Olivia Rodrigo gained another No. 1 in her domination of the charts with her smash debut single “drivers license” this week, as the surprise hit reached No. 1 on Pop Airplay in just seven weeks. To put that in perspective, that’s the shortest ascent to the top since Ed Sheeran’s world-conquering “Shape Of You” in 2017, and the fastest to No. 1 for a female lead artist’s debut in nearly 20 years, since Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” shot to the top of the chart in the summer of 2001.
It’s another feather in the cap for Rodrigo, and another big victory for Interscope Geffen A&M president of promotion Brenda Romano, who earns the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week. (Geffen Records released “drivers license,” and Interscope handles its radio promotion.) In addition to promoting “drivers license” to its standout peak — the song is also Geffen’s first Pop Airplay No. 1 since 2007 — Romano and her team have broken records with Billie Eilish, who last month became the solo artist with the most No. 1s on Alternative Airplay in the chart’s history (“Therefore I Am” also sits at No. 5 on Pop Airplay this week), and crossed Machine Gun Kelly from the rap charts to the rock and pop charts, where his blackbear collaboration “My Ex’s Best Friend” remains at its No. 11 peak on Pop Airplay this week.
Here, Romano talks about the breakout success for Rodrigo’s debut, the strategy for Eilish’s rollout and Interscope Geffen A&M’s long track record of breaking new artists at radio.
“drivers license” reached No. 1 on Pop Airplay in just seven weeks. What key decisions did you make to help that song achieve that feat?
Upon release, “drivers license” set streaming records, dominating the DSPs. [Geffen Records General Manager] Lee L’Heureux and I spoke about going for Top 40 and HOT AC immediately, and we did.
When a song is that big of a smash on streaming right out of the gate, how do you approach the radio strategy? Does it make the job easier or harder?
It’s wonderful when you have the opportunity to go to radio with a song that has tons of interest and passion from millions of people. But it’s not just about the data. Radio loved the song and wanted to jump in and be a part of Olivia’s story from the beginning, and they are, in a very big way.
With a huge hit right out of the gate, how do you follow it up at radio?
Easy answer: With a great follow-up song, and Olivia has one. She is an extremely gifted singer/songwriter and an artist with true vision who’ll be with us for a very long time.
Last month, Billie Eilish broke the record for most No. 1s ever among soloists at Alternative Airplay. What has been the strategy for Billie at radio?
We didn’t rush. Our partner Justin Lubliner, the founder/CEO of Darkroom, brought Billie to Interscope when she was only 14 years old. Justin has great instincts. We released a lot of records at streaming without taking them to radio. The discussions with Justin about radio were constant and ongoing. Alternative was the most natural fit, and when it was time, we leaned into that format first. Along with Justin, we took a very open-minded approach by working different songs at different formats, even though Billie was a new artist. Eventually, “Bad Guy” was a No. 1 song at both the Alternative and Top 40 formats. Billie’s managers, Danny Rukasin and Brandon Goodman, are amazing to work with, too. They supported our efforts at radio in a big way and helped us partner with every broadcasting outlet.
Interscope has developed a strong track record with breaking new artists at various radio formats over the past several years. How has breaking new artists at radio changed over the years?
Radio doesn’t have to be first anymore. Some songs need to go to radio immediately for a variety of reasons. Others that become massive radio hits may need a running start before impacting. It’s really a song-by-song decision based on our read and when the time is right.
How has promoting a record changed during the pandemic?
It has and it hasn’t. The basics haven’t changed — good music, good relationships and good communication are constants. We’re getting it done over email and Zoom, but it will be great when we can safely visit our friends at radio again. We really miss them.