By Micheal Goussios
In recent years, celebrity drama has reached an all time high, and with the generalization of social media, rumours and gossip have found even wider spreading grounds. One of the most prevalent scandals of 2021 was a messy and musical love triangle between Disney Channel actors Olivia Rodrigo, Joshua Bassett, and Sabrina Carpenter. It may seem like this debacle originated from Rodrigo’s smash-hit drivers license released in the first week of 2021, but to fully understand the entire situation, we have to start at the beginning.
In November of 2017, it was announced that Disney was planning to produce a television series adaptation of their successful High School Musical films. With discussions about an upcoming Disney streaming service, this new series was promised to be one of the first original projects for the platform. In early 2019, months before the official launch of Disney+, pictures of Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett standing in front of the iconic East High School Building were posted on Instagram. The former Disney Channel stars, from Bizaardvark and Stuck in the Middle respectively, had each gained some familiarity among Disney viewers, and fans were excited to see them star in the series. On November 8, 2019, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series premiered with an entertaining pilot featuring Rodrigo and Bassett as co-leads, and portraying ex-lovers. Throughout the season, the show gained a great deal of popularity with young viewers. Weekly episodes allowed fans to join together each Friday and enjoy a light-hearted show filled with music and teenage love plots. By the end of the season, Nini and Ricky, played by Rodrigo and Bassett, rekindled their relationship with an emotional and affectionate scene, sealed with a finale kiss. It was later revealed that the majority of Bassett’s final monologue, known as his, “I Love You Speech,” to Nini (Rodrigo) was improvised. He was originally instructed to, “reminisce about memories Ricky and Nini had shared.” After a talk with the director, Tim Federle, Bassett ended up mostly improvising the scene and instead included memories of Rodrigo and himself. Rodrigo was unaware of the spontaneous alteration of the speech, and her reaction was essentially genuine. After viewers discovered this, and watched as their love progressed throughout the series, fans speculated that the chemistry between the two wasn’t just fictional. The connection their characters displayed led to rumours that the pair was a couple in real life. The first season of the show ended in January 2020, and that same month, in multiple interviews, Rodrigo and Bassett called each other their “best friend.” Denying all allegations that they were a couple, the two still showed chemistry in all interviews and press surrounding the show. December to February of 2020 is the estimated time period that fans suspect their relationship began.
In March 2020, just after lockdown had begun, rumours continued to fly. Rodrigo posted an original song on her Instagram with love lyrics that seemed to directly describe her co-star. The following month, Bassett released his official debut single entitled, “Common Sense,” a love song with very dreamy lyrics about an unconfirmed inspiration. Rodrigo posted on Instagram praising the song and Bassett’s talent, further solidifying fan speculation that the track was about her. Although unconfirmed, it is believed that the two broke up within the month after the release of Bassett’s single. In interviews and social media posts in the following months, Rodrigo hinted that she had recently been in a breakup. She posted a TikTok video captioned “…and that’s on failed relationships,” as well as posting a picture wearing a shirt that says, “Dump Him,” on Instagram. In June 2020, a new member was added to the relationship drama, Sabrina Carpenter, another former Disney actress. Bassett and Carpenter were first publicly spotted together at a BLM protest in June 2020, but were unofficially seen together in May. In July 2020, Bassett released his second single entitled, “Anyone Else.” Fans believe this affectionate song was about his new rumoured girlfriend, Sabrina Carpenter, as the music video included shots of a mystery girl that looked like her and even had directing credits of Carpenter’s sister. The pair had been spotted on other public outings together in the subsequent months. Meanwhile, around the same time, Rodrigo posted another original song to her Instagram called drivers license. I’m sure most people are familiar with this heartbreaking track, officially released a few months later, but the timeline of this song further proves Rodrigo and Basset’s breakup. On Halloween 2020, Bassett and Carpenter wore a couple’s costume and dressed up as Sharkboy and Lavagirl. In the following months, they were spotted a few more times, but it wasn’t until January 2021 that the love triangle was truly put under the spotlight.
