A clip of Olivia Rodrigo joking about underage drinking has gone viral and sparked a conversation among fans about the treatment a ton of Disney stars received in the 2000s.
During an appearance on The Late Late ShowWith James Corden earlier this week, Olivia, who is 19 years old, spoke about a recent trip to London where — thanks to the UK’s legal drinking age of 18 — she was able to get into a bar without using a fake ID.
“I know that London is a favorite city of yours — that wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that you can drink alcohol at 18, would it?” James quipped, before asking if she was able to go to any pubs during her time in the UK.
In response, Olivia explained that she and a friend went to a pub, and were thrilled to realize that they wouldn’t need to use their fake IDs to get in.
“They asked for my ID as I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can show them my real ID! This is amazing!’” she said to cheers from the audience.
She went on to say that her friend had to rummage through a ton of fake IDs to actually find her real one, because being “truly legal” was such a rare occurrence for them.
Sarcastically, James proceeded to ask Olivia how it felt to drink alcohol for the very first time in her life, to which she mockingly replied: “Yeah…first time! It was amazing, yeah!”
For a bit of context, in the past few years, Olivia has become the face of a new generation of young Disney stars, first gaining recognition for appearing in the Disney Channel series Bizaardvark in 2016.
However, she began her ascent to mainstream fame in 2019 after being cast as Nina Salazar-Roberts in the much anticipated Disney+ revival of the High School Musical movies, called High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.
As many will be aware, Disney executives have historically been very strict about how their actors navigate the public eye, wanting to ensure that their young stars maintain a squeaky-clean reputation to match their kid-friendly shows.
However, the ease with which Olivia and James joked about underage drinking appears to mark a huge shift in the way that Disney monitors their young actors, and the clip ended up going viral as a result.
“Disney has loosened up so much over the years,” one Twitter user wrote, garnering over 147,000 likes and another 10,000 retweets. “Back in the day this interview would've had Olivia sent to the mouse house gulag.”
In fact, many users went on to highlight the way in which former Disney stars — including Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Vanessa Hudgens — were reprimanded and shamed for making similar statements to Olivia throughout the 2000s and 2010s.
“Miley, Selena, Demi, and Vanessa would’ve been going through,” one Twitter user replied, amassing nearly 7,000 likes.
“I just know miley, demi, and selena are pissed,” someone else agreed, noting the double standard. “I know they’re thankful that other ppl aren’t going through what they are but I would still be pissed at what took place.”
Among her former colleagues, Miley Cyrus is perhaps best known for being famously shamed by Disney and the wider public, both while she was starring in Hannah Montana between 2006 and 2011, and long after.
In 2008 — arguably at the height of her Hannah Montana fame — 15-year-old Miley found herself the subject of intense criticism after a Vanity Fair cover shoot was deemed too sexual.
In the photos shot by Annie Leibovitz, Miley appears shirtless and is holding up a sheet to her chest, looking over her shoulder at the camera with the skin on her back exposed. At the time, many felt that the images were inappropriate for a teen, and it was seemingly decided by Disney that Miley’s family-friendly image was at risk.
Disney was quick to issue a statement denouncing the images and suggested that the magazine had deliberately taken advantage of the young star to sell copies.
“Unfortunately, as the article suggests, a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines,” the spokesperson said at the time.
However, Miley herself was eventually forced to issue an apology to her fans, saying that she felt "embarrassed" by the shoot.
“I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be ‘artistic,’ and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed,” she said. “I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.”
Years later, however, Miley would retract this apology. Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the controversial cover in 2018, the singer tweeted a photograph of a New York Post article from the time, with the headline “MILEY’S SHAME,” and added the caption “IM NOT SORRY, Fuck YOU.”
Sadly, Miley’s Disney controversies did not end there. A year later in 2009, Disney actively distanced itself from the singer after she was criticized for dancing beside a pole during a performance of her song “Party in the USA” at the Teen Choice Awards.
This divided audiences, with some feeling that the performance and her “scantily clad” outfit was too “risqué” for her age and young fanbase. But after the controversy of her Vanity Fair cover, Disney seemed keen to separate itself from the debate and instead reassured parents that Hannah Montana would still be “consistent” with its “brand values.”
“Disney Channel won’t be commenting on that performance,” the network said in a statement at the time. “Although parents can rest assured that all content presented on the Disney Channel is age-appropriate for our audience — kids 6–14 — and consistent with what our brand values are.”
And even after Hannah Montana came to an end in January 2011, Miley was still tied to her wholesome image. As a result, she was once again forced to issue an apology after a video of her taking a hit from a bong was leaked online shortly after her 18th birthday in 2011.
