In a relatively slow-starting 2021 — where the pop world still seems to be regaining its footing following the holiday music rush of late 2020 — the impact of “Drivers License” feels particularly seismic. “I truly do think this is just a lightning-in-a-bottle moment that sort of brought together a number of factors in a way that they haven’t really been brought together recently,” Spotify’s Global Hits lead Becky Bass tells Billboard. “But I can’t say that the pop audience wasn’t hungry for a big pop song as well.”
Below, Bass discusses Spotify’s reaction to the early success of “Drivers License,” and what previous songs they can compare it to — if any.
What was the first time you noticed that something out of the ordinary was happening with “Drivers License”?
As soon as it came out, we saw the fan reaction to it, and just the immediate chatter around the romantic drama that’s associated with this song — it’s the first thing that popped up. We’re familiar with Olivia as an artist: Her releases that came out with High School Musical did really well on-platform, and we knew she had an engaged fan base. But just in terms of how quickly the chatter around this song started — literally as soon as it came out Thursday night — we knew that that fanbase was definitely engaged and latching onto this song.
From there, do you go into overdrive bumping it up on playlists and adding it to other things? How do you respond to it right away?
Yeah, we definitely started watching it really quickly. We supported, and continue to support, Olivia — so she was already in playlists like New Music Friday and Pop Rising and Teen Beats, and many others, as soon as the song was released. But as we watched the momentum grow, the chatter grow, the streams grow, we definitely adjusted our support accordingly. It quickly went into Today’s Top Hits, which is our largest playlist. It’s now at No. 1 in Today’s Top Hits. So, definitely reacted to the momentum as the song just became a force of nature.
Was there any sort of coordination with her team, either before or after the song was released, to find other opportunities to promote it?
It’s less coordination with her team and more coordinating internally within Spotify and the Global editorial team — and just sort of speaking with each other to see how it’s working within our individual playlists in different markets. But this is definitely a situation where whether you’re in Asia, or South America, or North America, or Europe — everyone is paying attention to the song right now. So it’s been more exciting on the internal side, sort of how we’re coordinating as a team around this song.
Is there anything in Spotify’s past that you can compare this song to, in terms of the trajectory and the velocity of this song — especially for an artist who doesn’t have a long track record of gigantic hits like this?
There’s truly no direct comparison here. You do have songs like BTS and “Dynamite,” or Ariana Grande and “7 Rings,” that come out with just massive first-day numbers. And then you have newer artists like Tones and I with “Dance Monkey,” or Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road,” which took a little bit longer to grow into chart-toppers. But in my experience — and as a team we were just discussing this earlier — we’ve never seen anything like this, where you do have a newer artist that just comes out of the gate in such a dominant way, and just continues to grow.
I mean, we were like, “Whoa, these first day numbers are huge!” And then they were bigger the second day, bigger the third day… so it really feels unprecedented, and likely is unprecedented.
You talk about how it’s still growing from day to day — what do you attribute that to?
I definitely think it’s a perfect storm. When we were talking about the audience that she had prior to the release — that’s a very young, female, engaged audience. So they really sort of sparked the flame. But now what you have is it traveling well beyond that audience. And obviously social media platforms have helped that, but I think just word of mouth. This is a song you’re talking about with everyone right now. Everyone’s listening to it, everyone’s obsessing over it. I think the drama — which was familiar to her core fanbase, and really started things going — helped, and now you have this whole new audience that’s like, “Who is Olivia Rodrigo? Who is Joshua Bassett? What’s going on here?” Now they’re latching onto the drama, they’re learning that Joshua Bassett has a song coming out this week.
So in addition to a new audience finding this drama, learning who [Olivia] is — you also have people listening to the song, and realizing it’s just a really great song that feels authentic, that feels familiar. You have fans hearing Lorde in it, you have fans hearing Taylor [Swift] in it, you have fans hearing Kesha in it. So it’s just really resonating with people in a new way. Also, most of the world can relate to a breakup — so it’s just a relatable song, as well. But you layer in the drama, you layer in just a really active fanbase, and you get this snowball effect.
In addition to this song, her previously released track “All I Want” is also in the Spotify US Daily top 40. Is that also unusual, to have the spillover effect of a song being so massive that it basically creates a second streaming hit in the process?
I mean, that’s a pretty common effect. I’d say maybe not sort of as quickly and as noticeably as it is happening with this song — we definitely took notice of that, and are looking closely at that song as well. But many times when somebody releases a new song, the same thing happens. When SZA put out her new song [“Good Days”], you suddenly saw all of SZA’s catalog popping up as well. So I wouldn’t say that’s the most unusual effect here, of a very unusual situation.
How much longer do you think the song can keep growing? Do you think it’s going to start to plateau soon, or what do you see the trajectory being from here?
It’s hard to say. I think the song will have a long life — just because of some of the points we spoke to before. It’s a really good song that is resonating with people in a deep way. It’s not sort of tied to a dance fad, or something that’s more ephemeral. So it’s hard to say like, what the growth trajectory will be. But I mean, it’s been so exciting this week, in particular to watch how it grows day over day over day, and we don’t expect it to disappear anytime soon.
You already mentioned that Joshua Bassett has a new song coming. Is it going to be all hands on deck at Spotify when that song comes out, now that you know about the interest that’s around this story in general?
We’re definitely watching it closely, and are just as invested in the conversation around it as the fanbase is. So we’ll see what happens.