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How Olivia Rodrigo Is Healing My Inner Child As A Filipina American

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

I may be two weeks older than her, but I want to be Olivia Rodrigo when I grow up. I don’t mean that I want to be a pop star, floating around on a crescent moon in Madison Square Garden. My talents align way more with watching Disney Channel than acting on it. I have no desire to walk at the Met Gala in a stunning purple gown — I’m content judging everyone’s looks at home in my pajamas. But as I watch Olivia do all of these things, I can’t help but want to be as confident and fierce as her — especially as a fellow Filipina American.

As a kid, my knowledge of Filipino American celebrities was quite limited. I knew Arnel Pineda, the lead singer of Journey, because my mom’s a fan. I had watched Vanessa Hudgens on High School Musical countless times, but I didn’t even know she was Filipina because her character in the movie isn’t. No one on TV spoke Tagalog like my family. No celebrities looked like my family. Being mixed, there were some that resembled me, but they were never quite right; red carpets seemed full of pop stars with blonde hair and blue eyes — gorgeous, but not me. At the time, I was too young to know it bothered me, but it did. I remember my mom taking me to buy a doll from Barbie & the Diamond Castle when I was five, and I chose the Alexa doll over the Liana, a.k.a. Barbie, doll because she had brown hair and tanner skin. To me, the Alexa doll was Filipina, and she was all I had.

Flash forward to January 8, 2021, the night Olivia released “drivers license.” We were both 17 and about to have our worlds changed; she was about to have a hit song that would take her from Disney girl to international pop star, and I was about to become the biggest Olivia Rodrigo fan known to man. I knew who Olivia was from watching a couple of episodes of Bizaardvark and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series before, so I decided to tune in to “drivers license” right when it dropped — and I can boast that I was in the first 500k streams of the song, thanks to a Spotify popup. Like the rest of the world, I fell in love with it instantly, but screaming “red lights, stop signs” in my bedroom isn’t what’s significant about that night for me. That night while scrolling through social media, I learned she’s mixed Filipina, just like me.

I’ve been hooked on Olivia’s music ever since — if you’re ever in a life-or-death trivia situation and need someone who can recite all her songs from memory, I’m your girl — and I would be even if she wasn’t Filipina. But I get a different feeling watching her perform than with my other favorite artists: she’s filling the void of representation from my childhood, and I feel like a little kid again. It’s empowering to see a Filipina screaming and jamming on an electric guitar on stage, unapologetically loud and emotional. It’s healing to hear her call herself “so American” and a “perfect all-American bitch,” as an Asian because it feels like a reclamation of the label. It’s cathartic to hear her sing about beauty standards in “jealousy, jealousy,” “lacy,” and “pretty isn’t pretty,” knowing that it came from someone of my ethnic background. I’m not alone in feeling this way. Olivia once told V Magazine that she gets “DMs from little girls being like, “I’ve never seen someone who looked like me in your position.” And I’m literally going to cry. Like just thinking about it. I feel like I grew up never seeing that. Also it was always like, “Pop star,” that’s a white girl.”

I wish I had Olivia when I was a little girl to teach me that pop stars don’t have to be white girls, but I’m so glad I have her now. I’m not writing pop hits like Olivia, but I will always see myself in everything she does. Whether she’s performing a sold-out arena show or accepting the award for Billboard’s Woman of the Year, it feels like I’m on the stage with her. Like her accomplishments, somehow, are mine too.

So, go ahead. Ask me who I want to be when I grow up. The answer is always going to be the same: Olivia Rodrigo, because she makes me feel like I can accomplish anything.

Hanna is an English major at UCLA, from Los Angeles, California. She loves traveling, attending concerts, and writing about her favorite music.