Olivia Rodrigo’s highly-anticipated sophomore album “GUTS” was released earlier this month on Sept. 8, following her wildly successful debut “SOUR” which earned her three Grammys. Many have theorized where the young pop star may take her music — will she lean into the breakup ballads, or will she muster up her more angsty side? With hits such as “brutal,” “driver’s license,” and “good 4 u” to base all assumptions off of, the possibilities were endless.
Rodrigo’s response to the theories was a 12-track lineup of made-for-radio melodies, experimental guitar riffs, and lyrics that sting the listener with humor and candor. In a foray away from the breakup songs that define “SOUR,” Olivia explores themes of insecurity, jealousy, heartbreak, and manipulation. Rather than switching it up, Rodrigo uses “GUTS” as an opportunity to hone in what “Olivia Rodrigo” actually sounds like.
To start off the album, “all-american bitch” is the quintessential coming-of-age movie opening credit scene song. The sickly-sweet ballad launches into the classic Americana rock sound — you can quite literally envision the protagonist driving to school and pulling into the lot at the same time as her lifelong rival as the chorus hits. With lyrics that harp on the dichotomy of what young women are expected to be, this is the angry song you turn on when you need to scream along with Olivia shrieking into the microphone. I recommend that Rodrigo consult the multitude of vocal coaches that teach the edgier artists how to produce a scream that doesn’t destroy their voices but also doesn’t sound like you’re avoiding noise complaints from an upstairs neighbor.
“GUTS” employs a flawless transition from the opening track to “bad idea, right?” that is not lost on the listener. The second track is fast-paced and upbeat, and also includes some experimentation with guitar solos. Rodrigo’s lyrics reference hooking up with an ex even when she knows it’s an unhealthy decision — as one Internet trend calls it, a “canon event” for most adolescent women. Whether you’re currently living it or reminiscing about your own “bad idea,” Rodrigo reaches all ages with this near-universal female experience.
To take it down a notch, Rodrigo follows up with the softer “vampire,” which was released as a single to tease fans. A beautiful ballad about being manipulated and exploited, the song is anything but calm. Olivia leans into her vocal expertise as the song progresses and escalates. Thank you, Olivia Rodrigo, for keeping “fame-fucker” in the lyrics. It completes the track, which emotionally primes listeners for the next track, “lacy.” The fourth song on “GUTS” is stunningly feminine, creating the perfect setting for Rodrigo to deliver a ballad that runs between themes of envy and sapphic infatuation. While this track is definitely about being so obsessed with a person you hate, this particular listener will most definitely be leaning into the LGBTQ+ interpretations. I am but a girl with a gay ax to grind.
“ballad of a homeschooled girl” brings the energy back up with a more alternative style, using a full band and even emphasized bass guitar. This song is the opposite of a ballad, more like a callback to 90s girl bands in which Olivia opens up about embarrassing herself every time she leaves the house. She doesn’t fit in with her peers and she uses humorous lyrics to convey just how awkward and out of place she feels — “I thought your mom was your wife” is among my favorite lines.
The following track sits listeners down and confides in them, discussing the cognitive dissonance between one’s true self and the one that others see. “making the bed” has been interpreted by many to be Rodrigo admitting that fame is her bed that she has made and must now lie in. However, I found a different meaning behind the lyrics on my first listen. I heard the story of a young woman who doesn’t like the person she is around others, but she also hates the person she is when she’s on her own. In her emotional delivery, she realizes that there are many negative emotions harbored in her sense of self — in all versions of that self.
“logical” takes fans back to the heartbreak ballads they fell in love with Olivia Rodrigo for. This gorgeous track opens and closes with soft piano and vocals, and an orchestral swell in its climax. Rodrigo credits Julia Michaels as co-writer on this song about a deeply manipulative relationship that makes one stop trusting their own judgment.
Personally, “get him back!” is one of the tracks I’d place lower down in my ranking. The vocal-layering in the chorus is a frequently used technique in pop music, and while I can understand practicing other artists’ styles to test your own skills, this track sounds too much like mid-2010s Taylor Swift for me to give it a five-star rating.
“love is embarrassing” is a song I would deem to be background music. The track is another variation of “drivers license,” “deja vu,” and “logical,” but injects a more self-deprecating energy behind the lyrics. It seems here, though, Rodrigo is confident in her sound.
Do yourself a favor and add “the grudge” to every remotely “sad” playlist. This slow-paced song left me nearly in tears the first time I heard it, akin to the memory of when I first heard “drivers license.” Rodrigo has penned another song of heartbreak, but this time she focuses on the anger of being unable to forgive the person who destroyed her. Just. Go. Listen.
“pretty isn’t pretty” is also background music, and I mean that as a compliment. While the song touches on impossible beauty standards, it employs guitar and drum riffs that are reminiscent of indie pop songs that play in the coolest hometown coffee shop.
Finally, “teenage dream” closes Olivia Rodrigo’s second album with her message for everyone who constantly mentions her age. Terrified that she has grown up past being perceived positively by the public and has used all her talent, Olivia’s voice is haunting in this song. The bridge uses falling strings to send a shiver up the listener’s back before ending the entire album with a faint snippet of what I’m assuming is a home video.
As a whole, “GUTS” was a well-produced and curated album, which Olivia Rodrigo used to hone in and polish her existing skills from “SOUR.” Rather than changing her sound entirely, she experimented with other common techniques in pop music spanning across decades. It is obvious that Oliva put a ton of care and attention into this album.
One thing that is uncertain as of right now is whether or not Rodrigo learned her lesson from “SOUR:” to credit your influences. In a day and age where receiving credit is taken much more seriously than in previous times, she’s already lost many royalties on her music when she retroactively added co-writer credits to Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff, Hayley Williams, and Josh Farro. Based on the attention paid to the rest of the album, I think Olivia Rodrigo will find success with this release, along with a solid foundation in the music industry and gaining some credibility as a popstar who can hold her own.