Now Reading: Op-Ed: Olivia Rodrigo, Disney Stars, and the Importance of Making Things Messy


Op-Ed: Olivia Rodrigo, Disney Stars, and the Importance of Making Things Messy

May 26, 20217 min read

Olivia Rodrigo is the hottest name in the music game right now. After the roaring success of her debut album, SOUR, Rodrigo is proving the versatility of being a young Disney star in ways former starlets were shamed. SOUR captures the essence of messiness as a teenager: from heartbreak to revenge, and everything in between. As both an actor for Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical, The Series, as well as an independent musical artist, Rodrigo is expanding what it means to be a Disney Channel star in 2021. Former Disney actors gone musicians, from Selena Gomez to Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, have all been expected to keep a squeaky clean image as if their being on Disney Channel is a responsibility that follows them into adulthood. Cyrus, most notably, faced the largest amount of backlash after 2013’s Bangerz, for which she was chastised for being too “provocative” for a Disney star. Cyrus has since found her space in the world of music, balancing her acting past with her wildly successful music career, but that doesn’t reverse the criticism she encountered in 2013.

So in 2021, it’s refreshing to see Rodrigo maintain both her Disney stardom and honest songwriting, without being criticized for either. SOUR is proof that the role of Disney actors as role models doesn’t have to be tainted by more mature works of music, and by Rodrigo’s example, the door is open to future Disney Channel actors open to expanding their career.

Image via Olivia Rodrigo.

The Disney Trap

The “Disney Channel Star Gone Bad” narrative is one that’s stayed highly controversial in the media since the mid-2000s. Definitively, being a Disney Channel star comes with the implication of being a squeaky-clean, family-friendly actor who is as pure and wholesome on-screen as they are off of it. Because of the large number of children who watch Disney Channel, this expectation isn’t baseless, but it is exceedingly strict in the way it’s monitored by the media. When many household Disney Channel stars started out, they were young kids, and the expectation of maintaining innocence and good behavior was natural. However, the unrealistic expectation that is imposed by the media is that Disney Channel stars will continue to be as innocent and unproblematic as they were when they were children and young teenagers as they grow up. Disney Channel stars, for this reason, were often highly scrutinized when they broke this perfect image. Bella Thorne, who felt limited working with Disney, was mauled by the media for growing up and finding herself after leaving the network.

With these sky-high expectations, it’s no wonder that Disney Channel stars who break out of the perfect mold they’re shoved into make headlines. Rodrigo, who got her start on Disney’s Bizaardvark, had the luxury of coming to stardom at a time where her Gen Z peers have seen the damaging impacts of the media on Disney Channel stars. Arguably, Disney Channel has not produced as big of a star as Rodrigo in a few years, so her ability to avoid the Disney innocence trap is vital to the reworking of public perception regarding Disney Channel stars.

The Importance of SOUR‘s Success

From the album’s first few seconds, Rodrigo exclaims that she wants the album to be “messy.” She succeeds with this intention, producing tracks that tug at heartstrings and ignite fires. SOUR is teenage angst conveyed through music and a complete subversion of what’s expected of a Disney star. The beauty of Rodrigo’s stardom is that her music has overpowered her image as a Disney Channel actor. She’s garnered more acclaim for her chart-topping singles than for her roles on Bizaardvark and HSMTMTS, both of which are not as massively popular as a classic Disney show, like Hannah Montana, was. For that reason, Rodrigo’s primary success as a musician and secondary success as a Disney star is a swing of the pendulum in a positive direction, proving a star can use Disney as a way to propel their career but not receive the negative side effects of the high expectations.

SOUR‘s positive acclaim is the new precedent for Disney stars who don’t want to be confined to the Disney mold. It’s okay to be messy, Rodrigo proves. It’s okay to defy the expectations of Disney stardom, especially when it’s to promote a message that is so resonant with so many people. SOUR is a promise to Disney stars of yesteryear that their struggles with the media are no longer the norm, and they never should have been. Rodrigo is blazing a new trail for Disney actors and proving there is so much more to being on Disney Channel than the expectation to be perfect.

Rodrigo’s Impact

Rodrigo, with the help of Gen Z, is ushering in a new age of Disney stardom. It’s messy and creative and human: it’s what Disney Channel stars should have always been allowed to be. Her success is a beacon, calling new-age Disney stars to be themselves and embrace the messiness of teenage experiences, even if that means betraying the imposed perfection of Disney Channel. There’s no telling how celebrity culture and the treatment of Disney stars will change in the next few years, but Rodrigo’s breakout album inspires hope that things can be different for the young actors who are only human on a network that holds them to an extreme standard. Rodrigo is doing what so many Disney stars before her never got the chance to do while on the air: she’s being herself. And Disney, the fans love it.

Featured Image via YouTube.

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Sophia Moore

Sophia Moore is an 18-year-old writer based in Southern California. Her work focuses on culture, entertainment and politics. You can keep up with her on Twitter @scribblersoph.