Olivia Rodrigo’s Rise to Fame

Was Olivia Rodrigo’s rise to fame a matter of pure luck, or the product of fantastic marketing?


Sebastiaan Chia / Unsplash

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album SOUR has received over 8 billion streams just months after its release.

Olivia Rodrigo released her debut single less than a year ago, and her rise to fame has been anything but sour. SOUR, her debut album, dropped on May 21st, 2021, and it has been breaking records left and right ever since. Very rarely has any artist accomplished as much as she has in her first year, but debates about the success of her career have ignited from the very first week of her album’s release. Despite what people may say, however, Rodrigo’s marketing team has contributed to at least part of her success, if not most of it. 

Rodrigo and her marketing team have engaged her fans since she dropped her first single on January 8th, 2021. While she does have her own team, they all agree that “Olivia’s the boss,” as Kristen Smith of Interscope Geffen, Rodrigo’s label, states. For the promotion of her second single, “deja vu,” her top listeners on Spotify were sent necklaces with lyric fragments from the single, sparking fan theories regarding what the song would be about. This was, on several levels, a good marketing strategy. For one, it increased Rodrigo’s streams, as fans vied for the top spots. Furthermore, it got the general public talking about her upcoming single, which led to more streams once it was dropped. LiviesHQ, the official fan account for Rodrigo, also messaged a few lucky fans on Twitter, and delivered strawberry ice cream to their doorsteps on the day the single was released, as well as a SOUR safety pin and a handwritten note from Rodrigo.

Within the music video itself, Rodrigo dropped ‘easter eggs’ (hidden messages) as well. One of the most notable is the “it’s good 4 u” sign on an ice cream truck in which Rodrigo stands in front of, hinting at her next single, “good 4 u.” Fans theorized about the next release date based on numbers on the truck’s license plate and other potential hidden indicators within the video. 

Rodrigo’s last single before the album dropped, “good 4 u,” received far less promotional content than the other two singles. Most of its promotion was combined with that of the album, though it ended up being Rodrigo’s biggest hit, surpassing even “drivers license.” For the album and single, Rodrigo, partnered with Spotify, invited select fans to a car wash, making the event COVID-safe, but still lots of fun. There, fans were given SOUR themed Sour Patch Kids, a SOUR key chain, and the opportunity to talk to and take pictures with Rodrigo. This event has been slightly controversial, though, with people claiming that she was buying streams for her songs via car washes. The fact remains, however, that those who were invited were her top fans, and would have been streaming her songs regardless, debunking this rumor. 

Beyond this event, Rodrigo has personally invited fans to a SOUR prom, partnering with Sherri Hill, a dress company, so that her fans could attend as their most glamorous selves. There, they watched the premiere of the pre-recorded SOUR Prom Concert, and took pictures with the pop star, which she later posted on her Instagram account. Rodrigo, who was the mastermind behind the event, planned it after not being able to have a prom of her own. As she states in her post, she wanted to be able to celebrate with her “fav people” (otherwise known as her fans). The event in and of itself was a work of genius, making Rodrigo’s relationship with her fans even more personal. While inviting them to an event where they would be able to spend time with her would already be exciting, the fact that she went to each fan’s home with a “promposal” and shipped them each a corsage made it all the more memorable.  

Another well-noted incident with the SOUR album was that of Kim Kardashian opening the PR package that Rodrigo sent to her. In the video, Kardashian states that she loves “drivers license,” and listens to it all the time, but her daughter can be heard in the background saying “You never listen to it.” Kardashian, however, brushes it off and posts the clip anyway, reaching an even larger audience than intended because of this act. Perhaps the most well known aspect of “drivers license,” however, lies with the theorized “love triangle” between Rodrigo, her co-star Joshua Bassett, and Sabrina Carpenter. While none of the stars involved have yet to confirm it, fans are convinced that the “blonde girl” mentioned in “drivers license” is Carpenter, especially after Carpenter chased the “drivers license” release with a song of her own, “Skin,” just two weeks later. In the song, which was written the Thursday before it was released, she sings that “Maybe blonde was the only rhyme,” further igniting fan theories. Whether or not it is true, however, the drama blew up on TikTok, and with it, introduced hundreds of thousands of people to Rodrigo’s music through their interest in the story and audios on the app. 

Evidently, Rodrigo and her marketing team have been brilliant with their strategies, making events that are both personal and unique to her brand, rather than using generic events that could happen with any artist and fan base. Most of the attention that Rodrigo has received can be attributed to her talent and her good use of marketing, but a small portion of her success has been because of luck, whether it was with the Kim Kardashian story or the TikTok “love triangle” that people created and ran with, furthering Rodrigo’s success.

“Olivia’s the boss,” as Kristen Smith of Interscope Geffen, Rodrigo’s label, states.