We’re barely halfway through 2021, but it’s hard to think of the breakout stars of the year without mentioning Olivia Rodrigo. In January, the High School Musical: The Musical: The Series actress took over every single music streaming platform with her single “Drivers License.” The 18-year-old singer broke records such as the most streamed non-holiday song on Spotify and even inspired an SNL skit dedicated to how addicting the bridge was. Yet, her second single, “Deja Vu,” proves that Rodrigo’s success wasn’t just beginner’s luck, but the promise of one of the best up-and-coming songwriters in the music industry.
Released on April 1, “Deja Vu” features similar elements as “Drivers License”: breakups, old memories, and—perhaps a fun little recurring theme—driving. However, if “Drivers License” was an angst-ridden trip down memory lane, “Deja Vu” is a much angrier ride. Instead of missing her ex, Rodrigo examines his relationship with his new girlfriend, realizing that he is just reliving all of their old memories with someone else. There is a certain bitterness as she watches the two perform “reruns” of their relationship, asking her ex-lover, “So when you gonna tell her that we did that, too? / She thinks it’s special, but it’s all reused.”
Part of what makes the song work so well is Rodrigo’s songwriting. She easily writes lyrics that speak to specific moments and memories, but simultaneously manages to be relatable. She spends most of the verses setting the scenes that her ex is re-playing with his new partner, from “car rides to Malibu” to “watching reruns of Glee.” However, in the chorus, she spins those memories from concrete descriptions into abstract feelings: Malibu becomes “our place, I found it first.” Glee becomes “the show we talked about.” It’s a simple but genius move, as Rodrigo turns her memories into something universal: watching an ex turning your memories into something he shares with someone new—an ultimate betrayal.
“Deja Vu” also showcases more of Rodrigo’s signature style: an unforgettable bridge. “Deja Vu” might not inspire as many TikTok trends as its predecessor, but it’s impressive nevertheless. A final kick in the guts, Rodrigo points out once again the memories her ex is recreating, asking him to not “act like we didn’t do that shit, too.” While there is anger, there is also a certain pity towards the girl who is reliving them without knowing it: “Play her piano, but she doesn’t know / That I was the one who taught you Billy Joel.” It is an emotionally complex section, but it’s also another clever songwriting move—Rodrigo takes back listeners to the same memories as she did earlier in the song, literally giving them déjà vu as she sings: “A different girl now, but there’s nothing new / I know you get déjà vu.”
The second single of Rodrigo’s debut album Sour (2021), “Deja Vu” runs the risk of being overlooked when compared to its companions. It lacks the viral sensationalism of “Drivers License,” and it doesn’t bring the iconic punk edginess of the final single, “Good 4 U.” However, make no mistake: “Deja Vu” is possibly the best song of the three. Filled with heartbreaking lines, clever songwriting, and emotional explorations, the track feels right at home in Sour. At the very least, it had the very difficult challenge of following up its predecessor’s instant success. It not only did that, but it did that easily, confirming that Rodrigo is truly an artist to watch out for in the next few years.