Olivia Rodrigo gets visceral on ‘GUTS’

Album art for “GUTS” (Provided/Olivia Rodrigo).

While many artists fear a sophomore slump, the phenomenon of a second album not meeting the standard set by a debut album, Olivia Rodrigo has not only created a sophomore album as good as her debut album, it may even be better. 

“GUTS,” released September 8, contains 12 tracks on the standard edition, with a different deluxe track on each vinyl pressing available on Rodrigo’s website. The lead single, “vampire,” was released June 30, and the second single, “bad idea right?,” was released July 11.

The opening track of “GUTS,” “all-american bitch,” is a tongue-in-cheek critique of the societal expectations young women face. Rodrigo sings of being both “light as a feather” and “stiff as a board”. She also makes a jab at the standards set by a past political dynasty, saying “I’ve got class and integrity, just like a goddamn Kennedy.” “all-american bitch” wouldn’t feel out of place in a late 90s/early 00s teen film such as “10 Things I Hate About You” or “Bring It On.” The track perfectly introduces the listener to the album, which includes numerous references to systemic misogyny. 

Track two, “bad idea right?,” shows Rodrigo use a singing style that is closer to rhythmic speaking than singing, but as she contemplates her bad ideas regarding her ex, the tone is fitting. With this song, Rodrigo makes it clear that she knows what she’s doing is a bad idea, but that she wants what she wants regardless of the consequences.

“vampire” was the first single from “GUTS” to be released and received a music video. The music video seems to communicate the monetization of performers’ pain and suffering by an uncaring audience, while the lyrics themselves speak of a relationship with someone Rodrigo likens to an undead creature of old. Speculation around the song has connected it to two ex-flames of Rodrigo’s, both considerably older than her. The lyric, “went for me and not her ’cause girls your age know better,” brings to mind the trope of old, undead men lusting after bright young women. 

“lacy” is a musical exploration of the age-old question faced by so many young women: do I want to be her or be with her? Though the lyrics appear to be romantically inclined toward the eponymous Lacy, Rodrigo also remarks, “I feel your compliments like bullets on skin” and “I just loathe you lately.” It’s a complicated mix of emotions that can feel both like a puzzling crush and like comparison that’s killing you slowly. 

“ballad of a homeschooled girl” is another high-energy, pop-punk song about Rodrigo’s experiences. This time, her experience as a homeschooled girl, and how that stunted her social development. It is fun and silly while hiding an undertone of longing for normal socialization and friendships. 

The song “making the bed,” like much of the album, employs heavy double entendre, specifically with the aphorism, “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” Rodrigo details the hardships of fame at the age of 19, lamenting her lack of real friends and her nights spent getting drunk in clubs, but after all, she’s put herself in this position. She says she’s “playing the victim so well in [her] head,” while also acknowledging that she’s the one who’s “been making the bed.”

“logical” sees Rodrigo both acknowledging the pain she suffered in her past relationship as well as the fact that she could have ended it but chose not to. The most chilling part of the song comes in the bridge, where Rodrigo says her former lover said “[she] was too young, [she] was too soft / can’t take a joke, can’t get [them] off.”

“get him back!” is a dynamic, double-entendre-filled bop about missing your ex while simultaneously hating him. To get someone back can both be to repair a broken relationship, but also to settle a score between scorned lovers. This is best illustrated by the bridge, which includes the lyric, “I want to kiss his face with an uppercut, I want to meet his mom just to tell her her son sucks.” 

“love is embarrassing” is a self-aware pop song about the lengths one goes to for a fleeting crush while under the impression that it is true love. Rodrigo is a bit silly in this song, including in the outro, where she sings, “I’m plannin’ out my wedding with some guy I’m never marryin’.” 

“the grudge” is another ballad of lost love, once more lamenting about the damage inflicted by one’s ex flame. Rodrigo struggles with the idea of someone hurting her without a second thought. It’s a ballad where the listener can hear the argument she is having with her lover in a desperate attempt to make them “a little f**king sorry.”

“pretty isn’t pretty,” the penultimate track, is a more mature version of “Sour”’s “jealousy, jealousy”. A song that would not feel entirely out of place in an early 2000’s teen movie, it details the battles a young girl goes through to fit societal beauty standards. Rodrigo describes buying makeup, changing her closet, and even skipping meals, only to conclude that, “pretty isn’t pretty enough anyway.” 

The closing track of “GUTS” is “teenage dream,” a 3:42 long piano-based ballad. In the announcement post for the album, Rodrigo said, “​​I feel like I grew 10 years between the ages of 18 and 20—it was such an intense period of awkwardness and change.” No song on the album communicates this better than “teenage dream”. The bridge cries, “they all say that it gets better, it gets better, but what if I don’t?”

The final four tracks of “GUTS” are not widely available; one must purchase all four vinyl variants from Rodrigo’s web store. The best song from the album is one of these tracks, “obsessed”, which details being obsessed with your new partner’s old ex. 

While many may be hasty to decide whether “GUTS” is better or worse than “Sour”, it is notable that Rodrigo has matured in the two years between the albums, as has her audience. “Sour’ was an excellent album for Rodrigo when it was released; in 2023, “GUTS” is a more honest depiction of the heartache of the loss of girlhood. 

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