Have enough conversations about Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” — we’ve certainly all had plenty this week — and outside of a couple predictable reference points, one song keeps coming up: Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.”
That’s not because the songs sound anything alike, of course: One is a tearjerking, piano-led heartbreak ballad and the other a comedic, country-tinged trap banger. But there’s just no other song from the past few years whose viral velocity “Drivers License” can be compared to, with Rodrigo’s breakout hit already blanketing social media, breaking records on streaming services and inspiring memes… and covers… and a gazillion TikTok videos — just as Lil Nas X did on his way up the charts and into Billboard Hot 100 history.
But of course, there was a crucial element that provided that extra bit of fuel in sending “Old Town Road” straight to the moon: a remix. Well, several remixes actually, but only one that permanently changed the song’s trajectory — a team-up with country icon Billy Ray Cyrus, which fleshed the song out structurally and paired Lil Nas X with the perfect co-star and foil. The song was already a runaway smash by the time of the remix, but no one would argue that the new version didn’t take it to another level.
Could a remix like that be in store for “Drivers License”? It might not even need it — after all, it’s already making history on its own — but if it does end up getting one, we have some thoughts about the guest artists who could put the song the furthest over the top with its 2.0 version.
The Logical Co-Stars
Halsey: No shortage to killer songs of romantic betrayal — you can just hear the line “You didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me?” in her wail, can’t you? — or hits rumored to be about celebrity exes, Halsey could absolutely help “Drivers License” twist the knife just that much deeper.
Charlie Puth: We’ve seen this movie before, and pretty recently: Charlie Puth showed up on the remix to Gabby Barrett’s similarly heartbroken “I Hope,” helping to make it a fixture on pop radio and a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. He’d better bring his own new verse to the table if he hopes to ride passenger on this one, though.
Lizzo: The second-most-viral star of 2019, equally adept at torch-song agony and putting the si-i-i-ing in single, could add any number of additional looks to the song — and really, it’s about time to get her back in our lives, isn’t it?
The Superstar Predecessors
Lorde: The most-cited musical reference point in “Drivers License” discussion — well, one of the two — is the New Zealand alt-pop singer/songwriter, who Rodrigo is an avowed megafan of and whose “Royals” rose similarly out of nowhere to total cultural ubiquity in the mid-’10s. If ever there was a hit song for Lorde to bring the extra Melodrama to, it’s this one.
Beyoncé: The Queen of World-Stopping Remixes, as she proved yet again in 2020 on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” redo. It hasn’t necessarily been her mode lately, but from “Me, Myself and I” to “Resentment” to Lemonade, Bey’s long proven that she does breakup anthems as well as any other great in pop history — and she could help Rodrigo out with a word or two of wisdom here.
Adele: Piano. Heartbreak. Emotions on 11. You can find someone like Adele, or you can just get Adele.
Taylor Swift: The other most-cited musical reference point in “Drivers License” discussion is one who Rodrigo openly worships, and who’s already blessed the song with her approval — and, of course, is by far the most proficient writer of targeted breakup songs in 21st century pop music. You have to think she’d jump at the chance to stick up for her “baby,” and we already know there’s nothing that she does better than revenge.
The Next-Level Connections
Miley Cyrus: One Cyrus is as effective as another, right? When you need Nashville approval and bars about living like the Marlboro Man, you go to Billy Ray, when you’re looking more for Disney and devastation, you go to Miley.
Harry Styles: Rodrigo could team up with her idol — but wouldn’t it be more interesting for her to get the guy who inspired some of her idol’s most beloved and volatile relationship songs, at least one of which was already automotive-themed? Plus, Harry’s been playing pop’s nice guy the past couple years, it’d be a blast to see him as a heel again.
Zac Efron: The best revenge is living well — or, at the very least, grabbing the starry predecessor of your rumored ex’s most famous acting role as your new co-star. Bonus points if he finds a way to work in a “Breaking Free” reference.
Alanis Morissette: There’s no “Drivers License” without Taylor Swift, and there’s no Taylor Swift without Alanis Morissette’s breakthrough single “You Oughta Know,” an ex excoriation that still feels rawer and bloodier than anything in the 25 years of breakup songs that came after it — Lord help the bad boyfriends of North America if she got the chance to sink her teeth into this one. (And in particular, best of luck to Dave Coulier, who would probably have to stay off the Internet for the rest of the decade.)
