I’m kind of weary of pop music these days.
Modern pop songs more often than not feel heavily overproduced, autotuned to an unenjoyable extent and full of trite lyrics that feel empty, meaningless and like they were just written to make money.
For example, Ariana Grande has a beautiful voice. But the overuse of autotune on her songs takes away from that, and the unoriginality of the musical rhythms in her music make her songs sound like generic beats I’d hear in a club. I wish I could enjoy it, but I can’t.
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When Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license” was released on Jan. 8, though, and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, it gave me a bit of hope.
More than a bit, actually.
I had started to see posts on Instagram about the love triangle that supposedly inspired the song, which involves Rodrigo, actor Joshua Bassett and actress Sabrina Carpenter. The only one I had heard of was Carpenter, and even then I didn’t know anything about her.
I noticed that in all of these posts, though, a song by the name of “drivers license” was being thrown around, so I decided to check it out.
The first time I heard the song, I was overwhelmed. The pain from the breakup is evident in Rodrigo’s voice, but what makes the song particularly sad is her choice to write about something so niche – a drivers license.
The memory seems so specific to her experience that we can physically hear her sorting through her own emotions during the duration of the song. We’re hearing her go through the stages of grief, and because of lyrics like “I know we weren't perfect but I've never felt this way for no one” and “I just can't imagine how you could be so okay now that I'm gone,” we get the sense she hasn’t finished grieving by the end.
And that’s the beauty of it, in part. It’s fresh pain. It’s raw. It’s relatable. It’s not some ditzy radio hit. It means something.
Obviously, the license is symbolic of much more than just that. We come to realize it’s a symbol of lost love, of longing for someone you no longer have and the painful memories that can now only be labeled as a devastatingly bitter reminder of what once was.
But it’s that use of an object, a tangible idea, that elevates the song. She’s not just writing another generic love story. In Taylor Swift-style, she uses one item to weave a heartbreaking tale.
Part of the love I’m feeling for this song stems from my love of Swift. I’ve listened to her for as long as I can remember. I grew up hearing her on the radio, from the voices of other kids in school hallways and blaring loudspeakers in gym class. She was my musical icon, and she always will be.
Swift has been unparalleled when it comes to prolific songwriting in the 21st century, and that skill was at its indisputable best back in 2012 when she wrote and released the rock ballad “All Too Well.”
“All Too Well” was, and remains, lauded by critics – Rolling Stone even goes as far as saying it’s the best song in her entire catalogue. One of the many reasons the song became such a success is because of Swift’s ability to build a story around one item – a scarf that the man she was in love with keeps even once she’s long gone.
“But you keep my old scarf from that very first week,” Swift sings. “Cause it reminds you of innocence, and it smells like me.”
To this day, the song breaks my heart. And I realized that “Drivers License” by Olivia Rodrigo made me feel the exact same way I felt the first time I heard Swift’s song all those years ago.
That’s when I knew we had a rising star in Rodrigo. She took something as unimportant as a drivers license and made it the most important thing in the world.
Knowing that there’s at least one more epic songwriter in our ranks is a comforting and reassuring notion. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll come back around to loving 21st century pop music the way I once did.