“I'm not perfect...I made a mistake...I'm disappointed in myself for disappointing my fans,” Miley told Marie Claire at the time.
The interviewer then proceeded to ask why she felt the need to apologize for being filmed doing something that the large majority of kids her age do freely, to which the actor responded: “They’re not Miley Cyrus.”
She went on: "They're not role models. So for me it was a bad decision, because of my fans and because of what I stand for."
Shortly after this in 2012, it was announced suddenly that Miley would be replaced by Selena Gomez in the Sony animated movie Hotel Transylvania.
At the time, no reason was given for her departure, but Miley confirmed much later that she was fired after heads at Sony were made aware of photographs of the actor posing with a penis-shaped birthday cake.
A source close to the company then told the Hollywood Reporter that Sony execs were concerned about casting Miley in the family-friendly movie while she was “shedding her Disney Channel image.”
In a 2018 radio interview, Miley opened up about this time in her life and claimed that she was being controlled by “men in suits.”
“I always felt like I didn’t always have the power and always had the control, especially being a female in the industry versus the male in the industry,” she said, reflecting on her Disney days. “I felt like a lot of men in suits kind of had control over what I would do.”
“I think men have an idea they know what a female pop star should sound like or look like. When I was working on Disney there was a lot of men in the room that would decide what hair would go with what,” she added.
Shortly after the release of the second HSM movie in September 2007, Vanessa, who starred as Gabriella Montez in the franchise, was intensely criticized after being the victim of a nude photo hack.
The private images were reportedly leaked around the time that 18-year-old Vanessa was in talks to return for a third HSM movie starring alongside her then-boyfriend Zac Efron.
And despite the images being shared without her consent, Vanessa was forced to apologize for posing naked in a bid to repair her image and save the prospect of a third film.
“I want to apologize to my fans, whose support and trust means the world to me. I am embarrassed over this situation and regret having ever taken these photos. I am thankful for the support of my family and friends,” she said.
In a subsequent statement, a spokesperson for the actor said that the photo “was taken privately. It is a personal matter and it is unfortunate that this has become public.”
Disney Channel later released a statement of their own, saying that the photographs had been a “lapse in judgment.” The network wrote: “Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment. We hope she’s learned a valuable lesson.”
Of course, the third HSM movie went ahead as planned, but Vanessa recently revealed that she had been left traumatized by the privacy breach.
“It was a really traumatizing thing for me. It’s really fucked up that people feel like they are entitled enough to share something that personal with the world,” she told Cosmopolitan in 2020.
Comparing Miley and Vanessa’s experiences to Olivia’s underage drinking comments, many fans were quick to point out that, unlike her predecessors, Olivia is more closely tied to Disney+, not Disney Channel.
“I dont get these tweets bc shes on disney + which is way different from being on traditional disney channel lol,” one Twitter user said.
While this person does make a valid point, it’s important to note that Olivia did get her start on Disney Channel and — unlike a lot of Disney alumni — has successfully shed the restrictive family-friendly image.
For example, former Disney stars Zendaya and Zac Efron have both spoken at length about how hard they've had to work in order to distance themselves from the early phase of their careers, despite going on to enjoy success away from kids’ TV and movies.
In fact, when Zendaya — who gained recognition on Disney Channel shows like Shake It Up and K.C. Undercover — made the leap into more mature projects like Euphoria and Malcolm & Marie, she said that her “Disney roots” made it difficult for her to be taken seriously.
“I've played a 16-year-old since I was 16. You have to remember people also grew up with me as a child,” she told E!’s Daily Pop last year. “It's hard for people to wrap [their heads] around the idea that I am grown in real life, even though I do play a teenager on television still.”
“Because of the Disney kid thing, I get scared of that kind of thing,” she said in a subsequent interview with Variety. “[Disney Channel is] where I started, and I learned so much from that experience. It's just kind of been this slow progression, and I am happy that it's all been to prove it to myself and not to anybody else.”
But it’s not just Olivia’s comments that seem to suggest just how much times have changed for Disney, its stars, and its audience.
In response to the viral clip, one Twitter user noted the release of the new kids' movie Turning Red — which is about a Chinese Canadian girl navigating hormonal changes during puberty — marks a real shift in Disney’s messaging, particularly when it comes to their female actors.
“They literally just had a movie about a girl going through her first period. Time really has [changed] in the last 15 years at Disney,” they wrote, noting what it took for the company to reach this stage. “It’s a great thing, but look at what had to happen to get here, all the ‘controversies’ of past Teen Disney kids.”