Having reached worldwide acclaim at the age of eighteen with her debut album SOUR, GRAMMY award-winning singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo has once again teamed up with producer Dan Nigro to present the world with her sophomore effort, GUTS. Laced with love, heartbreak, facing the truth and dealing with fame, the body of work takes a grittier tone when compared to her debut, whilst still holding on to the core songwriting values that catapulted the singer to stardom.
Opening with finger plucked guitar work beneath Rodrigo’s lulling soprano vocals, the albums first track, all-american bitch, sets you up for the dulcet pop-meets-early 2000’s punk sonic palette that is set to explode across the albums twelve offerings. The song offers satirical musings on fame, the double standards placed upon young women and the idea of all-American perception. She then dives headfirst into the toxicity of going back to your ex on bad idea right, a tongue-in-cheek number that traces the lies we tell ourselves, and others, as we sneak off to that covert rendezvous. Rodrigo takes a more serious turn on the albums lead single, vampire. Here she documents an abuse of power within a relationship, likening a former flame to a blood sucking vampire draining her of joy before reaching for her own liberation. The albums first quarter continues the themes explored across the singers acclaimed 2021 debut, SOUR, whilst offering a matured perspective that still retains a youthful zest.
lacy grapples with comparison and an almost parasocial obsession, but perhaps Rodrigo has given a name to the turmoil of fame and the grasp it can hold. Her hushed tones and mellifluous melodies are comparable to more subdued offerings from Lana Del Rey, and adds to the albums sonic scope. The tempo is immediately revved up on ballad of a homeschooled girl, drawing her experiences on being homeschooled as a teen and the influence it holds on navigating adulthood. Backed by a raucous soundscape, Rodrigo’s polished vocals work in perfect juxtaposition to create an engaging listen driven by introspective and somewhat relatable lyricism that transcends her unique homeschooled experience. One of the thematic threads that runs throughout the album is the impact of fame. On making the bed, vulnerable lyricism finds the singer taking accountability for her own decisions, albeit driven by the alluring lights of the industry that surrounds her. There’s this pondering thought of how to keep a personal life when presenting your most vulnerable self to the world, something Rodrigo has been able to balance since the speculation that surrounded her 2021 breakout hit, drivers license.
The piano-led logical echoes the sentiments of vampire, with the singer dissecting a past love drenched in manipulation and control. She details the attachment she felt towards the relationship, hoping to fix any imperfections whilst being coaxed into staying. Rodrigo continues to toy with the ebb and flow of being in love and moving on in get him back!, ruminating on all the wrong doings and wanting revenge, whilst still feeling a pull towards reigniting the relationship. “I wanna key his car, I wanna make him lunch, I wanna break his heart then be the one to stitch it up,” she sings. She presents a more in-depth self analysis on love is embarrassing, questioning just how love influenced her actions and clouded her mind for a man she states is a ”loser who’s not worth mentioning.” GUTS, and get him back! in particular, has qualities reminiscent of Hilary Duff’s self-titled third studio album, with its fusion of pop and rock motifs and earnest demeanour.
As we enter the albums final quarter, there’s a clear formula playing out across the album with this repetitious nature of ballad/pseudo-ballad, followed by a brashy pop-rock track and an emotional-fuelled amalgamation of both. That formula continues with the grudge, another piano ballad centred around the hurt caused within a relationship. Rodrigo explores how the words and actions of someone close to her has left her hardened, whilst a soft spot still flourishes for them. Her vocals soar above delicate piano work, singing, “I try to be tough, I try to be mean. But even after all this, you're still everything to me.” On the penultimate track, Rodrigo challenges the idealised expectations placed upon young women and the emotional and mental impact it leaves. “I bought all the clothes that they told me to buy. I chased some dumb ideal my whole fucking life. And none of it matters and none of it ends. You just feel like shit over and over again,” she sings atop sun-drenched organic sonics. Taking aim at the pressures of social media and the accessibility of what is perceived as ‘pretty’ in pop culture.
Reaching new heights with her strengthened vocals, it’s clear that Rodrigo has spent the years since SOUR perfecting her craft, likely a result from embarking on her debut world tour, and refining her sound. The body of work juxtaposes vulnerability with power, love with heartbreak and self-preservation with fear. GUTS ends on a bittersweet note with teenage dream. Having found fame at a young age, Rodrigo fears what the future will hold as her girlhood becomes a novelty to the world around her. “I fear that they already got all the best parts of me, and I’m sorry I couldn’t always be your teenage dream,” she sings with a melancholic tone. The songs thematic standpoint is an idea explored in Taylor Swift’s 2022 song, Nothing New, which was written when she was around Rodrigo’s age. That being said, Swift has gone on to forge a formidable career and there’s every chance that Rodrigo will follow in her footsteps.
GUTS is out now!