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Joshua Bassett says it 'felt impossible' to defend himself after Olivia Rodrigo released 'Driver's License': 'It was eating me alive'

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Joshua Bassett is ready to come out on the other side of the media frenzy that's followed him since his rumored ex Olivia Rodrigo released the Grammy-nominated song "Driver's License," which is supposedly about him. Now, he's releasing his own album of songs that he wrote while processing the attention — much of it negative — that he received as a result.

"I have a right to stand up for myself," the 20-year-old singer and star of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series told GQ of the headlines written and theories spread via social media about his treatment of his 18-year-old co-star. "I'm not here to expose people. It was eating me alive, and I couldn't keep it in anymore."

Joshua Bassett opens up about the toll that
Joshua Bassett opens up about the toll that "Driver's License" took on his mental health. (Photo: Getty Images)

Fans of the Disney+ series had already suspected that Bassett and Rodrigo were dating, which fueled the theory that her breakup anthems were about him. Still, he couldn't have prepared himself for the backlash that he would face as her debut single went number one and broke Spotify streaming records.

"I would see TikToks with like 50 million views and 10 million likes saying, 'If I ever see that kid on the street, I'm going to f***ing kill him,'" Bassett told the publication. "It's hard to see that and then be living in New York and walking down the street."

Rodrigo's heightened success began to correlate with the hatred that Bassett faced online as people placed him into the narrative of each of her songs. Regardless of how people began to characterize him through that lens, however, Bassett shares that the true storyline between him and Rodrigo happened "long ago." He's inevitably grown up since.

"It's not as recent as it seems. I'm a completely different person now," he said. "I've only had three [relationships], despite what it seems."And as a result of what he's gone through with the public speculation of this one, he isn't in a place to be in a relationship right now.

While Bassett admittedly played into some of the hysteria that unraveled from Rodrigo's hit song, previously telling Yahoo Life that he was "honored to be made fun of on Saturday Night Live" during a skit that depicted grown men discussing the drama, the singer revealed that he didn't feel in a position to truly defend himself.

"I feel like a lot of this last year people haven't seen me as a human being," he said. "It sort of felt like a losing battle… If I try and defend myself in any way, it just felt impossible."

Through therapy, journaling and song writing, he finally feels ready to do just that.

"There was one night in particular. I finally let go... I scream-cried for three and a half hours to the point where I lost my voice for two weeks," he said. "I finally found the courage to speak up for myself."

The work that Bassett did on himself also led to the revelation that he had suffered from sexual abuse during his childhood. "I didn't remember that until last year, which is pretty insane. I buried it so far. And when I was a teen, a much older man routinely abused me, and I wasn't able to see it for what it was at the time," he said. 

That, too, he hopes to address and overcome through creative projects. In the meantime, he's focused on finding ways to protect himself in his daily life from the things that trigger insecurity and shame.

"I got a protector screen on my phone so people can't look at it when I'm at a coffee shop. ...There are certain people who I can't hang out with in public because they're too loud," he explained of his tactics to ensure more privacy. Overall, however, he shared that he's "so much stronger than I was before." 

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