Carly Simon: It’s been a fact for nearly a half-century now: Anytime a singer-songwriter writes a pointed breakup song about an unspecified “You,” they owe Carly Simon 15% — figuratively, if not literally financially. It wouldn’t be the first time Carly’s graced the next generation of pop hitmakers with her musical and emotional support, and it’s about time she came around again.
Stevie Nicks: Speaking of Miley Cyrus. And Harry Styles. And Taylor Swift. And probably just about everyone else in the history of pop/rock and breakup songs. Just pick up the phone and give your Auntie Stevie a call, Olivia!
First Stream Latin is a compilation of the best new Latin songs, albums and videos recommended by the Billboard Latin editors. Check out this week’s picks below.
Natti Natasha x Prince Royce, “Antes Que Salga el Sol” (Pina Records/Sony Music Entertainment)
A long-overdue collaboration within the Dominican music scene, Natti Natasha kicks off 2021 teaming up with Prince Royce on “Antes Que Salga El Sol.” As opposed to what fans thought a collab would sound like between the two — a romantic bachata — Natti and Royce take a different route with a feel-good reggae-infused urban bop. The track, produced by DJ Luian, Mambo Kingz and Rafael Salcedo “Neneto,” is about two people who are looking for a good time after reconnecting. An enchanting music video, filmed in Miami by Carlos Perez of Elastic People, shows the beauty of opposites attracting.
Junior H, “La Bestia” (Warner Music Latina/Rancho Humilde)
Allowing himself to be vulnerable, rising singer-songwriter Junior H wears his heart on his sleeve in his new single titled “La Bestia (The Beast),” a guitar-heavy ballad penned by the teen. Showing off his “Sad Boyz” neck tattoo, the ultra-melancholic tune becomes the perfect canvas that Junior H’s deep and hoarse vocals match perfectly with. The 6-minute track and the music video, directed by Johnnyragr, finds a heartbroken Junior H realizing it’s time to let go of a relationship that has no future. “I am the bad one, like the beast. You are the queen, the princess. In this story, I am the fake one. You deserve someone that loves you,” he sings.
Sergio Vallin, Microsinfonías (Sergio Vallin)
Vallín, rock band Maná’s virtuoso guitarist (and frequent composer), pays homage to his instrument and to musicianship in this album of “micro symphonies” featuring legendary guitarists (Carlos Santana, Steve Vai) and legendary Latin acts (Marco Antonio Solís, Fher Olvera, Alejandro Sanz). The twist? They’re all playing instruments instead of singing, even when the song in question is one of their standards, including Solís’ percussion in “Donde Estará mi Primavera” and Sanz’s flamenco guitar in “Cuando Nadie Me Ve.” Accompanied by the Prague Symphony Orchestra, Microsinfonías rearranges pop songs into complex, often breathtaking pieces with tempo and mood variations that reflect symphonic structure, but with frequent nods to Latin rhythms. Opening and closing the set are Vallín’s own compositions, from the opening, evocative “Desnudo,” to the guitar jam tour de force that’s “Microsinfonía” with Steve Vai.
Lenny Tavarez, “La Neta” (Warner Music Latina / Kristoman)
For the most part, Lenny Tavarez is known for his sensual perreo beats and raunchy lyrics, but at the end of 2020, the Puerto Rican artist began showcasing his softer, more romantic side as heard in “La Mujer Traiciona.” Now, kicking off 2021 with fresh music, Tavarez presents “La Neta,” a flirtatious reggaeton with a very head-bopping, hip-shaking commercial sound. Produced by Dimelo Flow and penned by Tavarez, Flow, Justin Quiles and Sech, the track tells the story of a man who’s not boyfriend material but is all the rage in bed, comparing his skills to being “la neta,” which is Mexican slang for “the truth.” In the music video, filmed by Laura Castellanos in Medellin, Colombia, we see Tavarez in a Mexico setting trying to conquer the girl of his dreams as he’s chased around by her angry father. “La Neta” is the fourth single off of Tavarez’s album KRACK.
Voz de Mando, “El De Arriba” (AfinArte Music)
Voz de Mando frontman Jorge Gaxiola reflects on his trek to be a leading force in the music space in this traditional ranchera track. “El de Arriba” starts with an audio and footage of an older man who says “here’s this kid starting his career here and who will be a great artist when he’s older.” The kid happens to be the young intrepid Gaxiola who walks up to the stage to take the mic. The LA-based regional Mexican group stays true to their norteño sound led by the tuba, accordion and bajo quinto. Penned by Erika Vidrio, the corrido is Voz de Mando’s first single from their forthcoming album.
