Drivers License (song)

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"Drivers License"
Drivers License by Olivia Rodrigo.png
Single by Olivia Rodrigo
ReleasedJanuary 8, 2021 (2021-01-08)
Recorded2020
Genre
Length4:02
Label
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Dan Nigro
Music video
"Drivers License" on YouTube

"Drivers License" (stylized in all lowercase) is the debut single by American singer Olivia Rodrigo. It was released on January 8, 2021, by Geffen Records, as the lead single from her upcoming debut EP. The song was written by Rodrigo and producer Dan Nigro. It was serviced to US pop radio by Interscope Records, eleven days after its release. With poignant lyrics detailing heartache, "Drivers License" is an atmospheric power ballad, and has been described as a bedroom pop, indie pop and power pop song. It is characterized by its minimalist production built around a piano, incorporating kick drums, harmonies, syncopated hand-claps, and a dreamy bridge.

Rodrigo stated that the song unpacks the "multifaceted" emotions she endured after a heartbreak. She teased the song on her social media accounts for several months of 2020, before announcing it on January 4, 2021. The official music video was posted to YouTube alongside the song's release, in which Rodrigo drives around a suburban neighborhood after receiving her driver's license, and reminisces over her memories of the song's subject who encouraged her to receive the license. "Drivers License" was met with critical acclaim from music critics, who praised Rodrigo's cathartic songwriting and emotional vocals, and the song's stirring production. Many noted influences of Taylor Swift and Lorde on its lyricism and melodic composition.

Upon release, "Drivers License" broke a string of records, including the Spotify record for the most single-day streams for a non-holiday song on the platform, which it achieved on its fourth day of release. It also garnered the record for the biggest first-week for a song on Spotify and Amazon Music. "Drivers License" reached number one in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom. As one of the most dominant Hot 100 number-one hits of all time, "Drivers License" made Rodrigo the most recently-born artist to score a Billboard Hot 100 number-one single, and the first artist born in the 21st-century to debut atop the chart. Elsewhere, the song peaked within the top 10 in Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, and Switzerland. It also topped the Billboard Global 200 and Global 200 Excl. US charts.

Background and release[edit]

Rodrigo stars in the 2019 Disney+ mockumentary series, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. She contributed a self-written song called "All I Want" to the soundtrack, which was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for earning over 500,000 units in the United States. The series was renewed for a second season in 2021. Rodrigo signed to Geffen Records, intending to release her debut EP in 2021.[1]

When I came up with 'Drivers License', I was going through a heartbreak that was so confusing to me, so multifaceted. Putting all those feelings into a song made everything seem so much simpler and clearer—and at the end of the day, I think that's the whole purpose of songwriting. There’s nothing like sitting at the piano in my bedroom and writing a really sad song. It’s truly my favorite thing in the world.

— Rodrigo on the origins of "Drivers License", Uproxx[2]

She teased the song for many months in 2020,[2] including some lyrics on Instagram.[3] She posted a snippet, captioned "Wrote dis the other day. vv close to my heart. gonna call it drivers license I think lol", where she plays the song on a piano.[4] The song was announced on January 4.[5] The song was released to all digital music and streaming platforms four days later, alongside a music video on YouTube.[6] It is the lead single to her upcoming debut EP.[4] "Drivers License" impacted US contemporary hit radio on January 19.[7]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

Steered by piano, "Drivers License" is an atmospheric power ballad, characterized as a bedroom pop, indie pop and power pop track with elements of folk and indie rock.[8][9][10][11] It was inspired by the disorienting emotions Rodrigo felt after a recent heartbreak, seeing her pine over an ex who has moved on from her.[2][1] She wrote the song with its producer, Dan Nigro.[12] The song is written in the key of B major and has a slow tempo of 72 beats per minute, with double time kick drum and claps on the second verse and lead-in.[13] Rodrigo's vocal range on the song spans from the low note of G3 to the high note of F5.[14] Lyrically, the song has Rodrigo drive through a suburban area, upset and angry, pondering whether any of the subject's feelings were ever true.[15]

