEW YORK • The music industry's first runaway hit single of the year is at once a time-tested model - a Disney actress pivoting to pop with a catchy and confessional break-up ballad - and also an unprecedented TikTok-era smash by a teenager.

Drivers License by Olivia Rodrigo, 17, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on Tuesday, following a record-breaking first week across streaming services.

The autobiographical song kicked up tabloid and social media speculation as listeners tried to piece together its real-life parallels as if it were a track by Rodrigo's hero, Taylor Swift.

TikTok videos led to blog posts, which led to streams, which led to news articles, and back around again. The feedback loop made it unbeatable.

"It's been the absolute craziest week of my life," Rodrigo, who got her driver's licence last year, said.

Drivers License was released across platforms and with a broody music video on Jan 8 by Geffen Records.

The song was then streamed more than 76.1 million times in the United States for the week, according to Billboard, the highest total since WAP, by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, in August (93 million).

On Spotify, Drivers License set a daily record for global streams for a non-holiday song on Jan 11 and then beat its own number the next day, eventually setting the service's record for most streams in a week worldwide.

The song "successfully balances dark yet crisp melodrama with bold tunefulness, softly pointed singing with sharp imagery", critic Jon Caramanica wrote.

Drivers License may represent Rodrigo's proper debut as a solo artist, but the child star came with a built-in audience thanks to her Disney roles, such as Nini Salazar-Roberts in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.

Fans have speculated that Drivers License is about Rodrigo's High School Musical co-star Joshua Bassett, who released his own single - and car-centric video - on Friday.

Mr Jeremy Erlich, the co-head of music at Spotify, said that there was "a ton of X-factor that made this the perfect storm" for Rodrigo, including the gossip, the quality of her song, the marketing plan prepared in advance by her label and support from celebrities like Swift and TikToker Charli D'Amelio.

"We've seen alignment like that, but typically it's spread over three to six months - this happened in a day and a half."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2021, with the headline 'Song Drivers License revs its way to No. 1 in one week'. Subscribe