by Hailey Harris (’24) | April 8, 2022
Olivia Rodrigo had a whirlwind 2021 starting with the release of her smashing hit “drivers license.” Following the single’s release, she recorded her first album, SOUR. Since then, Rodrigo has been named Time Entertainer of the Year and performed on huge stages, like Saturday night live and the BRIT Awards. The newly-released Disney+ documentary Driving Home 2 U follows the star as she reflects on the chapter of her life when she wrote the album and prepares for the next stage of her career.
The film follows Rodrigo on a road trip from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. It was along this same route that Rodrigo wrote most of her chart-topping debut album. Rodrigo explains the context for many of her songs and performs them with new musical arrangements at stops along the drive, providing viewers with many behind-the-scenes insights.
Opening with the song “happier,” Rodrigo shares how the song changed her life. After publishing it online, she was disappointed with the lukewarm reception it got. However, producer Dan Nigro liked the song so much that he convinced her to work with him to create more music. It is with the help of Nigro that Rodrigo wrote SOUR.
The second song Rodrigo wrote for the album was “jealousy, jealousy,” at a time when she was obsessed with social media. She cared too much about others’ perception of her. She reveals the same self-consciousness in “enough for you,” which she wrote while staring at herself in a full-length mirror.
Rodrigo’s ground-breaking hit “drivers license” was covered in a series of montages from music videos and live performances. She explains that one week after releasing the song, she knew she wanted to make a full album but had a hard time convincing her record label. The success of the song elevated her from performing at home to international stardom. The pressure to follow up the hit was daunting.
The film reveals other interesting tidbits, including Rodrigo’s original dislike of her follow-up hit “deja vu,” how Rodrigo wrote “1 step forward, 3 steps back” the day before a breakup, and how she created her lead track “brutal” five days before she dropped the album, declaring that she wanted another cheerful song.
Although the film is a documentary, most of its content is Rodrigo performing her songs at various locations, including apartments, highway overpasses, gas stations, abandoned airplanes, the desert, and the beach. With such everyday settings for these performances, Rodrigo is able to capture the beauty of human life and simplicity. Some of the most notable stylistic choices occur in “good 4 u,” where she slows the fast-paced song down and utilizes an orchestra, and “traitor,” where she records and plays back each of the separate tracks that constitute the song.
The film attributes most of Rodrigo’s inspiration for the album to her first heartbreak. She used her songwriting as an outlet to express her emotions during the difficult time. This emotion is showcased in the rawness of her songs, which encapsulate her pain, joy, and anger. Rodrigo wisely concludes that the best thing in life is turning something devastating into a work of art that is loved by yourself and others.