Beginning with the sound of starting a car engine, Rodrigo delivers soprano vocals over a pulsing piano key, which grows into "cathartic howls of pain" as the song progresses, along with a swelling crescendo followed by an emotional chorus.[9] The minimalist instrumentation[9] also consists of syncopated hand-claps and stomping harmonies, and reaches its peak in a rich bridge of layered vocals with the catchphrase "I still fuckin' love you".[16][15][8] As claimed by Rodrigo, the song has Lorde and Taylor Swift influences,[17] which was also noted by critics.[18] Rodrigo also stated that EP of American indie pop singer Gracie Abrams, Minor (2020), inspired the musical style of "Drivers License".[19]

Critical reception[edit]

The song received critical acclaim upon release. Clash critic Robin Murray dubbed the song a "sensational pop statement, an impeccable melodic moment right from the off". He praised its firm songwriting and atmospheric production.[20] Matthew Kent and William Li, writing for The Line of Best Fit, complimented the song's euphoric sound and poignant lyricism, and asserted that the single is packed with "emotional punch after emotional punch". They dubbed the song a "stunning" and "stirring" debut single.[21] Kelsie Gibson of PopSugar opined that the song gives off "major Lorde and Taylor Swift" influences, who are two of Rodrigo's musical inspirations.[22] Stereogum critic Chris DeVille described "Drivers License" as a cinematic and old-fashioned power ballad, a "prime Spotify-core sadgirl fare" that starts "as a trembling Phoebe Bridgers song" and concludes as a "resplendent Folklore track".[9]

Listing it amongst best new music, Teen Vogue's Claire Dodson commented that Rodrigo employs soaring vocals, and capture "small details" in the song. Dodson thought the song channels "the songwriting prowess she already brings to the table".[11] Naming it one of the "10 Cool New Pop Songs to Get You Through The Week", Billboard writers Gab Linsberg and Jason Lipshutz branded "Drivers License" the type of debut single "that aspiring artists dream of", where Rodrigo perfects her heartbreak's "fragility and heightened emotion". They commended the singer's range in the song, swinging between the crescendo's "stomp-clap harmonies" and the bridge's "choked-up balladry".[16] Ellise Shafer of Variety found the song relatable and vulnerable, and complimented its production and vocal performance. Shafer noted it as "a must-hear for any pop enthusiast".[23]

Calling the song an "early contender for song of the year", Rolling Stone critic Brittany Spanos noted that the production of "Drivers License" is reminiscent of Lorde's Melodrama (2017), while the lyrics and "detailed" storytelling channel Swift's Fearless (2008). Spanos lauded Rodrigo's songwriting skills and emotional potency at age 17, and added that "she could likely become pop's next great raconteur".[15] Justin Curto of Vulture opined that "Drivers License" mixes "the intimate arrangements of Folklore and Evermore with the high stakes pop of Lover, tying it all together with a dramatic, Swiftian bridge". He also added that Rodrigo's calm vocals sound like Billie Eilish, while her anthemic moments recall Lorde, with hints of Alessia Cara.[24] Jared Richards of Junkee stated that the song has "an irreducible quality, capturing a very specific heartbreak", blending "the slow-build piano-belters and bridge breakdowns of Lorde's Melodrama with Swiftian songwriting", and regarded it 2021's "Big Pop Moment".[25]

Commercial performance[edit]

Upon release, "Drivers License" reached number one on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music songs charts globally.[23] Billboard reported that, in its first three days in the US, the song sold over 16,000 digital downloads and received more than 21 million streams. Compared to its release day, the song's total streams increased by 122% on its second day, and rose another 32% in its third day.[26]

