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Olivia Rodrigo’s social media content is the self-branding of Gen Z


After rising to fame as a Disney star, Olivia Rodrigo broke the internet. In January 2021, while recording music for her now platinum-selling debut album, ACID, Rodrigo took to TikTok to promote her debut single, “Driver’s License.” The track received 76 million streams in its first week, breaking multiple world records.

The 19-year-old Grammy winner has been candid about how she draws inspiration from her musical influences. But another ACID The single “good 4 u” has been compared for its similarities to pop-punk band Paramore’s hit “Misery Business”.

As Rodrigo finally granted Paramore songwriting credits to Hayley Williams and Josh Farro in August 2021, critics, fans and trolls asked: if Rodrigo isn’t original, what’s wrong? distinguish it?

Rodrigo’s genius lies in his use of TikTok as a tool to portray his celebrity image as authentic to young, global audiences. Her use of social media self-branding to remix already existing ideas, sounds and lyrics in new and fresh ways is what makes her and other young artists and creators shine.

TikTok and authentic self-branding

Released in 2018, TikTok is a social media platform that favors short, multimodal videos that combine text, image, and sound. Users revamp, remix and re-present content already in circulation, creating what media researchers Diana Zulli and David J. Zulli call digital imitation audiences.

The platform is popular among younger users, especially those in Gen Z.

After posting the “driver’s license”, Rodrigo posted a now-viral TikTok asking followers to stream his track. The video features the song and a series of video vignettes explaining its meaning.

Using TikTok’s green screen feature, Rodrigo appears in front of a photo of his driver’s license while the track is playing. Next, a block of text appears:

“I posted this pic on Instagram saying how super excited I was driving alone through the suburbs crying lol…thought the experience could make for a good song.”

Rodrigo adopts the tactics of other Gen Z TikTok creators in this promotional content. Through his playful use of innovative TikTok features, such as green screen and duets, Rodrigo seems to relate to his fans and followers.

Parody, promotion and game

Similar to Rodrigo’s ACID, viral content on TikTok is not necessarily “original”. Rather, it is a knockoff or restyling that adds to an ongoing conversation.

Referring to postmodern philosophers Jean-François Lyotard and Frédéric Jameson, philosopher Madan Sarup names pastiche as a form of parody that playfully teases the boundaries between art and life.

Pastiche challenges mainstream cultural conversations by finding new ways to remake old ideas — much like Rodrigo’s music and promotional TikToks.

TikTok welcomes imitation as a form of innovation. As media scholar Melanie Kennedy explains, repetition is key to going viral on TikTok. For example, American designer Mel Sommers shared her take on Rodrigo’s TikTok, the “driver’s license challenge.”

The challenge consists of two videos stitched together as a “driver’s license” clip plays. In the first video, Sommers lip-syncs to the song’s chorus without makeup and wearing a sweatshirt. As the sound cuts to the bridge, she makes eye contact with the camera and falls backwards. This is immediately stitched together with a second “bright” video as Sommers is shown lying on her bed in a fancy dress while the bridge plays.

Sommers’ original video has racked up 1.4 million views and inspired countless remakes by other users.

The challenge ultimately facilitated new “driver’s license” readings while further promoting Rodrigo’s music.

Rodrigo and the remix

Rodrigo approaches his music as a composition of pop stars’ past, the same way TikTok’s features encourage restyling of already popular content. “The One-in-a-Generation Songwriter” shared his thoughts on music and originality with Nylon in 2021: “…I’m going to try to take all my…influences and inspirations…and do something…that I love.”

Rodrigo and other Gen Z creators curate their celebrity image by mixing content and social media presence as a combined entity. Rodrigo’s promotional TikTok content focuses on how she takes existing concepts through remixing and gaming.

Through dots, duets and green screens, Rodrigo showcases the postmodern appeal of today’s popular music: a new face returning to the beats and lyrics of a previous generation.

Jess RauchbergPhD Candidate, Communication and Media Arts Studies, McMaster University

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Featured Image: Reuters

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