Two years after the release of her critically acclaimed debut album SOUR, Olivia Rodrigo cements herself as a star with the release of her newest record, GUTS.
By Rhiannon McGovern
“There were a good few months where I would sit at the piano and all I would think about was how I was never going to make something as good”, Rodrigo confessed in an interview with The Guardian in the lead-up to the release of her second project. It’s understandable that she would be plagued with doubts: SOUR was an instant success that broke numerous records – one of which being that it is the longest-running top 10 debut album of the last century – so it’s safe to say that it would be a tough act for anyone to follow.
The album’s lead single ‘vampire’ crushes any scepticism one may have had, however. A track about an ex-boyfriend who took advantage of her, it begins subdued and piano-heavy before building to a theatrical crescendo where she doesn’t mince her words: “bloodsucker, fame-fucker / bleeding me dry like a goddamn vampire”. The storytelling throughout the song is first-class, and, whilst it would be easy to compare Rodrigo’s talent to that of her peers who rose to fame at a similar age, it is her unique ability to blend honest and introspective songwriting with instrumentals reminiscent of 00’s pop-punk that sets her apart from the crowd.
GUTS’ opener ‘all-american bitch’ is the perfect example of this genre infusion. A dig at the impossible societal standards placed on women, the song is a masterclass in female rage. “I am built like a mother and a total machine” she so politely sings before breaking into a tantrum decorated with grungy guitars and throat-scratching screams of frustration. “I know my age and I act like it” she yells, an undeniably cathartic experience for both her and the listener. Rodrigo’s enthusiasm in further exploring these influences so prominent on her debut is evident in other tracks, such as the anthemic ‘get him back!’ where she details her indecision in either seeking revenge or reconciliation, or single ‘bad idea right?’ which showcases her witty and playful tongue: “I’m sure I’ve seen much hotter men, but I really can’t remember when”.
In a conversation with Phoebe Bridgers for Interview Magazine, Rodrigo discussed the implications of being such a successful songwriter at only 19 years old. “We undersell how full of rage and angst young people are,” she says. It’s easy to think back to her exploration of this on earlier tracks such as ‘brutal’ or ‘good 4 u’, but she insists GUTS “feels a lot more mature” due to the state of her life. Whether it’s the lullaby-esque ‘lacy’ which grapples with jealousy and obsession, ‘ballad of a homeschooled girl’ with its pure adolescence, or ‘logical’, a devastating ballad where she blames herself for the mixed signals from an ex-lover (“I know I could’ve stopped it all / God, why didn’t I stop it all?”), one thing is for sure: conveying the naivety of adolescence whilst demonstrating a grasp of the world far beyond her years is a delicate balancing act that Rodrigo has mastered.
The album closes with ‘teenage dream’, and, admittedly, it follows the same structure of many of the other songs on the album – a soft, slow ballad that eventually swaps the elegant piano and hushed vocals for a full-on pop-punk breakdown – but the execution is so gorgeous that all is forgiven. “I fear that they already got all the best parts of me / and I’m sorry that I couldn’t always be your teenage dream” Rodrigo whispers, revealing her fears that entering her twenties means reaching an unwritten expiry date. It is a stunning tribute to where she’s at in both her personal life and career, and a perfect end to her sophomore record.
For being one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year, GUTS certainly doesn’t disappoint. Olivia Rodrigo’s expertise in taking experiences so universal to young women and transforming them into a time capsule ensures that her music will resonate with audiences for years to come.