By Teresa Nicole
Editor - Ashleena Bilal
Four days after its initial release, Olivia Rodrigo’s bittersweet pop ballad, otherwise known as “driver's license”, had topped charts internationally. According to Billboard, the growth of popularity rose within a limited number of days, “it's currently No. 1 on the U.S. daily charts for both Apple Music and Spotify, with its new high of nearly 5.7 million daily plays on the latter service.” To put it into perspective, a 17-year-old with her first debut single broke Ariana Grande’s Spotify record with “thank you, next”. Rodrigo has become the first Asian-American artist to achieve this accomplishment, and it has been celebrated amongst Asian communities.
During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in 2017, Rodrigo was featured in a short Disney channel video discussing her cultural roots. She has wholeheartedly embraced the Filipino culture saying “I’m Olivia Rodrigo, I’m a Filipina, I’m a lumpia fan, I’m a daughter and a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter, I’m an American, I’m an Asian Pacific Islander.”
However, many have pushed her cultural identity to the sidelines. With her Spanish last name, many people have assumed Rodrigo to be a Latina-American. South-East Asians have always had their identities put off to the side for not being East Asian enough or South Asian enough. Rodrigo’s Filipino heritage was rarely addressed or celebrated when bringing up her breakthrough in the music industry.
It has become a well-known fact that Asian artists breaking into the American music scene has never been an easy barrier to break through, yet the odds played in Rodrigo’s favour. Career options have always been so limited within Asian families, (with professions concerning science and math being highly praised) so the music industry has felt out of reach for so many. Seeing a Filipino-American prosper in such a competitive field may leave Asian families open-minded to the successions of music while bringing hope to young people with aspirations of making it big in America.
As an Asian living in North America, the media I consumed was infiltrated with people who looked nothing like me. Diversity within representation is important as well, as a Southeast Asian, the only Hollywood representation I could identify with was East Asian singers and actresses, it was uncommon to see other regions of Asia being represented here in the west. Other SEA’s like myself had to comply with what was given, then again, representation at all was already such a big accomplishment. Olivia Rodrigo breaking this record means so much to both me and others who grew up with a loss of identity due to the media we consumed.
The lack of Asian representation within mainstream media still has a long way to go before it is considered fully inclusive but musicians like Rodrigo have opened up opportunities that would have not otherwise been dreamed of, and from here on accomplishments will keep being made.