Eighteen-year-old singer-songwriter — and now international popstar — Olivia Rodrigo is the first artist to have both of her first two singles (“drivers license” and “deja vu”) earn a spot in the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100.
Her newest song, “deja vu,” was released April 1, 2021, around four months after the release of her worldwide No. 1 hit, “drivers license.” Currently, “deja vu” sits at No. 8 on the Hot 100 chart, while “drivers license” is at No. 5.
Although the song is a far cry from her previous ballad, “deja vu” is just as lyrically and musically refined. Besides the obvious success, the mid-tempo pop song is only a minuscule reflection of the musical brilliance listeners can expect from Rodrigo’s highly anticipated upcoming album, “SOUR,” which will be released on May 21.
Rodrigo and her producer, Dan Nigro, wrote the song in a studio session based around a lyric that Rodrigo kept in the Notes app on her phone: “When she’s with you, do you get deja vu?”
The song’s production, however, was a long process for the pair since they were in different locations at the time. Some of the recordings used in production were actually iPhone recordings that the pair recorded separately.
The song builds from simple musical production and serene lyrics to a surprising turn of narrative, and it has a psychedelic composition consisting of drums and a mellotron, which gives off the sound of a distorted guitar. The song also includes saxophones, flutes and a toy piano, along with Rodrigo’s harmonies and scream-singing, which comes into play in the second verse as well as the bridge.
One of the hidden gems of the song is a softly spoken “I love you” placed between the second verse and the chorus, which Rodrigo recorded on her iPhone. This is a reference to the verse that states, “Now I bet you even tell her / how you love her / in between the chorus and the verse.” This part of the song is so faint that you have to be actively listening to hear it.
What makes “deja vu” one of a kind is that there is both a distinct symmetry and parity between what is happening lyrically and compositionally. The hidden “I love you” is a direct reference to the second verse, and in the first verse when she sings “Being annoying / singing in harmony,” Rodrigo adds a brief harmonic vocal line for those lyrics. Each of these little nuances adds to the depth of the song.
Rodrigo and Nigro also increase the volume and intensity of the song as it progresses. Up until the second verse, the song only features a toy piano and a few other instruments before drums and the full band are added. This creates the illusion of a ballad, which Rodrigo fans would be used to, but the song slowly transitions to a shockingly full sound with bold lyrics.
What brings the musicality of the song to a peak is the bridge, where Rodrigo sings, “Strawberry ice cream in Malibu / don’t act like we didn’t do that shit too / you’re trading jackets like we used to do / (yeah, everything is all reused) / play her piano, but she doesn’t know (oh, oh) / that I was the one who taught you Billy Joel (oh) / a different girl now, but there’s nothing new / (I know you get déjà vu).”
The lyrics in parentheses are actually scream-sung by Rodrigo, which she stated to Rolling Stone was inspired by Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer.” The bridge also leads to the outro of the song instead of a repeated chorus, positioning the song as an expanded crescendo of lyrical and musical complexity.
Along with Swift, Rodrigo has also listed Lorde as a musical inspiration. Although Swift is directly referenced in the production of “deja vu,” Lorde’s unique synth-pop sound appears to be a musical manifestation in the song — think “Green Light” from her 2017 album, “Melodrama.”
“Deja vu” is an indie-pop song with DIY instrumentals that are nicely complemented by the song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics, marking Rodrigo’s versatility. The song shows that she and Nigro are a team to watch when it comes to modern pop.
Although some may say her success comes from the assumed love triangle between her co-star Joshua Bassett, Sabrina Carpenter and herself, her music is truly successful because it is a reflection of her talent and artistry, as well as an indication of the type of artists that modem music legends like Swift and Lorde can create.
Following in the footsteps of her idols, Rodrigo is making a name for herself as a woman in music.