During a “Kellyoke” segment on her talk show earlier this week, Kelly Clarkson flew her powerhouse vocals through the wistful halls of Olivia Rodrigo’s smash debut single “drivers license.” Even in singing such lyrics as I got my drivers license last week, Clarkson’s years of life experience pours into her phrasing, giving the angsty, heartbroken teen track a very grownup update.
And I know we weren’t perfect but I’ve never felt this way for no one / And I just can’t imagine how you could be so okay now that I’m gone, belts Clarkson, clearly pulling from her own very public breakup and divorce. There’s a raspy richness to the performance that gives Rodrigo’s equally-painful lyrics a particular bite.
Following its release, “drivers license” stormed Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, commanding the top spot for eight straight weeks. Rodrigo also primed her debut LP, Sour, with two other promo singles, “deja vu” and “good 4 u.” The album crashed atop the Billboard 200 with 295,000 equivalent album units, the biggest opening week of 2021 so far.
In an interview with the Songcraft: Spotlight on Songwriters podcast, co-writer Dan Nigro reflected upon writing “drivers license” and working with Rodrigo. “I don’t actually even look at the song as having a typical structure in terms of a verse and a chorus,” he offered. “It’s a verse, and then it hits a turnaround or a pre-chorus, and then a tag. The chorus isn’t really like a traditional chorus to me. It’s a buildup to something.
“It’s not like some random artist that I met one time, and we wrote a song, and it happened to do well, and I never talked to that artist again,” he continued. “It feels extra special knowing that it stemmed from a place of an artist and I really digging deep.”