In the weeks leading up to January 8, 2021, Rodrigo teased her upcoming debut single. After posting an acoustic snippet of the song, fans that had been following her career on social media immediately recognized it as her song drivers license. After confirming that the single was in fact her previously unreleased song from July, fans were even more excited. When the day finally came, the song reached immediate success. Although some fans were already invested in the relationship between Bassett and Rodrigo, the release of drivers license blew up their situation completely. Speculation and theories about the song and their relationship spread all over social media, specifically TikTok. The lyrics left people heartbroken and led some to attack Bassett himself. One of the original lyrics from the 2020 draft of the single was, “You’re probably with that brunette girl.” When officially released, the lyrics were changed to “blonde girl,” leaving fans to immediately attack Sabrina Carpenter, the light-haired and rumoured new girlfriend of Bassett. Just as the song brought forth a massive wave of emotion in the younger generation, a wave of hate and anger came along with it. Both Carpenter and Bassett had their comment sections and Twitter accounts flooded with hate comments and even death threats. The song gained so much attention that it broke Spotify’s record for most streamed song in a day, and eventually went on to become the most streamed song of the year. Drivers license went straight to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for eight weeks. Just as Olivia went to the top, Bassett and Carpenter were heading to the bottom. On January 14th, Bassett was admitted to the hospital after experiencing “unimaginable pain,” and later found out it was septic shock and heart failure. He was the sickest patient in the hospital and was told by doctors that if he had not come in when he did, his chances of living would’ve been slim to none. The cause of the incident was stress, following all of the drama in the six days since the release of Rodrigo’s single. Still drowning in hate, and remaining in the hospital, Bassett released a single entitled Lie Lie Lie the next day. He made it clear that the song was written a year prior and was about an old, untrustworthy friend. Although the song featured lyrics such as, “…you’re acting oh so innocent, like I’m the only one to blame,” fans believed Bassett was telling the truth. The song was also scheduled for its release before drivers license came out, so it couldn’t have been a response. Although fans trusted that the song had nothing to do with the current situation, things got much more complicated a week later. Abruptly, on a Thursday night almost two weeks after the release of drivers license, Sabrina Carpenter posted on her Instagram, teasing a single set to release at midnight. The next day, a song entitled Skin was put out and it shook up the entirety of the situation. This song was quite obviously a callout to Rodrigo with lyrics such as, “Maybe blonde was the only rhyme,” referring to Rodrigo’s song mentioning a blonde girl. It also says, “you’ve been telling your side so I’ll be telling mine.” Fans even thought the lyric, “Don’t drive yourself insane,” was referencing the title of Rodrigo’s song, drivers license. Some skeptics questioned how she could write, produce, and release the single within the span of two weeks, but the direct callouts in Skin were too compelling to deny it. Fans stated that this was low and embarrassing for a then 21-year-old to be calling out a then 17-year-old. The drama stayed alive and headlines continued coming out about the Disney love triangle. The situation was most likely made even more awkward by the fact that Bassett and Rodrigo were filming season two of their Disney+ show at the time, where they played an on screen couple. Bassett released a self-titled EP in March that was originally supposed to include a song called, “We Both Know,” featuring Sabrina Carpenter. After the scandal, the song was dropped from the EP and replaced with a solo single. On April 1, 2021, Rodrigo released her follow-up single to drivers license called deja vu. The lyrics talked about an ex-lover that went on to repeat their relationship with another girl. This added fuel to the fire and painted the picture with Joshua and Sabrina to fit the story arc. The song included vague lyrics that could loosely fit Carpenter, including, “Another actress, I’d have to think that I was just your type.” Weeks later, Bassett posted on his Instagram story congratulating Rodrigo on her single and upcoming album. In May of 2021, Rodrigo released her full debut studio album, SOUR, which broke even more records, but didn’t add much more to the situation itself. Although unconfirmed, Rodrigo was rumoured to be dating Adam Faze, a tv and film producer six years older than Rodrigo herself. In that same month, in a previously recorded press interview, Bassett was asked about his love for Harry Styles. After talking extensively about one of his idols, and being prompted to keep going by the interviewer, Bassett finished his statement by saying, “I guess this is my coming out video.” After the interview was released, including his semi-joking remark, the clip had been shared all around the internet and Bassett was even trending on Twitter. Some believed it was a joke, and were hurt by his mockery, but others believed he had genuinely come out. After a day of speculation, Bassett posted on Instagram and TikTok with an original song accompanied with a heartwarming caption. He spoke about how all of his life, people had asked and made assumptions about his sexuality. He said he has finally learned to love himself and is happy being who he truly is. He signed off with a line of rainbow hearts and left fans proud that he could be comfortable in his own skin. Although he received a lot of support, more hate piled on to the copious amount he had already received throughout the year. There were more hateful comments and death threats sent directly towards him. People immediately made comments attacking him as well as Rodrigo and Carpenter discussing how the two girls were fighting over a “gay boy,” despite the fact that Bassett had not disclosed his specific sexuality. The situation laid to rest for the next couple of months. Aside from the occasional interview question, there were no major developments in the Disney love triangle. This remained true until December 2021, when new input introduced different perspectives and an entirely brand-new narrative that changed the entire situation we once knew.
To Be Continued…