Tune in to the 64th Annual Grammy Awards April 3 on CBS and root for an Inland Empire local. Nineteen-year-old Olivia Rodrigo, who grew up in Temecula, has received seven Grammy Award nominations, including those in what’s known as the Big Four categories: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist. “I’m beyond humbled,” she wrote in an Instagram message.
Named Time magazine’s 2021 Entertainer of the Year, writer Lucy Feldman summed up nicely why Rodrigo was selected: “Rodrigo has a gift for picking the best of the past—whether a well-worn shirt, the faded feedback of a guitar or the intensity of first love—and finding just the right way to situate it in the present. Her songs have hit with audiences of all ages, in large part because she renders adolescence so viscerally: she’s resent- ful, seething, crushed, itching to just grow up already.” Rodrigo’s rapid rise to musical stardom took off in January 2021 when she released the song “Drivers License,” which took off on social media. By the end of the month, Rodrigo had become the youngest solo artist ever to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But as is usually the case, success has been years in the making. Rodrigo reportedly began taking acting lessons in kindergarten.
She also learned to play the piano and took music lessons, with some local help. Hannah Warner, owner of the Temecula Music Teacher Studio, told San Diego’s CBS 8 that Rodrigo had been a student there and sought help learning to play guitar as she prepared for an audition. Temecula vocal coach Gwyn Sanborn told the TV station that she, too, had an early glimpse of Rodrigo’s talent. When she was just about seven years old, Rodrigo auditioned for one of Sanborn’s live talent show productions, “Temecula Live.” “We put her on the show and she nailed it. The first time ever singing with a band, live in front of an audience, and she just did a fantastic job at seven years old,” Sanborn said.
Rodrigo performed at several hometown shows throughout her child- hood. Hard work began paying off in 2015 when she landed her first commercial gig with Old Navy. The same year, she made her acting debut as Grace Thomas in the direct-to-video film An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success. In 2016, she was cast as Paige Olvera, a guitarist in the Disney Channel show “Bizaardvark.” She was cast as Nini Salazar Roberts on Disney’s “High School Musical: The Series,” which debuted in 2019. But acting is only part of Rodrigo’s talent, and it has served as a vehicle for her true passion. “Writing songs is my favorite thing to do in the world,” says Rodrigo on her website. “I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember, and I fall more in love with it every day.
The first song I ever got published was called “All I Want.” I wrote it for a show I act in (High School Musical) and it was a super cool experience that opened up a lot of doors for me. On the last day before COVID lockdown, I met the team at Interscope/ Geffen records and a producer named Dan Nigro for the first time,” she adds. That was a big day. Working together, Nigro reportedly told her a song she was penning needed more work. Instead of getting her feelings hurt, she dug in, seeing the criticism as a commitment to quality music. Rodrigo, the daughter of Sophia and Ronald Rodrigo, says she spent most of the quarantine writing songs in her living room and producing them in her garage, including the hit “Drivers License.” Other songs, “Good 4 U” and “Deja Vu,” also hit high marks on the charts.
Her debut album, Sour, released in May 2021, became No. 1 on Billboard’s 200 chart and produced four Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including two No. 1 singles: “Drivers License” and “Good 4 U.” Riding on that success, her debut concert tour begins in the United States in April and ends in London in July. Though new to the recording industry, Rodrigo has already learned a thing or two about creative rights. She reached a deal with her record label, Geffen, to retain ownership of her masters, the copyright to the recordings of her songs. It saves herself the trouble of duking it later. “You definitely have to be a businesswoman to be a musician,” Rodrigo told Time. As she enters adulthood, new challenges await, but Rodrigo says she’s ready for them. “I always wanted to grow up because I feel you get better with age and figure out who you are. I feel like I get happier as I get older,” she told a reporter. “It’s one of my favorite parts about songwriters like Taylor Swift, because you get to grow up with them.” n