C. Tangana & Toquinho, “Comerte Entera” (Sony Music Entertainment España)
He may be known from Spain’s underground rap scene, but C. Tangana is not shying away from experimental fusions as of late. After lacing bachata rhythms, old-school reggaeton beats, and traditional flamenco in his “rumbachata” “Tú Me Dejaste De Querer,” C. Tangana drops “Comerte Entera.” On this track, el Madrileño teams up with renowned Brazilian singer and guitarist Toquinho, bringing to life a seductive bossa nova with hints of electro-tango and flamenco. Co-produced by C. Tangana, Alizzz, and multi-instrumentalist Victor Fernandez, “Comerte Entera” is a song about lust and desire. Starring Spanish actress Bárbara Lennie as the lead femme fatale and nuns riding around segways, the artistic visual was filmed by Santos Bacana in different Madrid locations including Casa Carvajal, Palacio Real, and Lhardy restaurant.
Danna Paola, K.O. (Universal Music Mexico)
Danna Paola presents her most personal album yet, K.O., taking fans on a catchy pop-urban rollercoaster in each song. “With this album, I knocked out all of the bad stuff that was killing me, emotionally,” she tells Billboard, calling it a production that represents healing. “I used it to drain everything I had in my heart. That’s why I named it ‘K.O.’ — because it was like the last punch to the heart during this whole process.” Home to 11 tracks, including “Friend de Semana” with Luisa Sonza and Aitana, and the Sebastian Yatra-assisted “No Bailes Sola,” the Mexican singer says the song order depicts the exact order that everything was occurring in her life. “I had to learn how to put myself first and I think the entire album has that vibe,” she says. In the melancholic “Amor Ordinario,” Danna poured her heart out, saying it best defines her emotional process. “Everyone that heard it felt my pain and what I went through from beginning to end. I had to understand what ordinary love meant and that I deserved better,” she said. Stream and listen to K.O. below.
Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage”
Multimillionaire Shelton has gotten some pushback for the line “Your love can make a man feel rich on minimum wage,” during a time of rampant unemployment. Your mileage may vary on whether you find the language tone deaf during these drastic times, but wealthy country artists routinely making bank on lyrics celebrating the simple life has been a staple of the genre for decades. Slight controversy aside, the song is a bonafide winner. The driving music and Shelton’s delivery give it an appealing grit that mixed with the sweetness of the message is an unbeatable combination.
Tim McGraw, Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided”
In this gently sloping mid-tempo track, co-written by Florida Georgia Line’s Hubbard, McGraw and Hubbard make a plea for an end to the divisiveness that corrodes our national discourse. “Why does it have to be all white or all black?” they ask, before declaring, “we’ve been hateful long enough.” It’s a well-intentioned if simplistic message that purposely doesn’t take a stand other than for asking for unity and looking up for answers rather than left or right. The song also serves as a reminder that there’s more that unites us than divides us, though there are certainly days when that does not feel like the case.
Florida Georgia Line, “Life Rolls On”
In advance of the duo’s fifth studio album, coming Feb. 12, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley are relentlessly upbeat about going with the flow, no matter what life throws at you, in this hand-clapping mid-tempo salute to remembering that, “as long as my heart’s beating and these old lungs keep breathing,” it’s a good day.
Kip Moore, “How High”
“How High,” a new track on Moore’s forthcoming deluxe edition of Wild World, uses pot-smoking references such as “Here I go/once again/firing you up and breathing you in,” “how high I get on you” and “I swear you keep me stoned” to compare how intoxicating he finds his lover. It’s a sexy, catchy track that captures Moore’s trademark intense gruffness. While the song is compelling, the real fun comes in the trippy video, with seeming the only connection to the song’s narrative being a line about a red balloon. Said red balloon becomes the steady companion of an older woman who dolls up and strolls through her town, swilling a stranger’s beer, handing out flowers and generally living her best life. Somehow, it all works surprisingly well.
Hailey Whitters feat. Jordan Davis, “The Ride” (you tube lyric video)
Next month, Whitters will issue a deluxe edition of her 2020 album, The Dream, but in the meantime, she’s sneaking out five of the new songs (all of which feature guests) on the bonus set. Last week we got current single “Fillin’ My Cup,” featuring Little Big Town. This week, Whitters is in especially fine form on inspirational “The Ride,” a tune about enjoying the journey—literally and figuratively— even with all the potholes. “All you dead-end boys, all you breakdown girls, thinking you’re all out of pavement like it’s the end of the world,” she sings with a lilting voice that at times recalls Kacey Musgraves. She and Davis come together at the end to sew up the song in a lovely bow.
Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You”
Following his first No. 1 single, “Pretty Heart,” Texas troubadour McCollum returns with the video for current single “To Be Loved By You,” a strummy, guitar-driven song that recalls Tim McGraw’s “Angry All The Time.” McCollum’s yearning vocals are killer here.
Mitchell Tenpenny, “Bucket List”
Like a slew of country songs out now (several this week alone), Tenpenny’s latest is a reminder to embrace your time on earth in its entirety— “love a little more, dream a little deeper, leave all the leavers, keep all the keepers” — and try to live your life so you never have to ask ‘what if.’ The video is a lovely trip through Arizona, including the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and Sedona, that ensures Tenpenny knocked a few things off his bucket list during the sumptuous shoot.
Devin Dawson, The Pink Slip EP
New music from Dawson has been a long time coming (though fans got to hear him featured on HARDY’s recent chart topper “One Beer”) since the release of his 2018 set Dark Horse. This EP ends the drought. Album opener “Range Rover” is a spiky, fun cross between Everclear’s “I Will Buy You a New Life” and Andy Grammer’s “Fine By Me.” The rest of the EP follows a similarly upbeat theme on such tracks as lead single, “I Got A Truck,” the sweet salute to his grandpa, “He Loved Her,” and the bouncy salute to resilience, “Not On My Watch.” With this set, Dawson moves in a more uplifting direction, and it suits him.
Willie Nelson, “That’s Life”
We already know there’s nothing that Nelson can’t sing, and he’s certainly proven himself to be a singular interpreter of the Great American Songbook on previous efforts, but his take on Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” still proves to be a delight. The song, the title track to his Sinatra tribute album (out Feb. 26), gives the chestnut a western swing feel, while Nelson’s inspired phrasing would have made Sinatra proud.
Marty Stuart, “I’ve Been Around”
Similar to 2014’s Lost on the River: The New Basement tapes that found musicians setting previously unreleased Dylan lyrics to music, on Johnny Cash-Forever Words (Expanded Edition), Marty Stuart turns some of Cash’s lyrics and poems into full-fledged songs. One of country music’s greatest musicians and historians, Stuart’s love in bringing his former father-in-law’s words to life is palpable. For “I’ve Been Around” he adapts a chugging, slight rockabilly tone that matches Cash’s ’50s output. The video features poignant archival footage, including that of an adoring young Stuart playing with Cash. It’s impossible to think of a better steward for Cash’s words than the mega-talented Stuart, who has not only the chops to attempt such a daunting task, but the humility and respect.
John Driskell Hopkins, “I Hate To See Good Whiskey Go To Waste”
Hopkins, a member of Zac Brown Band and co-writer of such hits as “Toes” and “Goodbye In Her Eyes,” opens this melodic heartbreaker from his Feb. 19 album, Lonesome High, singing a capella before it sweeps into a full band arrangement. It’s an emotional invitation into this classic country weeper about trying to drown your heartache in the bottom of a glass.
YFN Lucci is being held without bond after he was charged with murder this week following a fatal shootout in December, the rapper’s attorney confirmed to Billboard.
A Dec. 10 shooting in Atlanta left one man dead and another man injured. Emergency crews arrived on the scene and discovered James Adams, 28, lying on the street with a gunshot wound to his head; he died at a local hospital shortly after. Kevin Wright, 32, arrived at a nearby fire station with a gunshot wound to the abdomen that authorities believed to be in connection to the Adams shooting; Wright survived his injuries.
Lucci (real name Rayshawn Bennett) turned himself in Wednesday, one day after police announced he was wanted on a number of charges connected to the shootings, including murder. The 29-year-old rapper was booked into Fulton County jail, a spokesperson for the Atlanta Police Department confirmed to Billboard.
“Our review of the initial evidence made available to us, indicates there is no basis for any criminal charges against Rayshawn Bennett,” Lucci’s attorney, Drew Findling told Billboard on Friday (Jan. 15) in a statement. “We will continue our own investigation on his behalf.”
A video announcement from Atlanta PD on Wednesday confirmed that YFN Lucci faces the charges of felony murder, aggravated assault and participation in criminal street gang activity as well as possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. His lawyer confirmed to Billboard that he’s currently being held without bond due to a jurisdictional issue and that he’s waiting for it to be kicked up to a higher court and that bond probably won’t come for “a couple weeks.”
