How Olivia Rodrigo’s song went viral on TikTok & broke Spotify records
Olivia’s debut single “Driver’s License” hit 100M streams on Spotify within 1-week of its debut — How did she do it? Here’s a breakdown of her strategy
If you’ve been on TikTok recently, you’ve probably come across Olivia Rodrigo’s viral song “Driver’s License”.
New songs are released on TikTok all the time, but this one’s impact was noticeably different.
At first I thought the buzz was because of the song’s relatable love story lyrics but as I dug deeper I connected the dots to a very clever business strategy.
Here is my breakdown of why her strategy was so effective and how creators can learn from it.
1) Have a core audience
I assumed Olivia Rodrigo was a new musician, turns out she’s actually a famous actress. She started her career 5+ years ago with Disney and starred in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series in 2019.
Over the years she accumulated a substantial GenZ following, in the millions. Regardless of the size, establishing a dedicated audience gave her a head start.
But rather than seeing her following as a group of people she could simply sell anything to, she chose to deeply understand them — their wants, interests, and culture — before making any moves.
2) Intimately understand your core audience
For her debut single, Olivia chose to be strategic by writing a song that not only deeply resonated with her core audience but also silently fed into their signature GenZ culture.
She specifically understood 2 key aspects of her core audience. Firstly, GenZ is known for being “internet detectives” who sift through archives of social media content to connect the dots of supposed conspiracy theories. Secondly, they’re known to unapologetically express themselves using social media, specifically on TikTok.
Olivia played into the “internet detective” culture by strategically planting a lyric she knew her core audience would notice, investigate and most importantly: talk about.
In “Driver’s License” Olivia sings about her heartbreak over an ex-boyfriend who moved on with a new “blonde” girl.
The GenZ detective story is that when Olivia acted in Disney+’s High School Musical she co-starred alongside both Josh Bassett and Sabrina Carpenter. Olivia and Josh dated but after they broke up he moved on with Sabrina, a “blonde” 👀
Regardless of whether the blonde is Sabrina or not, that one word ignited incredible buzz with Olivia’s core audience who instinctively went to TikTok to express their thoughts.
3) Have your audience sell for you
The strength of dialog from Olivia’s fans was intensely stronger than with any other song released on TikTok.
The difference with “Drivers License” is that Olivia didn’t rely on TikTok’s features or culture to expose her music to new listeners like most artists. Instead, she created a song with the very intention of her audience doing the marketing for her.
In business terms, Olivia triggered a viral effect.
She knew exactly what story and what specific lyric would spark their interest to such a deep level where they felt compelled to create original, stand-alone TikTok video responses.
Those response TikToks have been viewed, liked and authentically engaged with by millions of new people, exposing Olivia’s “Driver’s License” to an exponentially larger audience in record time.
This strategy was so effective that within 4 days of “Driver’s License” release (Jan 8, 2021) it broke Spotify’s record twice for most daily streams ever for a non-holiday song.
On January 11 2021, Rodrigo’s song had 15.7+ million global streams on Spotify and 24-hrs later, she surpassed her own record with 17+ million global streams of the song. Five days later, (on Jan 17, 2021) the song hit 100M global streams.
Remember Josh? Looks like he’s also looking for his big break as a musician, and recently released a song that can be interpreted as its own version of a response to Olivia’s “Driver’s License”.
Unfortunately his song hasn’t created as much buzz as Olivia’s.
Here are a few of my favourite response TikToks to Olivia’s song