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The rise and rise of Olivia Rodrigo: From Disney star to Drivers License to rocking out her new album

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Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato have indulged their taste for rock, but Rodrigo’s commitment to it is deeply ingrained. Her musical foundation was built on the 90s bands her parents loved. While most of today’s pop is made by committee, she works almost exclusively with Nigro, a onetime frontman of the emo band As Tall As Lions. A few tracks on the new album were recorded live, with a full band.

Writing All-American Bitch, with its fierce dynamics and wry attitude, was an uncorking of emotions that don’t often find voice in pop.

“For me, that’s what music is, it’s expressing those feelings that are really hard to externalise, or that you feel aren’t societally acceptable to externalise,” Rodrigo said. “Especially as a girl.”

PERFORMING AT A GROCERY STORE OPENING

Rodrigo, who is of Filipino descent, grew up an only child in Temecula, a suburb between Los Angeles and San Diego, begging her mother and father – a teacher and a therapist with no artistic inclinations – to take her to auditions. No stage was too small.

“I think I was nine years old, and I performed at the opening of a grocery store in my town,” Rodrigo remembered in a video call a week after her parking misadventure from her home office in LA, chatting in a baggy white Morrissey T-shirt from her dad’s collection.

A break arrived in 2016 with the Disney Channel show Bizaardvark, in which Rodrigo played a video blogger alongside Madison Hu, who became one of her closest friends. Music, her first love, was baked into its three seasons – she learned guitar for the role – and when she took one of the leads in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series in 2019, her fluid vocal performances stood out.

The Disney+ show provided Rodrigo with both an opportunity to release an original song, the sweepy, mid-tempo All I Want, and – if you follow the exhaustive tabloid analysis of her personal life – the relationship that led to the heartbreak fuelling Drivers License.

On what she called “a very momentous, serendipitous day, the day before the world shut down” in March 2020, her music career officially got on track. In the morning, Rodrigo met with the major label she’d later sign to after she was assured it was investing in her as a writer, not as a potential star. (She also negotiated to keep her masters.) In the afternoon, she had her first meeting with Nigro.

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