Clear your Spotify queue – Olivia Rodrigo’s highly anticipated debut album SOUR is here and it’s everything! When the actress and singer-songwriter released ‘drivers licence’, the lead single off of her album, it quickly became one of the most streamed songs, breaking record after record. Following that, she released two additional singles – ‘deja vu’ and ‘good 4 u’ – each proving that she’s a force to be reckoned with in the industry.
Not only does Olivia appeal to the young teenage demographic, but there is a nostalgic sound in her music that millennials are drawn to as well. Her angsty tracks ‘brutal’ and ‘good 4 u’ not only show her range as a musician but remind us all of artists like Avril Lavigne and Paramore that we grew up listening to. So even if you’re in your teens, or 20’s, or 30’s, you’ll relate to Olivia’s vulnerable songs about falling in love and getting heartbroken.
And while we’re obsessively listening to this brilliant album on repeat and streaming season 2 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, we’re also thinking about our chat last summer with the California native during the COVID-19 lockdown. Check it out below.
She’s the cool new Gen Z’er we’re all obsessed and want to be best friends with. Make way for Olivia Rodrigo. We caught up with her on a Zoom call during quarantine and talked all things music, Taylor Swift, and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.
The show is a mockumentary following a group of students attending East High, the school featured in the original High School Musical movie series. When it’s announced that they will be putting on a play based on the film, Rodrigo’s character, Nini, vies for the role of Gabriella Montez and finds herself stuck in a love triangle with her ex-boyfriend and a boy she meets at theater camp. The show premiered on Disney’s highly anticipated streaming service, Disney+, and was an instant hit with both Millennials, who grew up watching the original movies, and Gen Z’ers, who are within the age group of the show’s characters.
As part of the show, Rodrigo wrote a song called ‘Just For A Moment’ with co-star Joshua Bassett who plays the role of Ricky, Nini’s ex-boyfriend who nabs the part of Troy Bolton in the play. “That song was in episode nine,” Rodrigo recalls. “After we finished filming all ten episodes, we went back and did reshoots and one of the things they went back and wanted to add was a song for Nini in episode four.”
The team behind the scenes tried figuring out how to go about getting that song for Nini, and the answer came from Rodrigo’s Instagram account. She says, “One of the executives found a clip on my Instagram of a song that I wrote and just posted on a whim. She said we want the song in episode four to sound like this song that Olivia wrote.”
The show’s showrunner, Oliver Goldstick, is the one who vouched for Rodrigo to write the song and they approached her and she turned something in within a couple of days. With a few edits and rewrites, ‘All I Want’ was born. Released as a single that topped charts for weeks on end, the inspirational ballad has now amassed over 100+ million streams.
“It’s so great,” Rodrigo gushes, a bright smile on her face. “It went viral on Tik Tok for a while and that was fun to be on Tik Tok on my For You page and see people dance to my song. I love seeing people do covers of it. It just means so much that a song I wrote, you know, really kind of encapsulated feelings that I was feeling at the time can resonate with a bunch of other people, maybe make them feel less alone. I just feel so grateful to have that opportunity and it’s a wonderful experience. I had a really great time writing it.”
The music video for ‘All I Want’ features Rodrigo playing piano and singing in a scenic location in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the show was filmed. “We filmed at this place called the salt flats,” she explains. “It looks like I’m on Mars because like as far as you can see it’s just completely flat. It’s like salt beds covered in an inch of water. It was beautiful and I got to wear this really colorful dress that I picked out. It was really fun. I would say it was my first experience filming something as Olivia Rodrigo. I’m so used to playing characters on shows. It’s kind of my first time doing a project that is really solely kind of mine, which is really fun.”
A personal favorite in the show’s soundtrack would definitely be ‘Just For a Moment’, which as we mentioned Rodrigo co-wrote with Joshua Bassett. They’d written a few songs for that slot before settling on that one, deeming it the one that better captures the romantic plot and the characters.
“I look up to Joshua as a songwriter so much and he’s the first person I met that was my age that liked the same kind of music as I did,” she says. “We got each other on that wavelength and so it was a really fun time writing with him. I think it really pushed me a lot as a songwriter. Collaboration is a really tough skill when you don’t realize how tough it is until you have to do it. I really can’t believe that they believed in both of us. I think that’s kind of like a larger metaphor for the show. I think that the show is all about believing in young people and making sure they know that their stories are important. And so I think us writing songs is just an extension of that.”
Her excitement and passion for music shows through her expressions. Rodrigo’s eyes light up and her smile grows, telling us that this is something she truly loves. The conversation steers toward who her musical inspirations are and Rodrigo immediately names Taylor Swift and Lorde. Lorde’s music, Rodrigo adds, was amongst the first that she really related to as she finds them to be an authentic representation of teenagehood.
However, her biggest inspiration is Swift, who she already loved growing up, but has found herself rediscovering in a whole new light as she grows older. “I just think she’s such an amazing songwriter. She’s so eloquent and all of her songs are very clear and clean and perfect, which is so amazing. Her songs are just so impactful.”
Recently, during an Instagram live, Rodrigo covered Swift’s song ‘Cruel Summer’. Within the same day, Swift reposted the cover on her own story, complimenting Rodrigo and calling her talented. Rodrigo’s reaction was one many related to, calling her a fangirl like everyone else. “I’m so…,” she trails off, giddy and happy. “I cannot believe that happened. It just feels like some kind of fever dream. To see that she saw my face and like saw me singing when I put that online is just absolutely surreal. I’ll never forget the day that that happened.”
Given the choice between dueting with Swift or writing a song with her, Rodrigo was conflicted but ultimately chose the latter. “I want to see how she does that,” she emphasizes. “Like I want to see the process of her writing these masterpieces that are so culturally significant, you know what I mean? And I watched Miss Americana, which is her Netflix documentary, like three times specifically because they show the process of her writing songs. It is just so magical and I would love to be in the room while she’s doing stuff like that.”
At the moment, Rodrigo is focused on perfecting her music before releasing anything to the public. She’s making a lot of music remotely and had recorded a few things in the studio before quarantine, but there’s no concrete plans or timeline yet. In the meantime, she has been releasing short original songs and covers on her Instagram. Her main focus after lockdown will likely be finishing up the second season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, which had started filming but has been paused due to COVID-19.
“I think that in season one Nini was very confused and kind of finding herself in the world and figuring out her place among all of these people and new experiences,” Rodrigo says, reflecting on her character’s struggles with being the lead in the school play, while also having to choose between two guys, which she says she also struggled with herself. “I mean obviously Team Ricky, but some days I would read an episode and be like, dang I really like EJ, I want Nini to get with EJ. But then other days I’m like nah, Team Ricky all the way. It kind of just varies and I think that’s something fun about the show is that you can debate on who you like best.”
She continues, “I think in season two, Nini’s gonna have a firmer grasp on who she is and what she stands for and the boundaries that she wants to set with people, so I’m really excited to kind of portray that aspect of teenage girlhood. I think that’s really important.”
You can stream Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR now below, as well as watch High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on Disney+.