Days after Jhene Aiko released her expansive third album, Chilombo, last March, large portions of the United States shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The R&B veteran had to celebrate a No. 2 debut on the Billboard 200 chart while in quarantine, and weeks later, was forced to postpone her Magic Hour Tour across North America in support of the project.
Yet Chilombo overcame the unusual circumstances of 2020 and has proven to be a breakthrough project for the 32-year-old Aiko, who focused the album on summoning personal strength post-breakup and used crystal alchemy sound bowls to help craft its sound. Critical acclaim for Chilombo upon its release was followed by three Grammy nominations for the project, including an Album of the Year nod that marks Aiko’s first appearance in the Big Four categories.
Meanwhile, “B.S.,” the album’s sumptuous centerpiece featuring H.E.R., has become a smash for Aiko at R&B/hip-hop radio, notching its fifth week atop Billboard’s Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart this week and becoming her first No. 1 as a lead artist on Rhythmic Airplay. Although Aiko has enjoyed other hits at the format, including the prior Chilombo single “P*ssy Fairy (OTW),” “B.S.” represents one of the most significant radio wins of Aiko’s career — and could help her longtime label, Def Jam, deliver the singer-songwriter to Top 40 listeners.
The sustained success of “B.S.” has helped Natina Nimene, Def Jam’s senior vp of urban promotion and artist relations, earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week, as Aiko’s momentum continues to establish her as an indispensable voice in R&B. Here, Nimene discusses how “B.S.” broke through, the significance of Chilombo’s Album of the Year Grammy nod and bringing Aiko to a wider audience in 2021.
Jhene Aiko’s “B.S.” has spent five weeks atop the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. What key decisions did you make to help her achieve this feat?
Once our first single “On The Way (P***y Fairy)” entered the top 10 at urban radio, we collectively got together and decided that “B.S.” was the best choice for a follow-up single. It was a choice driven by gut instincts, good feedback from programmers and impressive streaming data. We were calculated, intentional and deliberate. There were times where we hit a wall, but we stayed committed and stuck it out long enough for the research to come back positive. We were confident it would.
At what point did you realize that “B.S.” was going to be a breakthrough for Jhene at that radio format?
There was a moment where this record just felt different than others we had taken to the format. Jhene has certainly had success; she had a No. 1 record with [2014 single] “The Worst,” she’s had top five and top 10 records with “Sativa” and “P*ssy Fairy,” but everything aligned with this single. The incredible research started to pour in, more asks and requests from radio partners began to come in and the press and praise for the album was amazing. That along with other variables officially established her as a core artist at the format, which was always our goal.
Does Def Jam plan on bringing Jhene to Top 40 radio?
My friend and colleague, [Def Jam executive vp/head of promotion] Nicki Farag, and her team absolutely plan on crossing her over as it’s time for the mainstream world to embrace Jhene. We have been developing her for seven years, and to be nominated for Album of the Year is a feat to be celebrated and amplified!
Jhene’s album Chilombo is a sprawling R&B project that also contains explorations into hip-hop, pop and modern soul. What was Def Jam’s strategy to help cater to R&B listeners while also expanding outward to new audiences?
The album certainly explores different genres, but this is nothing new for Jhene. She’s an artist’s artist and if you go back to her previous projects, you can hear all sorts of influences. Strategy-wise, we wanted to dial in to her very loyal fan base by releasing multiple pieces of content for each song, and space out the cadence patiently. Jhene’s projects are very personal to her and her approach is very methodical. Word of mouth, constant airplay and tons of dynamic content has helped expand her to a larger audience. The beautiful thing about R&B songs is that while they may take longer to break, they have staying power. Def Jam’s strategy and commitment to work this song over a four-month campaign not only ensured “B.S.” reached its highest height, but also broadened Jhene’s audience as well.
Chilombo was released in the first week of March 2020, days before the U.S. shutdown due to COVID-19. How was the promotion of “B.S.” impacted by the pandemic?
In our case, specifically, I’m not sure the shutdown really impacted our promotion. Again, Jhene is methodical and particular about what she’ll do. She wants to lead the conversation more with art and creativity than bells and whistles. Our job was to make believers and keep them believing long enough for the record to talk back.
Chilombo scored a Grammy nod for Album of the Year. What does a nomination like that represent for an artist like Jhene?
One thing I love and have always loved about Jhene is that she stays true to herself and her gift. She doesn’t try to do what’s “popular,” she makes music that feeds her soul and her fans. To be your true authentic self and still get this kind of acknowledgement and recognition is a great example for other artists and a lesson that shows them that they don’t have to change who they are to be a success.