Olivia Rodrigo brilliantly bridges past, present with ‘Deja Vu’

Photo of Deja Vu by Olivia Rodrigo
Geffen Records/Courtesy

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2021 has quickly become the year of Olivia Rodrigo’s well-deserved success. 

The 18-year-old actress and musician initially garnered fame from television series such as “Bizaardvark” and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” The latter introduced viewers to Rodrigo’s vocals and songwriting with songs like “All I Want” generating popularity from the show. 

The release of her first single, “Driver’s License,” in Jan. 2021 reaffirmed Rodrigo’s musical genius. The song rapidly broke the record for the most streams on Spotify in one week — an incredibly impressive feat, especially for a new artist. 

Her latest single, “Deja Vu,” premiered April 1 along with its respective music video. Both beautifully written and produced, Rodrigo crafts a gorgeous narrative evident from the song’s first few lyrics: “Car rides to Malibu/ Strawberry ice cream, one spoon for two.” Infused with illuminating sensory detail, the track’s lyrics immediately evoke a sense of familiarity. By flooding her lyrics with distinct memories, Rodrigo highlights the warmth of vivid moments in time and the grief that later accompanies these recollections when relationships end. The singer also seems to be intertwining elements of her debut single “Driver’s License” within the track, as she drives a car at the start of the music video and constructs a narrative infused with similar emotional depth.

The song’s lyrics question the intimacy of specific moments within a relationship: “So when you gonna tell her that we did that too?/ She thinks it’s special, but it’s all reused.” Simple moments of recollection embedded within the track’s initial lyrics are disrupted by the constant reminder that moments shared with a partner are not intrinsic to one person alone, but are reused within new relationships. 

The light, ethereal vocals exhibited in the first few verses of the track are replaced by raw emotion, infusing anger and frustration into this continued pattern of “deja vu.” The bridge of the song highlights Rodrigo’s mastery of storytelling within her music. Recalling the vivid memories expressed in the first and second verse, Rodrigo literally evokes deja vu in her audience, reusing lyrics to fit her own narrative: “Strawberry ice cream in Malibu/ Don’t act like we didn’t do that s— too/ You’re trading jackets like we used to do/ Yeah everything is all reused.” 

This self-referentialism exemplifies Rodrigo’s brilliance; both the production of the song and the lyrics engage less with the solemnity accompanied with “Driver’s License” and more with the aggravating comparison between past memories and the repetitive present. The music video comes to a bittersweet close with the haunting image of another woman replacing Rodrigo’s position in the driver’s seat, cyclically repeating this pattern of deja vu as she consumes strawberry ice cream and drives by the beach. 

With over 21 million views on YouTube and 19 million streams on Spotify, Rodrigo has proved her talent and passion for her craft. The release of her debut album in May of 2021 will hopefully continue to highlight Rodrigo’s musical strength and fantastic writing. In the meantime, “Deja Vu” serves as the perfect song for long car rides and emotional exploration, looking to the warmth of the past to make sense of the frustration of the present.

Contact Sarah Runyan at [email protected].