The Music Moment: Olivia Rodrigo Opens Up on GUTS

3 mins read

Grade: B

More than two years after the release of her wildly-successful debut album SOUR, Olivia Rodrigo finally released the long-anticipated GUTS on September 8th. The Disney-actress-turned-pop-star drew listeners in with her first album, which revolved heavily around adolescence and heartbreak. Now, GUTS is bold, unafraid, and authentic, but feels dryly unoriginal in its sonic choices. The album touches on topics like forgiveness and yearning, and details Rodrigo’s reluctant conformance to societal expectations. She also sings about tried-and-true classics of growing older and heartache. Rodrigo’s audience—which consists primarily of female adolescents—was mostly humored and pleasantly surprised by her choices, though not blown away. 

The album kicks off with the sardonically-titled “all-american b****,” which takes an unapologetic twist at the chorus to become reminiscent of Avril Lavigne’s distinct sound. “I know my place, and this is it,” Rodrigo screams. Anyone listening to Rodrigo for the first time would be taken aback by the song’s—and entire album’s—unashamed angle into rock.

The pre-released single “bad idea right?” was Rodrigo’s first break from SOUR’s thematic synonymity, and featured a harmonious mesh of speak-singing and layered vocals. Listening to the song conjures images of the kind of classic teenage thrill-seeking pettiness depicted in John Hughes movies. “And I’m sure that I’ve seen much hotter men / But I really can’t remember when,” is a memorable line.

“lacy” is stripped-back and endearing. It’s a piercing love song, and the only one on Rodrigo’s discography that depicts a still unshattered romance, though plagued with jealousy. “You poison every little thing I do,” she shyly confesses. 

The catchy “ballad of a homeschooled girl” meanwhile, stands in clear sonic contrast. The track has a misleading title—it’s messy, exasperated, and anything but a ballad. Rodrigo expresses her frustrations with her dramatically atypical upbringing—not everybody did their chemistry homework on Disney channel sets, though her experiences could be interpreted more universally—by humorously admitting, “Everything I do is tragic / Every guy I like is gay.” The louder, drum-infused, and outspoken approach present in the song is the album’s most noticeably persistent motif. 

“get him back!” echoes this—the track is simply fun, and the spoken voices in the background complement Rodrigo’s countless reminders of the title’s clever double-meaning; she wants revenge, but also reconciliation. The song doesn’t take itself too seriously, given away by its rallying bubblegum pop chorus.

“love is embarrassing” is the album’s shortest song, lacking enough runtime to become anything more than overly literal filler. The record itself is a typical length—clocking in at almost forty minutes—but the brief runtime of each song denies Rodrigo the opportunity to consider topics past the four-minute mark. Having previously expressed making songwriting her number one priority, her habit for creating short-lived songs seems to limit her potential and has prevented her from thoroughly sharing any ideas.

The album’s standout is “making the bed,” which features somber and painfully honest lyrics that grapple with isolation, accountability, and fame. Rodrigo describes a dream: “I’m driving through the city and the brakes go out on me.” In a song that focuses heavily on Rodrigo’s dissatisfaction with her life, this lyric serves as a subtle callback to the “drivers license” era and how her unexpected success has become both a blessing and a curse. “making the bed,” placed near the halfway mark, perfectly exemplifies Rodrigo’s desire to move past the restraints of her debut by embracing new sounds and expressing a wider range of emotions. Though Rodrigo admits to feeling out of control, she understands her autonomy and is willing to take responsibility for her own decisions.

The final two songs of the album focus on the unrealistic expectations society places on her, as both an artist and a woman. Dreamy instrumentals reminiscent of The Cure in “pretty isn’t pretty” are quickly countered by anguished lyrics that speak to unattainable beauty standards and Rodrigo’s own insecurities. “I could try every lipstick in every shade but I’d still feel the same,” she concedes. 

In her final song, the pretty yet repetitive “teenage dream,” Rodrigo addresses both her fear that she missed out on childhood and uncertainty over the future. It is the real “ballad of a homeschooled girl.” Despite singing about her 19th birthday, Rodrigo is now 20 and beyond her teenage years. In SOUR’s opener “brutal,” she had asked, “Where’s my f****** teenage dream?” Now, in response, she seems to be wondering when it will be over.

GUTS journeys into uncharted territory for Rodrigo, featuring far more complex lyrical themes and startling production choices than SOUR. However, with many songs bearing close resemblance to the successes of older artists, the album lacks a sense of novelty. Memorable tracks like “making the bed” and “pretty isn’t pretty” highlight Rodrigo’s songwriting, while songs like “vampire” and “the grudge” fall into SOUR’s safety net of breakup songs. In “get him back!” producer Dan Nigro asks, “Is this the song with the drums?” The definitive answer is yes, this is the album of the drums, with Rodrigo attempting to march to the beat of her own.

Allegra Hoddie is a junior in her first year of journalism. She enjoys covering current events and the arts. She also makes Instagram posts, drinks lattes, and copyedits.

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