From the outside, Olivia Rodrigo seems anything but your average teen. At just seventeen years old, Olivia has already starred in two hit Disney series — Bizaardvark and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, also proving to be an extraordinary song writer through her work in the latter.
Much like her High School Musical character Nini Salazar-Roberts, however, Olivia is a young woman trying to navigate the trials of teenhood: its highs, lows and “admittedly, boy problems”. Whilst she doesn’t know exactly who she is or who she wants to be yet, Olivia’s work as both an actress and a musician offers a sense of hope for a better and more accepting world in which everyone feels seen and loved. Ahead of the release of the series’ Holiday Special, Olivia caught Schön! up on everything from the exciting new music she has been working on to what it means to be a teenage girl today.
Hey Olivia! How are you doing? What’s been keeping you busy during quarantine?
Hey! I’ve been pretty good! I’m actually in the middle of shooting season two of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series right now! I feel lucky to be able to safely see all my cast members again. We are having a ball.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series revisits the cult classic and reinterprets it through its own lens. It’s also refreshing to see the series’ focus on visibility and representation of the LGBTQ+ community and people of colour. What does it mean to you to star in this series?
I feel so lucky to be a part of a project that brings stories of acceptance and inclusivity into peoples’ homes. Theatre has always been a place where those who might not feel accepted in society can feel seen and loved, [and] I’m really proud of the fact that our show does just that.
Your own school experience means you are well-versed in the trials of independent learning. What advice do you have for those experiencing remote education right now during the pandemic? How do you balance study and self-care?
Yeah! I’ve been doing online school on set since I was in seventh grade, so the independent learning thing definitely isn’t new to me. My only advice is to try to not procrastinate. When there is nobody holding you accountable for turning your work in, it gets easy to fall behind. That being said, I don’t take my own advice and fall behind frequently [laughs].
In season one of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, it’s safe to say there is plenty of drama. How do you relate to your character, Nini, and her experiences?
I relate to Nini so much it’s slightly creepy. Sometimes I wonder if the writers of the show bugged my bedroom. I struggle with the same insecurities, doubts and admittedly boy problems that Nini does. Being a teenage girl in today’s day and age is so confusing and scary, at least in my experience. Getting to play Nini and watch her go through the same struggles I do as Olivia has been so special. I hope young viewers of the show can feel as understood watching Nini as I did playing her.
You’re also taking the music industry by the horns! What can you say about the experience of writing “All I Want” for High School Musical: The Musical: The Series?
Writing “All I Want” was a dream come true! It’s so unusual for executives in the entertainment industry to let an actor write a song for their character, especially a sixteen year old actor with no professional writing credits. The fact that they gave me this opportunity is wild. I wrote the song in a couple of days and actually felt really nervous about sharing it. I didn’t tell most of my castmates about the song until the show came out. The positive response it got after it was released was something I never really saw coming. To this day people send me messages about their heartbreaks and how the song helped them get through it. As a song writer, I try to write songs that make other people feel understood, but with this song it was the reverse. The messages and support made me feel so much less alone.
“All I Want” is a track that pretty much everyone can relate to. What advice do you have for those trapped in a situation where they want to move on from a relationship but are struggling to let go?
I am still trying to navigate that myself, but when I figure it out, I will let you know [laughs].
You are also working on new music. What can you tell us about that?
Yes! My music is coming out soon! I’m super excited and nervous and everything in between. I’ve been working really hard on figuring out my sound and what I want to say with my songs. I don’t think any song writer ever gets to a place where they feel completely content and finished with their work, but I’m really proud of what I made, and I can’t wait for people to hear!
Rather than using quarantine as an excuse for binge watching, we heard you set yourself a challenge to write a song a day. What is your song writing process?
Yeah! For the first couple months of lockdown I wrote a song, or at least a verse and a chorus, every day. It was super challenging but very gratifying. I am the queen of writing little bits and pieces of songs and never having the focus or stamina to sit down and carve the whole thing out. Challenging myself to actually finish ideas was really good for me. My favourite writing advice is “done is better than perfect.” Sometimes you just need to push through and finish projects even if you worry they aren’t good enough. If you don’t finish them, you don’t even give them the chance to be good.
Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
I’m obsessed with female singer songwriters. My all-time idol is Taylor Swift. The way she tells stories and paints pictures through her songs is endlessly inspiring. If I ever met her, I think I would spontaneously combust. I also love Gracie Abrams, Lorde, Halsey, and Phoebe Bridgers.
In everything that you do, your authenticity shines through. Who inspires you to be your most authentic self?
Gee, thank you! That’s a good question! Being your authentic self can be super hard, especially when you are like me and don’t always know exactly who you are and who you want to be. For a long time, I thought that in order to be worthy of being in someone’s life, I had to constantly be serving a purpose. I had to be the nice one, or the funny one, or something like that. Only recently did I find a group of people I could just exist with. People who I knew would love me even if I wasn’t entertaining or perfect by any means. That’s given me a lot of confidence. Not everyone is gonna like you, but finding a couple people who really, really love you for who you are is so much better. Knowing I have that support behind me makes being true to myself a lot easier.
You are wearing all sustainable fashion in the photos for this shoot. Why is sustainable fashion important to you?
A couple years ago I watched this documentary called The True Cost. It’s on Netflix; if you haven’t seen it, you should totally check it out. At the time, I was starting to think about how my personal actions affected our environment for the first time. It’s sort of a scary thing to be fourteen and realise that your generation is nearing critical tipping points for irreversible damage to the planet. Lots of scientists say the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, right under oil. This was so shocking to me. Up until that point, my favourite thing was to go to the mall and buy clothes that were way too cheap and wear the item once. I never thought about what went on behind the scenes. I realised I couldn’t keep up those habits if I truly cared about the health of our planet. The fashion industry is also notorious for taking advantage of women and children in less-developed countries. All that to say, I’ve spent the last few years trying to keep my clothing consumption as sustainable as I can. Buying second hand is so much fun, and sustainable brands like Reformation and Lisa Says Gah are to die for. It’s really important to think about how everyday actions, like how you get your clothes, can affect our planet for generations to come.
From chatting with Joe Biden’s granddaughter to sharing anti-Trump High School Musical memes on your Instagram, you have certainly found inventive ways to share your views despite being too young to vote! Why would you encourage young people to get involved in social activism?
Sharing information is so important! Especially when you are like me and too young to vote, your voice can be made heard in other ways. Keeping productive conversations going is so key to our democracy.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Holiday Special is currently streaming on Disney+.
photography + production. Brandon Kaipo Moningka
fashion editing + creative direction. Laura Sophie Cox @ A-Frame Agency
talent. Olivia Rodrigo
hair. Clayton Hawkins @ A-Frame Agency
make up. Allan Avendaño @ A-Frame Agency
bts/super 8 video. Randy Gonzalez
photo assistant. Jeremy Tullo
fashion assistant. Janelle Arreola
make up assistant. Ruby Vo
words. Cordelia Speed