The song broke the Spotify record for most one-day streams for a non-holiday song, with over 15 million global streams on its fourth day (January 11, 2021). The next day, it extended its record with over 17 million streams. It also broke the record for fastest song to reach 100 million streams on Spotify.[27] "Drivers License" went on to break the Spotify record for most streams of a song in a single week, with over 65 million streams in the week ending January 14, 2021. It also broke the record for the biggest global first-week streams for a song in Amazon Music history,[28] and became the most requested song of a single day on Alexa.[10]

"Drivers License" debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100, giving Rodrigo her first number-one single in the United States. It marked her second entry on the chart, after "All I Want". "Drivers License" earned 76.1 million streams, 38,000 digital downloads and 8.1 million airplay impressions in its opening week. Surpassing Jawsh 685, Rodrigo became the most-recently-born artist to top the Hot 100 (she was born on February 20, 2003), and the youngest since Billie Eilish, who topped the chart with "Bad Guy" in August 2019, as well as being the youngest artist ever to debut atop the chart. The also topped the Billboard Streaming Songs and Digital Song Sales charts.[29] Billboard noted "Drivers License" as one of the most dominant number-one hits of all time, garnering more than double the Hot 100 units of its closest competitor, "Mood" (2020).[30]

In the United Kingdom, the song debuted atop the UK Singles Chart, and spent two weeks at number one. Earning 2.407 million total streams on January 12, 2021, the track broke the record for highest single-day streams in British history for a non-Christmas song, surpassing the previous record held by Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You" (2017). With 95,000 units moved in its first week, "Drivers License" also had the biggest opening week for a number-one debut atop the UK Singles Chart since Zayn Malik's "Pillowtalk" (2016). It moved 117,000 units in its second chart-topping week, while "All I Want" simultaneously charted at Number 32, marking her second top-40 entry.[31][32]

In Australia, "Drivers License" opened at the number one spot of ARIA Singles chart, scoring Rodrigo her first chart-topper in the county. In doing so, the song became the first debut single to land atop the chart since Harry Styles' "Sign of the Times" (2017).[33] In Ireland, "Drivers License" entered and spent two weeks at number one on Irish Singles chart. It was the country's most downloaded and streamed song of both of its first two weeks, outperforming the rest of the top-five combined; it was accompanied by "All I Want", which rose to a new peak of number 16.[34]

Worldwide, "Drivers License" reached number one on both Billboard Global and Global Excl. the U.S. charts, generating 130 million streams and 49,000 sales with the former, and 54.5 million streams and 12,000 sales on the latter. It marked the highest weekly streaming total in the world for a song by a female artist, with 130,060,000 streams, surpassing the 130,042,000 sum for Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You".[35]

Music video[edit]

A still from the music video, in which Rodrigo drives a car through a suburban neighborhood at night.

The video, directed by Matthew Dillon Cohen,[36] adopts a vignette aesthetic and depicts Rodrigo's healing from heartbreak. She receives her driver's license in the video, but instead of going to her old lover's house like she used to dream of, she finds herself aimlessly cruising suburban side streets. Rodrigo reminisces about moments from her brief relationship. At the beginning of the video, she is embraced by the happy memories only, but eventually, all the toxic traits of her ex-partner confront her. The video received positive comments from critics for its visuals.[22][2] This video has over 56 million views as of January 22, 2021.

Commentary and impact[edit]

When we were talking about the audience that [Rodrigo] had prior to the release—that's a very young, female, engaged audience. So they really sort of sparked the flame. But now what you have is it traveling well beyond that audience. And obviously social media platforms have helped that, but I think just word of mouth. This is a song you're talking about with everyone right now. Everyone's listening to it, everyone's obsessing over it.

