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Explained: Why ‘Drivers License’ has pushed bedroom pop into top gear

Bedroom pop achieved semi-official status in 2018 when Spotify unveiled a playlist dedicated to the genre, featuring artistes such as Rex Orange County, actually 21-year-old Hampshire native Alexander O’Connor.

Written by Surbhi Gupta , Ishani Patil , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 20, 2021 7:35:32 am
Co-written by Rodrigo and producer Dan Nigro, Drivers License documents Rodrigo getting her driver’s licence, a moment that she intended to celebrate with a boyfriend who has now moved on to another girl. (Youtube screengrab)

Actor-singer Olivia Rodrigo, 17, is breaking records and topped charts the world over with her debut single Drivers License that released earlier this month. The popularity of the song speaks of a larger movement in the music industry and a rising genre of bedroom pop.

Who is Olivia Rodrigo?

American actor and singer Rodrigo is a staple of Disney Channel’s programming since 2016 and has been leading the cast of the 2019 mockumentary High School Musical: The Musical: The Series for two years, as well as writing songs for its soundtrack. She first rose to fame after her role as Paige Olvera on the series Bizaardvark and then as Nini Salazar Roberts on High School Musical.

The song, titled All I Want on the series is gold-certified and has been streamed over 200 million times. Born in Temecula, California, she is the latest pop star to break out of the Disney stable, following the likes of Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus.

Rodrigo is also massive on TikTok, with 3.5m followers. She calls Taylor Swift and Lorde her biggest inspirations. Rodrigo first began playing the piano at seven, according to her bio on Interscope Records’ website. She learned how to play the guitar shortly after landing a part on Bizaardvark, which ran from 2016 until 2019.

What is the song about?

Co-written by Rodrigo and producer Dan Nigro, Drivers License documents Rodrigo getting her driver’s licence, a moment that she intended to celebrate with a boyfriend who has now moved on to another girl. Released on January 8, her debut single quickly dominated Spotify’s charts and the emotional pop ballad about teenage heartbreak broke the platform’s record for most streams of a song in a single week.

It has become the UK’s biggest first-week chart debut since former One Direction band member Zayn Malik released his debut single, Pillowtalk, in 2016. Within one week, the song has reached over 32 million views on YouTube and 2.5 million likes. Rodrigo also repeatedly broke Spotify’s global one-day streaming records for non-holiday songs.

On 11 January, Driver’s License was streamed 15.17m times. A day later, it broke that record with 17.01m streams. Mariah Carey’s classic All I Want for Christmas Is You currently holds Spotify’s one-day streaming record, with more than 17.2m plays. Additionally, it promptly reached the number one position on Apple Music, and Amazon music charts globally. It also broke Spotify’s record for the most streams for a non-holiday song, is topping Australia’s ARIA Singles Chart, and sat at the first position on UK’s Singles Chart, even surpassing Ed Sheeran’s Shape of you for the highest number of streams for a non-Christmas song.

Spotify’s global weekly Top 200 chart revealed that the tune was streamed 65,873,080 times during the week ending on January 14. It also smashed the global record for the most requested tune of all-time in one day on Alexa.

Why is Driver’s Licence so popular?

In an interview with Billboard, Spotify’s Becky Bass, leader of its global hits playlist, described the conditions of Rodrigo’s success as a perfect storm. “You have fans hearing Lorde in it, you have fans hearing Taylor (Swift) in it, you have fans hearing Kesha in it. Most of the world can relate to a breakup – so it’s a relatable song, as well. But you layer in the drama, you layer in a really active fanbase and you get this snowball effect.” The audience that Rodrigo had before the release was a very young, female, engaged audience, who sparked the flame, but now the song is travelling beyond that audience, aided by social media and word of mouth, she explained. “This is a song you’re talking about with everyone right now. Everyone’s listening to it, everyone’s obsessing over it.”

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The rise of bedroom pop

Bedroom pop achieved semi-official status in 2018 when Spotify unveiled a playlist dedicated to the genre, featuring artistes such as Rex Orange County, actually 21-year-old Hampshire native Alexander O’Connor. Within a few days, it had 5,000 subscribers, and today it has over 500,000. This new movement in the music industry has become possible as laptops enabled young artists to produce songs of near-studio quality, without having to leave the house. They made it in their bedrooms and YouTube and SoundCloud allowed them to bypass the traditional gatekeepers, including record labels, media, promoters, and connect directly with their audience. Most of the artistes belong to the 17 to 21 years of age group, belonging to the GenZ, including Billie Eilish, Rodrigo, Tate Mcrae, who write about personal issues with lo-fi sounds. The lyrics are deeply confessional and appeal to the young listeners and others, who want an open dialogue around mental health. Everyone relates to songs about love, loss and heartbreak, especially when there’s authentic. These artistes do not stick to the established genres like indie, rock, R&B and pop and embrace the DIY approach to making music.

Eilish recorded her chart-topping album with her brother, Finneas O’Connell, in his bedroom at their family home at Highlands Park, Los Angeles. The duo won song of the year at Grammys for Bad Guy.

Marie Ulven, a 20-year-old Norwegian songwriter who as Girl in Red, is among the leading voices in bedroom pop. She writes and records in her bedroom at her parents’ house in the small town of Horten, with a population of 27,000, and racks up nearly four million monthly listeners.

Clairo, 21-year-old Massachusetts songwriter Claire Cottrill, has amassed 40 million YouTube views with the DIY video for her 2017 song Pretty girl.

Maia, hailing from Oakland, California, recorded her 2018 self-released EP Plum Blossom on her laptop in her parents’ guest bedroom, which has been streamed over 100 million times. She has sold out 24 shows around the United States and racked up millions of views on YouTube and TikTok with her indie folk-pop music.

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