Inside the Messy Disney Love Triangle Dominating the Pop Charts

Paige Skinner
·6 min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photos Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photos Getty

In the span of just two weeks, three Disney stars have engulfed the old and young in their bizarre love triangle.

On Jan. 7, Olivia Rodrigo, known for her acting and singing on Disney’s Bizaardvark and Disney+’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, released “drivers license,” a heartbreak song that not only immediately shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 but also twice broke Spotify’s record for most daily streams of a non-holiday song. The song quickly became an overnight phenomenon, with TikTok users creating millions of videos recreating the music video or explaining the drama behind it.

The song’s ripped-from-the-headlines backstory only added to the public’s obsession. Rodrigo has been a Taylor Swift fan since she was a kid, and Swift’s songwriting style has clearly inspired Rodrigo, who’s mined specific details of her life to tell the universal story of love lost. “I got my driver’s license last week, just like we always talked about / ‘cause you were so excited for me to finally drive up to your house,” she sings, later crooning about seeing the guy everywhere, especially in all the white cars. Fans quickly picked up on this, pointing out that Rodrigo said in an interview that her rumored former flame (and High School Musical co-star) Joshua Bassett taught her how to drive in his white car.

But maybe the most telling lyrics come when Rodrigo sings, “I bet you’re with that blond girl, who always made me doubt / she’s so much older than me, she’s everything I’m insecure about,” because as it turns out, Bassett was recently seen with a blond girl who is “so much older”—four years, which is practically a decade to a 17-year-old like Rodrigo.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett of <em>High School Musical: The Musical: The Series</em> perform onstage during the 5th Annual Elsie Fest: Broadway's Outdoor Music Festival on October 05, 2019, in New York City.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Jenny Anderson/Getty</div>

Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series perform onstage during the 5th Annual Elsie Fest: Broadway's Outdoor Music Festival on October 05, 2019, in New York City.

Jenny Anderson/Getty

Enter Sabrina Carpenter, recording artist and star of Girl Meets World and Netflix’s Work It. She’s the rumored “blond girl,” because she and Bassett were spotted together at Black Lives Matter protests over the summer and dining out in California—a year after Bassett allegedly wrote a love song about Rodrigo called “Anyone Else” in his Salt Lake City apartment while filming HSMTMTS, which Rodrigo nods to with: “I guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me” in “drivers license.” Rodrigo and Bassett seemed to be on good terms through late April, when Rodrigo liked Bassett’s tweet urging his followers to “remind someone you love them right now.” But in August, Rodrigo posted on TikTok about “failed relationships.”

How the Hell Did Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Drivers License’ Become the No. 1 Song in America?

In an attempt to tell her side of the story, the 21-year-old Carpenter released “Skin” last week, which lacks any kind of self-awareness, especially considering she’s the elder in this situation. On “Skin,” she sings, “Maybe then we could pretend there’s no gravity in the words we write / Maybe you didn’t mean it, maybe ‘blond’ was the only rhyme,” and then later, “You can try to get under my, under my, under my skin / While he’s on mine.” Bassett subsequently praised the song on his Instagram, writing, “been stuck in my head since I heard it!!!”

Oh, and Bassett has a song, too. It’s called “Lie Lie Lie,” and even though he wrote on his Instagram Story that it’s about a “friend,” fans think it’s about Rodrigo. In it, he sings, “So you’re telling them it’s all my fault / You’re the victim this time,” and in its accompanying music video Bassett hangs out a car window, which mirrors what Rodrigo does in her music video.

Both Rodrigo and Carpenter have cited Lorde and Swift as songwriting inspirations—“Taylor Swift is my songwriting idol and I wouldn’t be half of the woman and a songwriter I am today without her,” Rodrigo told NME. Carpenter said in an interview: “I think Lorde is an incredible lyricist and someone I always look up to and also musically, she does such her own thing in her own lane.” As for Bassett, he says John Mayer is his inspiration.

Somehow, by the grace of God or good publicists or possibly both, all three artists have released their own song about the love triangle in a matter of two weeks. Not only that, but Rodrigo and Bassett seemingly put their hate aside while promoting HSMTM: The Holiday Special in December, even praising each other’s prolific songwriting skills.

Rodrigo, Bassett, and Carpenter are far from the first young lovebirds to put their real-life drama to song. In 2008, an 18-year-old Swift went on The Ellen Show to tell the host and her millions of watchers that boy-bander Joe Jonas broke up with her in a 25-second phone call, and that she had written a song about it—“Forever and Always,” which was on her Grammy-winning album Fearless. There were other songs, too, like “Better Than Revenge,” where Swift sang about another girl “stealing” her boyfriend. “She’s not a saint and she’s not what you think, she’s an actress / She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress,” sang Swift. The Jonas Brothers returned fire with “Much Better,” which nodded to Swift and all the “tears on her guitar” and how “much better” the new girl was. The rumored “much better” girl was actress Camilla Belle, who doesn’t write songs, so perhaps we’ll never know her side of the story. (However, when Swift receives bad press, Belle usually tweets.)

Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake played this game, too, with “Cry Me A River” and “Everytime.” But the alleged other man in this situation, Wade Robson, was just a dancer, so he never got his chance to sing the blues or cast a Spears lookalike in a music video. Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, and Aaron Carter made comments about one another in the press and on SNL about their love triangle, but as far as songs go, there was really only ever Duff’s “Haters,” where she sang, “You say your boyfriend’s sweet and kind / But you’ve got your eyes on mine.”

Rodrigo may not have gotten the guy in the end, but she did receive Swift’s approval. “I say that’s my baby and I’m really proud,” Swift commented on Rodrigo’s Instagram photo.

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