After rising to fame as a Disney star, Olivia Rodrigo broke the internet. In January 2021, while recording music for her now platinum-selling debut album, ACIDRodrigo took to TikTok to promote her debut single, “Driving license.” The track received 76 million streams in its first week, breaking several world records.
The 19-year-old Grammy winner was candid about how she takes cues of his musical influences. But another ACID The single “good 4 u” has been compared for its similarities to pop-punk band Paramore’s hit “Misery Business”.
Rodrigo’s genius lies in his use of TikTok as a tool to present his celebrity image as authentic to young and global audiences. Her use of social media self-branding to remix already existing ideas, sounds and lyrics in new and fresh ways is what makes her and other young artists and creators shine.
TikTok and authentic self-branding
Released in 2018, TikTok is a social media platform that favors short multimodal videos combining text, image and sound. Users revamp, remix and re-present content already in circulation, creating what media researchers Diana Zulli and David J. Zulli call digital imitation audiences.
The platform is popular among young users – especially those of Gen Z.
After releasing the “driver’s license”, Rodrigo issued a TikTok now viral asking subscribers to stream his track. The video features the song and a series of video vignettes explaining its meaning.
Using TikTok’s green screen feature, Rodrigo appears in front of a photo of his driver’s license while the track is playing. Then a block of text appears: “I posted this pic on Instagram saying how super excited I was driving alone through the suburbs crying lol…thought the experience might make a good song.”
Rodrigo adopts the tactics of other Gen Z TikTok creators in this promotional content. Through its playful use of innovative TikTok features, such as green screen and duetsRodrigo seems to relate to his fans and followers.
Parody, promotion and game
Similar to Rodrigo’s ACID, viral content on TikTok is not necessarily “original”. Rather, it is a knockoff or restyling that adds to an ongoing conversation.
Pastiche challenges mainstream cultural conversations by finding new ways to remake old ideas — much like Rodrigo’s music and promotional TikToks.
TikTok welcomes imitation as a form of innovation. As a media specialist Melanie Kennedy explains, repetition is the key to going viral on TikTok. For example, a US-based creator Mel Sommer shared his take on Rodrigo’s TikTok, the “driver’s license challenge.”
The challenge consists of two videos stitched together as a “driver’s license” clip plays. In the first video, Sommers lip-syncs to the song’s chorus without makeup and wearing a sweatshirt. As the sound cuts to the bridge, she makes eye contact with the camera and falls backwards. This is immediately sewn with a second “glow up” video while Sommers is depicted lying on her bed in a fancy dress while the bridge plays.
Sommers’ original video racked up 1.4 million views and inspired countless remakes by other users.
The challenge ultimately facilitated new “driver’s license” readings while further promoting Rodrigo’s music.
Rodrigo and the remix
Rodrigo approaches his music as a composition of pop stars’ past, the same way TikTok’s features encourage the restyling of already popular content. There “one-of-a-kind songwritershared his thoughts on music and originality with Nylon in 2021: “…I’m going to try to take all my…influences and inspirations…and do something…that I love.”
Rodrigo and other Gen Z creators curate their celebrity image by mixing content and social media presence as a combined entity. Rodrigo’s promotional TikTok content focuses on how she takes existing concepts through remixing and gaming.
Through dots, duets and green screens, Rodrigo showcases the postmodern appeal of today’s popular music: a fresh face returning to the beats and lyrics of a previous generation. – The Conversation|Rappler.com
Jess Rauchberg is a PhD Candidate, Communication and Media Arts Studies, McMaster University.