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Album Review: Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS

by Andreea Timis, September 19 2023—

Ever since her debut album SOUR topped the charts in 2021, Olivia Rodrigo has only continued to grow within the music industry. The former Disney star, notably known for her role in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, has since shifted her focus to song-writing after the release of her first hit single, “drivers license”, which gained instant popularity upon its release in January 2021 and has since gone viral on Tik Tok, catapulting Rodrigo to fame in a manner similar to other Disney stars such as Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato. 

While SOUR tells a journal-entry type story of heartbreak, teenage angst and identity loss, Rodrigo’s sophomore album GUTS is messier, much more angsty and completely raw in its truth. Rodrigo is, quite literally, spilling her guts and revealing her most intimate secrets.

Rodrigo dives right into the heart of the album with lead track “all-american bitch”, an equal parts comical and sardonic tune about the portrayal of the stereotypical American woman. 

Throughout the song, Rodrigo alternates between a slow, pensive rhythm in the verses and a more aggressive pop-rock beat in the chorus as she begrudgingly lists off all the ways in which she is categorized as the “ideal” American woman. 

“all-american bitch” almost parallels SOUR’s lead track “brutal”, with both songs expressing frustrations in a pop-rock format while their outros abruptly switch to a melancholic tune detailing a sense of resentment and helplessness. Like its SOUR counterpart, “all-american bitch” as the first track also presents a great overview of GUTS as a whole. 

What I found most interesting about “all-american bitch” is the very end of the song, where a knock on a door can be heard. The sound seems to bleed directly into the album’s second song, “bad idea right?”, which starts off with a record scratch and Rodrigo whispering “hey”, as though she’d been the one knocking in the previous song and the person on the other side answered in this song. 

“bad idea right?” is the second GUTS track Rodrigo released as a single in August 2023 and recounts an irresistible night with an ex. A fast-paced, lighthearted and messy melody, “bad idea right?” details Rodrigo’s mental tug-of-war with herself and echoes the idea of the inexperience and confusion that comes with early adulthood. 

The song is followed by GUTS’s lead single, “vampire”, first released in June. With lyrics such as “Went for me and not her/Cuz girls your age know better”, “vampire” comes off as the “drivers license” of GUTS. Although both are breakup songs, “drivers license” is sung in a mournful manner, while “vampire” becomes angrier as the song continues. “vampire” differs from “all-american bitch” in that instead of alternating between fast and slow rhythms, it starts off slow and eventually fully transitions into a pop-rock melody. 

After the first three tracks, GUTS begins to alternate between slow and fast-paced songs. Rodrigo touches on themes of jealousy, loss of friendship and struggles with fame in “lacy”, “the grudge” and “making the bed.” “ballad of a homeschooled girl” showcases the hardships homeschooling can have on one’s social life. The lyrics “I laughed at the wrong time, talked with the wrong guy” and “I’m on the outside of the greatest inside joke” detail how Rodrigo feels as though she inadvertently messes up even the most basic social interactions and never quite seems to be able to relate to others. She wants to fit in and be involved, but “Each time [she] step[s] outside, it’s social suicide”. 

Next to “bad idea right?”, “get him back!” might be Rodrigo’s second most “spilling your guts” track. The song — a scattered, dizzying ballad describing a short-lived, exhilarating past relationship — constantly toggles between its double meaning. Rodrigo wishes both to return to the relationship and, at the same time, seek vengeance, claiming “I wanna make him really jealous, wanna make him feel bad” and then, in the following line, “Cuz then again, I really miss him and it makes me real sad.” 

In “logical”, Rodrigo mentions how love can blind us to the point of believing even the most absurd things, citing examples such as “Two plus two equals five” and “The sky is green, the grass is red” as she narrates a story about gaslighting in a relationship. The line “You built a giant castle/With walls so high” parallels “vampire” ’s “How’s the castle built off people/You pretend to care about?”, leading audiences to speculate about whether Rodrigo could be talking about the same person. “love is embarrassing” branches off of a similar topic, except this time, Rodrigo is much more self-aware about how delusional she was during her relationship and piggybacks on the main idea in “logical” about how love can make people embarrassingly irrational. 

Rodrigo laments trying to become what society classifies as the “perfect” 21st-century girl in slow-paced “pretty isn’t pretty”, confessing her mental struggles with body image and unrealistic aspirations to become who everybody wishes her to be. Rodrigo highlights this impossibility by stating that “You can win the battle/But you’ll never win the war”. 

GUTS reaches its conclusion with the slow-paced “teenage dream”, echoing SOUR’s peaceful conclusion with “hope ur ok”. Rodrigo first mentions this idea of a teenage dream in the “brutal” lyric “Where’s my f*** teenage dream?” in SOUR. In this song, however, Rodrigo talks about coming to terms with adulthood, even though she regrets not having been able to attain the “teenage dream” that others wanted for her (“And I’m sorry that I couldn’t always/Be your teenage dream”). 

Although some parts of the album are largely influenced by SOUR, GUTS tells its own story of individual growth and navigating life as a newly turned adult. Olivia Rodrigo doesn’t hold back on telling the harsh, brutal truth about where she’s currently at in her life, a feature I am certain will help her mature much more as an artist as her career continues to grow.

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