Since the release of “Sour,’ Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, the 20-year-old popstar has cemented her status as one of the biggest talents of the decade thus far, breaking multiple records and garnering Grammy wins for Best New Artist, among others. While it’s hard to imagine what experiencing that level of fame must be like, “GUTS” is a pretty effective portrait of a teenager who feels a disparity between how old they feel and how old they actually are.
In a statement, Rodrigo described “GUTS” as a project about growing pains.
“I feel like I grew 10 years between the ages of 18 and 20 — it was such an intense period of awkwardness and change,” she said.
This was clear with the release of “vampire,’ the first single off Rodrigo’s sophomore album. In the song, she sings about being blindsided by a past lover who she likens to the heartless, bloodsucking monster of the song's namesake. In terms of sound, the song finds a middle ground between the lush ballads of “Sour” and the harder-edged cuts from “GUTS,” many of which adopt stunningly layered instrumentation and vocal performances that don’t overstay their welcome in the slightest and bring the album to a runtime just under the 40-minute mark.
In “all-american bitch,” the album’s opening track, Rodrigo asserts her self-confidence while still struggling with the unattainable image of herself that has been laid out for her by modern American culture. It’s an effective opening track because it gives you a taste of the angst and raw honesty that is peppered throughout the album. The “guts” of the title refers to how Rodrigo has the guts to confront herself, or how she's spilling her guts. This makes for a collection of songs that are fascinating in how ugly they are allowed to be. It is a pleasure to listen to the album because of how well each song rhymes thematically. On “bad idea right?,’ as the pre-chorus goes “seeing you tonight, it’s a bad idea right?,’ the song’s music video zooms into Rodrigo’s deadpan stare almost as if we’re hearing those words echo in her mind before she quickly dismisses them and says, “it’s fine.”
That’s not the only example of Rodrigo’s wit on the album. In the Gwen Stefani-esque song “ballad of a homeschooled girl,” Rodrigo demonstrates a relatable sense of self-deprecation in the line “everything I do is tragic, every guy I like is gay.”
While many compare the young artist to Taylor Swift, of whom Rodrigo is admittedly a huge fan, there is a wider range of notable influences to be found in her insightful songwriting. Namely, there are hints of Fiona Apple, Paramore, Rage Against the Machine, and Alannis Morissette. Of course, Rodrigo consistently proves she is more than the sum of her influences, being one of the most prominent voices in contemporary pop because of her ability to so effectively capture the experiences of an anxious and isolated younger generation.
The album’s closing track “teenage dream,’ is quite a sad note to end on. “They all say that it gets better, it gets better, but what if I don’t?”, she repeats amidst increasingly loud music. Still, there is obvious strength at display here, she has spilt her guts and got to shout it out over loud guitars and drums. That’s the teenage dream right there.