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OLIVIA ARRIVES

Plenty of stars enter music after conquering some other corner of the entertainment world; whether it’s YouTube, TikTok, American Idol or the X-Factor, we’ve seen plenty of platform breakouts attempt to parlay their success into a prominent music career. Although Geffen's Olivia Rodrigo arrived in a Disney vehicle, she’s since created her own rocket and launched it into rare air.

Timing can be a friend or foe to artist development. “drivers license” arrived at the top of 2021, two days after the country witnessed a siege on the nation’s capitol—and in the midst of a dispiriting second wave of COVID-19. The world was in a spiral of anxiety and doubt.

By that Saturday morning (1/9), “drivers license” had taken off while most of the biz was still figuring out who this new artist was and why her song was soaring at streaming platforms. There was no single event fueling the new single, aside from listeners discovering it for the first time and loving it. It became a phenomenon; "license" is currently the biggest song of the year (3.5m in total activity) and will almost certainly carry that title into 2022.

Sonically, Rodrigo and songwriting partner/producer Daniel Nigro—who produced all 11 tracks on her forthcoming full-length, SOUR (out 5/21), and co-penned eight—haven't reinvented the wheel. But they crafted a once-in-a-generation copyright with “drivers license,” leaning on Rodrigo’s powerful vocal range, patient chord progressions and an epic bridge. With second single “deja vu,” Nigro and Rodrigo delivered some bubblegum pop before unleashing the pop-punk anthem “good 4 u,” which many are comparing to Paramore, a John Janick signing from his Fueled by Ramen days.

The decision to go with “good 4 u” as the third single lends an edge to the 18-year old’s brand. The F-bombs in “drivers license” and “good 4 u,” along with the latter’s power chords, create some separation from the comparatively demure Disney setting that gave Rodrigo her start. She nailed the debut performance of "good" on SNL—her third proper performance ever—and the new single vaulted to #1 on Spotify U.S. (and into the Top 5 Global) the following day. This appearance, of course, came on the heels of her emotive rendering of "drivers license" at the BRIT Awards.

That's all huge, but we have a feeling Rodrigo's just getting started.

Her record-breaking opening, combined with the patient rollout of her debut album, should not be taken for granted. Many acts who've landed an early smash get overshadowed by their initial hit. Kudos to Rodrigo’s management and the Geffen/Interscope team for strategically moving the chains and not fumbling at the goal line. They’ve pushed all the right buttons at exactly the right times.

Another sign of their near-flawless execution was the A&R strategy of allowing Rodrigo and Nigro to create together throughout the artist-development process, similar to the modus operandi for Billie Eilish and FINNEAS. The end product is a cohesive sound that's obviously resonating with listeners.

There’s no contest as to who the breakout star of the pandemic is. Once again, Interscope has developed the next pop phenom. 

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SIGNS OF HITS LIST
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RHYTHM, BLUES AND THE FUTURE
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
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Predicting the next big catalog deal.
JUST THE VAX, MA'AM
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
WORLDWIDE GROOVE
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?
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