Geffen Records

September 20, 2023

Album Review: Olivia Rodrigo Wears Her GUTS on Her Sleeve

Print More

Back in my freshman year, I wrote an article about recent teenage sensation Olivia Rodrigo and her new single “deja vu.” The title? “Olivia Rodrigo Proves She Is Not a One-Hit Wonder.”

Two and a half years later, it is pretty safe to say that Olivia Rodrigo is, in fact, not a one-hit wonder. Her debut album SOUR spawned another number one single, “good 4 u,” and the album itself hit number one on the Billboard 200 and went four-time platinum. Now, with the release of Rodrigo’s sophomore album GUTS, Rodrigo is back with more intense feelings channeled into pop rock bangers and cathartic piano ballads. GUTS and SOUR share many similarities: in aesthetic (purple album covers), in the continued collaboration with indie hitmaker Dan Nigro and in themes of heartbreak, angst, frustration and insecurity. However, the evolution feels mostly natural: While GUTS may be Rodrigo and Nigro attempting to recreate the success of SOUR, it is done in a careful way that shows the progression of Rodrigo as an artist and as someone reckoning with newfound fame.

The first thing to notice about this album is that Rodrigo sounds really great. Her voice is strong and always enjoyable, even when she screams. More than that, Rodrigo is an actress, and she really commits to her songs’ theatrical elements by yelling, stomping and emoting. An album with so many shouting elements would not be pleasant to listen to with a lesser performance. Rodrigo’s singing also varies among GUTS’s ballads and helps differentiate them in style and tone. 

My favorite song on the album right now has to be the third single “get him back!,” another fantastic slice of pop rock. The song relies on a pretty clever premise: Rodrigo wants to “get him back,” or to get together with him, but she also wants to “get him back” for all his wrongdoing. This double entendre works well in the chorus, when she shouts “I want sweet revenge / I want him again,” but works best on the bridge, where Rodrigo uses line breaks to change the meaning of the lyrics from the first version of “getting him back” to the second. This leads to my favorite set of lines in the album: “I wanna kiss his face / with an uppercut / I wanna meet his mom / just to tell her her son sucks.” 

Rodrigo’s writing shines most when it’s specific, self-deprecating and self-aware. In the bombastic “Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl,” Rodrigo laments her social life by saying “everything I do is tragic / every guy I like is gay. In “bad idea right?,” Rodrigo sings about the fatal moment when one decides to hook up with an ex, despite her better judgment and the warning of her friends. It’s all very dramatic and also very relatable; Rodrigo is like the one friend you know that is in an emotionally draining situationship and seems to like it, but completely owns her own messiness. Unlike SOUR’s biggest songs, in which Rodrigo reacts to events that happen to her, in GUTS she claims control of them and grapples with the emotional turmoil that ensues.

In the opening song, the cinematic “all-american bitch,” Rodrigo screams “I know my age and I act like it,” a seeming response to the criticism that GUTS may be too immature. In fact, much of GUTS is about that impossible dilemma young women in the spotlight face: the pressure to be ‘grown,’ while at the same time holding on to the youth that makes them appealing. In “teenage dream,” Rodrigo writes about the pressures to maintain her image after being a prodigious youth, and in “Logical” and “Vampire,” older men both desire her youth and dislike the emotional burdens that come with dating someone at such a critical age. 

When listening to GUTS, I think about the common and unfortunate rhetoric that people my and Rodrigo’s age are “adults,” and therefore, older men should be able to date us without societal shame. While it may be accidental, I think GUTS does a great job showing that the transition from youth to adulthood is gradual, and that while 20 year olds are not children, they are still looking at their childhood in their rearview mirror. 

Sometimes, the juxtaposition of immaturity and maturity does not work as well for me. For example, the track “love is embarrassing” retreads on many themes from earlier in the album, and “lacy,” despite its intriguing premise of an obsession with another woman, doesn’t go bold enough, seeming to hint at homoeroticism but not fully committing to it. 

I do think GUTS has as much potential to be a commercial success as its predecessor. In fact, its similarities to SOUR establish what Rodrigo is the best at: emotive, clever songwriting that captures the sorrow and hilarity of young adulthood. It has already been met with critical acclaim, and I think it will deliver the singles and the awards to position Rodrigo as an established presence in the music industry. So, two years later, I would like to make this claim: With GUTS, Olivia Rodrigo has proven that she is not a one-album wonder. 

Ayesha Chari is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].