If you somehow missed Olivia Rodrigo’s debut single completely taking the world by storm over the last two weeks - with over 76.1 million U.S. streams - here's a recap. On 8 January, singer/songwriter/actress Olivia Rodrigo released tender break-up anthem ‘drivers license’ and it immediately took off, entering #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Some more background: Rodrigo is known for her work on Disney, most notably as the lead in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Although it hasn’t been confirmed, it was rumoured she was dating her co-star Joshua Bassett. They broke up sometime in 2020 and he started dating another Disney-alum Sabrina Carpenter...thus, a love triangle was born.
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This is where it begins to get messy: Joshua released a track (unconfirmed to be about Rodrigo) called ‘Lie Lie Lie’, and this week, the musical response is from the final point of the triangle — Sabrina Carpenter and her over the top clapback song ‘Skin’.
My initial response was admiration at how Olivia's fan's responded to ‘drivers license’ - a break-up song that addresses the break-up and how "insecure" the older Carpenter makes her feel. Throughout the weekend of Rodrigo’s release, I scrolled through the millions of TikToks created using the song and was impressed with the number of fans commenting to remind one another that Sabrina does not deserve hate from the revelations detailed in 'drivers license'.
After growing up with the media constantly creating love triangle discourse that placed two women in conflict with one another and living through similar Disney-adjacent drama (Joe Jonas/Taylor Swift/Camilla Belle and Nick Jonas/Miley Cyrus/Selena Gomez) reading comments like those from teens felt like a breath of fresh air. It made it feel like society had progressed; rather than playing into how the media would frame and shift the narrative to prevent the man in question from receiving any criticism and indulging in the woman vs. woman trope that has existed throughout pop culture for decades, these young people knew better than we did back in 2010.
Like Rodrigo, Carpenter has the right to write, record, and release whatever music she wants about whatever she wants. But, unlike Bassett’s underwhelming ‘Lie Lie Lie’, Carpenter’s song doesn’t leave any room to question whether it is a direct response to ‘drivers license’ or not. Unfortunately, this is why ‘Skin’ misses the mark. For her part, Rodrigo doesn't exactly criticise Carpenter (besides saying she feels small and inferior when she compares herself to the older blonde), whereas Carpenter has crafted a song with lyrics sounding like we haven’t progressed since Taylor Swift’s 2010 song ‘Better Than Revenge’. When she was in her mid-20s, Swift stated she was 18 when she wrote it and “that’s the age you are when you think someone can actually take your boyfriend. Then you grow up”.
When listening to ‘Skin’, it feels like five steps back from the progress we’ve made. Rather than penning a track analysing her reaction to ‘drivers license’ and why it made her feel the way that it did, ‘Skin’ is coded as “I won the guy, you didn’t, get over it” - "I'm happy and you hate it" Carpenter sings. In a dream world, we would all be listening to a poetically poignant track about being the other girl who wasn’t aware of her ability to make others small just by being who she is.
The discourse surrounding both women and their songs mustn’t turn into a battle of who ‘won’ in regards to their professional careers and personal relationships. No one comes out on top when we’re indulging in narratives and themes that hurt no one but the two women in question. In this situation, no one is the victim, much like how ‘drivers license’ really isn’t about Sabrina or an attack against Joshua. Rodrigo penned a song about her first love and first heartbreak, how to navigate all of the emotions and thoughts that flicker through one's mind as you question everything that happened, and how to eventually start the process of grieving the ending of something intimate. There’s a reason why it resonated with the entire world: we’ve all been there. One can only hope Sabrina Carpenter remembers this next time.