Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 print issue of Showstopper Magazine.
For many people, finding Olivia Rodrigo came alongside her debut single “drivers license,” but Olivia has been working on her music, using it as an outlet and an ongoing project, since she was 5 years old. But, as Olivia told Vogue Singapore, “Writing songs is a small fraction of what I want to do.” She’s a singer, an actor, a former dancer(!!!), and in everything she does, always inspired, carrying the songs, the voices, and the actions of her influences with her.
KNOWING WHERE SHE CAME FROM
Olivia’s debut album Sour revived our love of angsty breakup songs, crying on the floor of our bathrooms, and rocking a lot of plaid. Her Petra Collins-directed “good 4 u” music video took us back to Jennifer’s Body days of using over-the-top satire to get to the heart of real feelings and problems. Olivia’s Y2K aesthetic is grungy and emotional, but it’s raw and real.
“Writing songs is a small fraction of what I want to do.”
Lots of people love Olivia because she knows how to make a throwback new. When Sour came out in a cloud of butterflies, people couldn’t help but be reminded of Hayley Williams, Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, and Britney Spears, pop stars that have helped to define the last two decades with explorations of love, loss, and fun in their music. While her originality is evident, Olivia also isn’t afraid to reveal her inspirations or how they shaped her and her music.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
In an interview with Alanis Morissette for Rolling Stone’s 2021 Musicians on Musicians issue, Olivia said, “I think what keeps me going is that love of writing a song in your bedroom and being like, ‘That perfectly captures how I feel better than anything I could have said in a conversation.’”
Olivia skyrocketed to superstardom over the last year—even though she’d already been pretty secure as a young actor with an impressive list of credits including the Disney+ hit High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (which she’s returning to for Season 3 this year). Somehow, though, Olivia is still holding onto those early artist vibes, writing songs in her bedroom, gearing up for a small first tour, and mostly keeping her head down.
Following Olivia or listening to her music is like slipping into a familiar space. Even if you don’t have your driver’s license or you haven’t faced the deja vu of a former love moving on, we all know what it’s like to feel like there are too many expectations, too many milestones rushing at us. Olivia’s music is fantastic because it’s complicated, but she’s trying to keep things simple. She’s already achieved incredible fame, but she’s not an expert, and she’s still looking up to the people that came before her and trusting her instincts as she figures out what’s next.
IT’S BRUTAL OUT HERE
Things with the debut of Sour haven’t all been sweet. As people listened to her songs, some of the nods and obvious inspirations to Olivia’s favorites resulted in changes to the credits on two of her songs and scrutiny of Olivia’s talents. Is she an icon or is she derivative? (We think the former.)
She talked about this criticism with Teen Vogue. “I think it’s disappointing to see people take things out of context and discredit any young woman’s work, but at the end of the day I’m just really proud and happy to say that my job is being a songwriter.”
And she’s proud to be putting her ideas in conversation with the artists that have come before her. “All music is inspired by each other,” Olivia told Teen Vogue. “Obviously, I write all of my lyrics from my heart and my life first. I came up with the lyrics and the melody for ‘good 4 u’ one morning in the shower.”
“CREATIVITY AS A DISCIPLINE”
Olivia isn’t all early 2000s mood boards and butterflies. She puts work behind the excitement that comes from seeing the art of the people she looks up to. Olivia shared with Teen Vogue last fall that she doubled down on her music to make Sour happen, writing a song every day at the start of quarantine. OG Livies probably remember when she posted snippets of these to Instagram. “I’m a big believer in creativity as a discipline,” she said.
“the best songs are the ones that come naturally.”
She shared a little bit more on that during her cover interview for Vogue Singapore, “Songwriting is a craft and discipline and requires a lot of work.
Sometimes, you think have a lightning bolt idea and you can write one song in 30 minutes. But it’s not about those 30 minutes; it’s about the hundreds of songs you write before that to practice for a 30-minute song. It’s just like anything. It takes a lot of practice but usually the best songs are the ones that come naturally.”
In her conversation with Alanis, Olivia revealed that she feels like her rise has been really fast. “I feel obviously so lucky, but sometimes it just feels like it doesn’t have to do with me.” From the release of “drivers license,” Olivia was topping the music charts, eventually becoming the first artist to have their first two songs debut in the top ten on the Billboard charts when her second single “deja vu” had its own explosive debut.
Olivia owes a lot of this to her role models and the artists that inspired her to create her own songs, but she also knows that her biggest inspirations are her own feelings and experiences, and she’s not afraid to share them. She said to Vogue Singapore, “If I wasn’t so comfortable in my emotions, I wouldn’t have made Sour, and it wouldn’t have had that same result.”
We’re looking up to Olivia, but she’s not done being inspired, and she’s certainly not done exploring. Nearly 19 and only just moved into her own place, Olivia is sure to have stadium tours and major awards ahead of her (even if she’s already snagged some major accolades). Rumors about a sweet sophomore album have been floating around as well, but it doesn’t seem like she’s rushing things, and we’re excited to see what songs she pulls off the floor of her new bedroom.