— Spotify on the viral success of "Drivers License", Billboard[37]

The instant commercial success of "Drivers License" has been attributed to the rise of niche market for bedroom pop, the song's emotional lyricism and appeal, TikTok, the tabloid journalism and social media speculation surrounding the song, and Rodrigo's Disney career. The Indian Express opined that song is a part of the DIY movement in the music industry, where young artists (mostly Generation Z), such as Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, and Tate McRae, are capable of making music of "near-studio quality" without leaving the house.[10] Commenting on the song's unprecedented success, Spotify's Becky Bass stated that "We've never seen anything like this, where you do have a newer artist that just comes out of the gate in such a dominant way, and just continues to grow".[37]

Paper remarked that the song is a "product of years of pop trends" that resonates with millions of listeners, similar to the rise of Eilish in 2019, Lorde in 2013, or Taylor Swift in late 2000s, but occurred instantly in Rodrigo's case, because of recent technological innovations like TikTok that has altered the course of the music industry. The TikTok hashtag "#driverslicense" amassed over 888.5 million views in one week. Paper also highlighted consumers' interest in the song's romantic background (a phenomenon of listeners being invested in the drama between Disney co-stars) as a factor for the song's success.[38] The New York Times writer Joe Coscarelli wrote that the song was spurred not only by its quality, but also the gossips surrounding it, paired with the label's marketing plan, and support from celebrities like Swift and Charli D'Amelio. He noted the autobiographical song bolstered tabloids and listeners to "piece together its real-life parallels", while TikTok videos lead to social media posts, "which led to streams, which led to news articles, and back around again", generating an "unbeatable" feedback loop. Coscarelli added that, similar to Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato, Rodrigo took "her experiences within the Disney machine and attempted to translate them for a broader, more adult audience".[39]

Stereogum's Chris DeVille found Rodrigo to be an example of "actor-turned-pop stars" who profit off their best-known roles, such as her Bizaardvark and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, which "created a massive built-in audience for a prospective Rodrigo music career"; "Drivers License" maximized this interest by referencing the "behind-the-scenes drama" involving Joshua Bassett and Sabrina Carpenter. DeVille added that the song "will have ripple effects" that affect the industry in 2021 and beyond, as its bedroom pop sound is challenging hip-hop's dominance on streaming platforms.[9] Douglas Greenwood, writing for I-D, asserted that "Drivers License" contains "all of the old-school ingredients of a hit".[40] Insider dubbed the song an "early 2021 cultural touchstone", citing its "sad girl appeal" echoing Generation Z (similar to Lorde and Eilish), the celebrity romance associated with it lyrics (like that of Swift), the song's cinematic bridge, its TikTok popularity, and radio friendliness as contributing factors to the song's success.[41]

Cover version[edit]

American musicians Jxdn and Travis Barker released a rock version of the song on January 20, 2021.[42]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from Tidal.[12]

Charts[edit]

Chart performance for "Drivers License"
Chart (2021) Peak
position
Argentina (Argentina Hot 100)[43] 100
Australia (ARIA)[44] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[45] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[46] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[47] 13
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[48] 1
Czech Republic (Singles Digitál Top 100)[49] 2
Denmark (Tracklisten)[50] 1
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[51] 12
Germany (Official German Charts)[52] 2
Billboard Global 200[53] 1
Hungary (Single Top 40)[54] 36
Hungary (Stream Top 40)[55] 3
Ireland (IRMA)[56] 1
Italy (FIMI)[57] 8
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[58] 1
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[59] 1
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[60] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[61] 1
Singapore (RIAS)[62] 1
Slovakia (Singles Digitál Top 100)[63] 2
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[64] 10
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[65] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[66] 3
UK Singles (OCC)[67] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[68] 1
US Adult Top 40 (Billboard)[68] 37
US Mainstream Top 40 (Billboard)[68] 31

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[69] Platinum 80,000double-dagger
New Zealand (RMNZ)[70] Gold 15,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[71] Silver 200,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[72] Gold 500,000double-dagger

double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Release dates and formats for "Drivers License"
Region Date Format Label Ref.
Various January 8, 2021 Geffen [12]
Italy January 15, 2021 Contemporary hit radio Universal [73]
United Kingdom Interscope [74]
United States January 19, 2021 [7]
United Kingdom January 23, 2021 Adult contemporary radio [75]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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