We've all heard "drivers license," Olivia Rodrigo's record–shattering single, and we've all probably heard at least a little bit about its accompanying love triangle. After its release earlier this year, fans became detectives, trying to decipher all the clues Rodrigo included regarding her former relationship with co–star Joshua Bassett and his new girlfriend, actress and singer Sabrina Carpenter. Written about the end of Rodrigo's relationship, "drivers license" features a dramatic bridge and an even more alluring backstory.
Bassett reportedly taught Rodrigo how to drive on the set of Disney Channel's High School Musical spin–off series, sparking inspiration for Rodrigo’s driving–centered single and its opening lyrics “I got my driver’s license last week / Just like we always talked about.” Unfortunately, their relationship didn't even make it out of the DMV, with fans noticing an abrupt halt to their cutesy social media interactions soon before they began to speculate about Bassett’s involvement with Carpenter. Paparazzi shots of Bassett with Carpenter and their joint TikTok videos with couples' Halloween costumes implied that Rodrigo was out of the picture ... until she started writing a song about it.
Carpenter, who is both blonde and older than Rodrigo, fits the lyrical description in “drivers license," where Rodrigo laments about a blonde girl who’s “so much older than me” and “everything I’m insecure about.” As if these clues weren’t glaring enough, Carpenter hit back at Rodrigo just a few weeks later with her own song, “Skin,” which confirmed rumors that she was the girl in question. Within the first few lines, Carpenter addresses Rodrigo’s "blonde" reference with “Maybe you didn’t mean it / Maybe 'blonde' was the only rhyme.” Popular reception has not been quite as warm for “Skin” as it was for “drivers license,” perhaps because of the former’s prickly lyrics (or maybe because Rodrigo never actually rhymed "blonde" with anything).
Carpenter’s quick timing is either impressive or suspicious, and there are theories of collusion among all three of the young celebrities. The tension between Rodrigo, Bassett, and Carpenter could simply stem from an artificial bid for publicity. If so, it's definitely paid off for Rodrigo: Her single has sat comfortably at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 for 3 weeks straight.
The drama surrounding “drivers license” undoubtedly helped propel it to dominance, and it’s hardly the first track to address a public relationship and its explosive end. One of Rodrigo’s idols, Taylor Swift, is well known for her previously high profile love life: Swift is no stranger to the love triangle, either. Her 2008 song “Forever and Always” confronts the breakdown of her relationship with former boyband heartthrob, Joe Jonas.
Jonas then hit back with a 2009 Jonas Brothers song, “Much Better,” not mincing words with “Now I'm done with superstars / And all the tears on her guitar” as a dig referencing Swift’s song, “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Jonas also goes on to flex his new relationship, bragging that his new girl is “much better” than Swift. Of course, Swift got the last word with her slightly misogynistic but guiltily catchy song, “Better Than Revenge.” She sarcastically bites at Jonas’ new girlfriend, “Let's hear the applause / Come on show me how much better you are / See you deserve some applause / because you're so much better.”
Knowing who a song is about adds another layer of intrigue, for better or for worse. It also gives insight into a musician’s life, one that’s already open for public consumption but is further ripped apart for our listening pleasure. Some artists even go as far as to name their partner or ex in the title of the song itself; while Swift’s "Dear John" leaves off ex–boyfriend John Mayer’s full name, Ariana Grande dedicated a whole song on her 2018 album Sweetener to then–fiancé Pete Davidson. Her loving tribute sadly didn't age well after they announced their split five months later.
Following the end of her engagement, Grande released a treasure trove of music with her next studio album, thank u, next, focusing heavily on themes of love and self–growth. It's arguably her most compelling work to date, with the emotionally mature title track and apologetically real “needy." Among the pop goldmine, though, "ghostin" quietly shines. Raw and muted compared to self–assured bangers like "7 rings," Grande's song hints at the untimely death of rapper Mac Miller, whom she dated for two years.
She sings about the effect Miller's death had on her relationship with Davidson through heartbreaking lines like "Though I wish he were here instead / Don't want that living in your head / He just comes to visit me / When I'm dreaming every now and then." It's a painful and heavy realization, one that stands in sharp contrast to their romantic collaboration song from 2016, "My Favorite Part."
Break–ups can get ridiculously messy. For popular musicians, it probably doesn't help to face intense scrutiny over very public relationships, especially if they are dating another celebrity. Even so, these musicians have the power to cope with their own relationship struggles while speaking to the emotions of millions of others who may be going through similar problems. The viral nature of "drivers license" and the enduring relevance of Taylor Swift's discography speak to how universally relatable these emotions can be. Whether you're cursing some celebrity you've never met for their infidelity (think Jay–Z following Elevator Gate and Beyonce's 2016 Lemonade) or working through your own heartbreak while belting "thank u, next," there's something reassuring about knowing that even your favorite artist has felt this way before.