Before Olivia Rodrigo released her first officially-promoted single, “Driver’s License,” in early January, the singer and actress was a veteran of a Disney Channel show and the latest High School Musical series, known mainly for her acting and co-writing some of the songs on the High School Musical soundtrack, like 2019’s “All I Want,” which scraped the Hot 100 at No. 90 last spring. But “Driver’s License,” put out by Geffen/Interscope, changed the narrative for the 17-year-old, smashing Spotify streaming records on the way to an eye-popping No. 1 debut on the Hot 100, the Global 200, the ex-U.S. Global charts and on streaming and digital song downloads charts, to name a few.
It was a near-unprecedented start for a debut, setting the weekly record for most streams for a female artist’s first single and catapulting Rodrigo into the the mainstream pop world at a dizzying pace. But while it seemed that Rodrigo’s music career exploded out of nowhere, the success of “Driver’s License” was the culmination of a slow, steady build from the young star and her manager, Camp Far West founder Kristen Smith, who earns the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week for her work with Rodrigo.
With “Driver’s License” showing no signs of slowing down on the streaming front and steadily making its impact felt at radio, Smith spoke to Billboard about the strategy behind the song’s success and what comes next.
“Driver’s License” shattered Spotify stream records, debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100 and is currently the biggest song in the world, topping both of Billboard’s global charts as well. What key decisions did you make to help make this happen?
There are so many decisions made on a daily basis, but I think something important we talked about very early on was not rushing things and taking the time to really let her organically develop her sound and style. Olivia has undeniable talent and I’ve tried to create safe environments in which she can grow and thrive in.
With 76.1 million streams in its first week, “Driver’s License” set a record for weekly streams for a female artist’s first proper single. What was the strategy in bringing the song to DSPs?
Because we didn’t rush things, we had time to make the DSPs aware of the song and who Olivia was. Some people knew her from “All I Want,” but others were discovering her for the first time.
The success of this song seems to be the pinnacle of a recent trend of new artists building anticipation for new releases over Instagram and TikTok. Was that a conscious strategy with the rollout of this song?
Olivia has always shared music on her social platforms, from playing the piano in her bedroom to posting the first demo of “Driver’s License” last summer. It was a natural progression to share new music there as well.
The song is just beginning to impact radio, in addition to its strong sales start, where it also debuted at No. 1 on the Digital Song Sales chart. How do you continue to push it further?
We continue to tell her story, put out honest music and share incredible visuals. Olivia has so much depth and vision, and people respond to it in a beautiful way.
What lessons can you take from other artists who had songs explode so quickly in building a sustainable, longterm career for Olivia?
Building a healthy, sustainable long-term career has always been the goal. We are in a tough industry, but Olivia is surrounded by people who genuinely care about her as a person and keep things grounded. I’m very proud of the team we built.
How do you manage the attention and demand that stems from the song’s huge success while balancing other commitments?
I write everything down and have lists for days. But honestly, Olivia is such a pleasure to be around and spend time with, she makes it easy. And, also, wine.