Breaking Spotify’s record for most streams of a song in a single week, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut single, “Drivers License,” has taken American listeners by storm. Due to Rodrigo’s lyrical capabilities that can so gracefully describe the experience of teenage love and the profound heartbreak that often follows, she has, at 17 years old, already fostered a massive fanbase.
In her breakout track, Rodrigo laments a failed relationship that her new driver’s license reminds her of — her previous partner always wanted her to learn how to drive. The audience’s ability to connect the lyrics to Rodrigo’s past relationship with “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” co-star Joshua Bassett has partially contributed to the track’s success; the lyrics specifically target Bassett’s current relationship with “Girl Meets World” star Sabrina Carpenter. The song and its accompanying dramatic love triangle has enticed the world.
When one examines other commercially successful songs that refer to a singer’s previous relationships, the popularity of “Drivers License” isn’t that shocking. In early 2020, Selena Gomez released “Lose You to Love Me”, which reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in the second week of its release — a first for Gomez.
The pop ballad takes aim at Gomez’s 10-year, on-and-off relationship with Justin Bieber and his rather hurried marriage to Hailey Baldwin in 2018. In “Lose You to Love Me,” Gomez sings, “In two months, you replaced us like it was easy,” making it clear she is directly speaking to Bieber, and her vulnerability only made audiences want to listen more.
Even before Gomez was ensnared in a love triangle with Bieber and Baldwin, her relationship with Nick Jonas had a third party known as Miley Cyrus. Cyrus’ 2008 song, “7 Things,” indirectly refers to Jonas’ tendencies to trifle with her feelings and give attention to other girls — including Gomez.
In her book, “Miles to Go,” Cyrus even admits that the song was meant to attack Jonas for hurting her feelings. The song is considered a classic by much of Generation Z, and even by millennials who were young enough to observe the dysfunctional love triangle between the three Disney stars.
The massive commercial success of “Drivers License,” “Lose You to Love Me” and “7 Things” can at least be partially traced back to the romantic drama that surrounds the tracks. However, this success begets the question: Why is the public so obsessed with learning more about celebrity relationships?
Through the constant use of social media, most of the public has begun to perceive celebrities through the same lens as they view their friends. Social media often breeds the illusion of close proximity to celebrities, especially when they participate on multiple platforms and interact with their followers.
Using what is ultimately a ploy from their marketing teams, these celebrities attempt to foster the highest level of attachment as they can from the public — oftentimes to sell more products. The best way to accomplish this is to let the audience have a peek into their lives, enough to make them seem as if they really are your friend. And the best way for a singer to allow the audience to peek into their life is to express their feelings through song.
This willing (but sometimes unwilling) peek into the lives of celebrities often prompts listeners to want to learn more about their love lives. If the celebrity feels apt to share this information, the public consequently craves even more, which leads to outright entitlement to the details of a celebrity’s personal love life.
The more that a celebrity opens up their love life to the public and paparazzi, the more the public becomes attached to the relationship’s outcome. People become obsessed with the romantic pairing, often due to the fantastical notion that celebrities who express their feelings through song somehow experience an abnormal type of love that is deeper than other people’s feelings
From 2010 to 2017, Bieber and Gomez, otherwise known as Jelena, appeared in tabloids whenever they decided to pursue each other. Fans went to Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr to express their disdain or happiness if the couple reunited. Every song Gomez and Bieber released was continually deconstructed to see if there was an Easter egg about the other (like in “Mark My Words” and “Back to You”).
When Bieber married Hailey Baldwin only months after breaking off a relationship with Gomez, the entire social media world was left in disbelief, and many did not hesitate to send hate-filled messages to Baldwin.
The only real details fans knew about the nature of the relationship came from a few interviews and paparazzi photographs of sweet moments, but they were so sure that Jelena was meant to be. The hate toward Baldwin was therefore justified because she intentionally ruined this fantasy of Bieber and Selena being soulmates that would always find their way back to each other.
Fame tainted the childhoods of Bieber and Gomez, and perhaps now, Basset and Rodrigo. What must it be like to have millions of people feel so opinionated about their love lives? It is almost as if every fan has their own stake in the relationship, treating both celebrities as if they were their own friends. Some pick sides and others remain neutral, choosing to support both. This sort of attachment doesn’t seem healthy for either the fan or the celebrity, which is likely why some celebrities have attempted to hide their relationships.
It is important to remember that Rodrigo, Bassett and Carpenter are all young adults trying to cope with normal teenage feelings through music. While their love lives may seem like an interesting drama, they are still basically children who should be allowed to navigate the folly of young love without massive amounts of hate. The success of “Drivers License” does indeed display how commercial success and vulnerability are inherently correlated, but this vulnerability can always be taken away if the singer becomes tired of the opinionated public.
As celebrities begin to restrict the public from examining their relationships, it is important to respect that, no matter the attachment one feels toward the relationship due to their music, someone’s love life is not up for constant questioning, or even admiration.
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