Whilst we all baked banana bread and took up knitting during the coronavirus pandemic, Olivia Rodrigo was cooking up a storm, writing her new hit single driver’s license. In 2021, Rodrigo went from belting breakup ballads in her bedroom to topping the Billboard Hot 100, as the youngest ever debut artist.
The version of driver’s license released on January 8th 2021 marked a stark departure from the rough draft Rodrigo uploaded to her Instagram in July 2020. Most notably, the lyrics ‘you’re probably with that brunette girl’ had been changed to ‘blonde girl’. No one could predict the drama that ensued. Fans went into meltdown with conspiracy theories, and overnight the mystery ‘blonde girl’ was uncovered to be Sabrina Carpenter. Death threats were sent her way as intimate pictures of her and Rodrigo’s rumoured ex Joshua Bassett surfaced, taken shortly after Rodrigo and Bassett allegedly broke up.
Well, the blonde girl clapped back, releasing Skin just two weeks later. Carpenter appears to comment directly on driver’s license, singing ‘maybe blonde was the only rhyme’, and ‘don’t drive yourself insane’. Carpenter apparently vilifies Rodrigo for trying to get ‘under [her] skin’, whilst ‘he’s on mine’, flaunting her man like a prize. Yikes. Though she refuted claims she had produced a ‘diss track’ against Rodrigo’s ‘magnificent song’, the claws were out. The media stir stemming from driver’s license only betrays pop culture’s ongoing obsession with pitting women against each other in cutthroat battles for male attention.
The trope of the ‘other woman’ is as old as time. The sweet girl next door is usurped by the [insert ways she’s the devil incarnate], sexier girl who has it all. Since 1942, Archie Comics has placed the girl next door Betty against rich bitch Veronica for the affections of Archie. Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me has the girl next door competing against a malicious cheerleader for Lucas Till’s’ attention. Diana and Camilla, Selena and Hailey. John Tucker Must Die. It’s everywhere. So, it’s no surprise when Rodrigo, the relatable girl next door driving ‘through the suburbs’, gets her man stolen by the daughter of a millionaire.
The toxic rivalry generated between these two archetypes of women, one socially acceptable, one sexually and morally deviant, permeates throughout pop culture. What’s most interesting about this universally recognised concept is how little attention the men in love triangles get. Initially, I reconciled my unfounded new dislike for Sabrina by assuming I was just using her to project my own insecurities after bad breakups. But then, why is there no male equivalent for the term ‘man stealer’? Where are the male equivalents of films such as John Tucker Must Die (2006) and The Other Woman (2014)?
Pop culture gorges itself on tearing women down. SNL released a skit on driver’s license, capitalising on the girl v girl feud. Their endorsement legitimises such toxic rivalries, going as far as equating Carpenter to ‘that bastard’, whilst victimising Rodrigo. SNL even named Carpenter and Bassett, removing the artist’s ability to be authentic in their material without extreme public frenzy. For female fans, like myself, to be circulating this ‘gossip’ surrounding other women is just as harmful. Bassett responded in an interview with Billboard, expressing his concern for ‘the focus to be on the art’ instead of ‘some other narrative people were trying to make’. Damn straight, Joshua. It’s time for pop culture to drop the tired, patriarchal ‘other woman’ drama and focus on building its female artists up.