Olivia Rodrigo spills her “GUTS” in new album

| Contributing Writer

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, “SOUR,” was an unprecedented success. At only 20 years old, the singer broke numerous records, as well as winning Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Solo Performance at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards. Personally, I was obsessed with “SOUR” (as in Olivia Rodrigo was my top artist of 2021 obsessed). So on Sept. 8, I, like many others, was anxiously awaiting Rodrigo’s sophomore album, “GUTS.” Sophomore albums often fall victim to the “sophomore slump,” where an artist’s second work fails to meet the expectations set by the first. But Rodrigo masterfully avoids this trap by delivering a highly relatable, witty, and artfully produced album (essentially determining my 2023 Spotify wrapped).

Illustration by Sophie Leong

From getting back with an ex to struggles with body image, “GUTS” is a perfect snapshot of the life of a teenage girl in 2023. Rodrigo is literally spilling her guts, giving a brutally honest peek into the mind of a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. Sonically, the album has two sides. The first has a more acoustic, folky sound, while the second is more reminiscent of 2000s rock anthems. Together the album is a perfect mix of songs to cry to under the covers and songs to scream in the shower.

The album opens with “all-american b*tch,” in which Rodrigo describes the unrealistic expectations society places on teenage girls, especially those in the spotlight, chanting “I’m grateful all the time/I’m sexy and I’m kind/I’m pretty when I cry.” Consistent with Rodrigo’s style, the song begins with a guitar melody but later shifts into a rock production with a driving drum beat in the chorus. Rodrigo’s producer Dan Nigro expertly pushes and pulls between these two sounds in the rest of the song, foreshadowing the sonic qualities of the entire album.  

There’s no denying that Olivia Rodrigo is a masterful lyricist. Throughout the entire album, Rodrigo drops clever and comedic lines. “Everythin’ I do is tragic/Every guy I like is gay” she laments in “ballad of a homeschooled girl” (which is in fact not a ballad). In “love is embarrassing,” Rodrigo wails, “You found a new version of me/And I damn near startеd World War III.”

But Rodrigo’s wittiest lines appear in “get him back!” a pop-rock song about, well, getting him back. The song is brimming with relatable quips, from “He said he’s 6’2 and I’m, like, ‘Dude, nice try’” to “And when I told him how he hurt me, he’d tell me I was trippin’/But I am my father’s daughter, so maybe I could fix him,” a quip with an additional layer of depth, as Rodrigo’s father is a therapist. The singer’s lyricism shines in the bridge, where her contrasting thoughts about getting back together with her ex are further exemplified with “I wanna break his heart/Then be the one to stitch it up” and “I wanna meet his mom/Just to tell her her son sucks.”

Perhaps her most impactful lyrics, though, come with her more acoustic, softer songs. In “logical,” a song about the irrationality of love, Rodrigo cries, “And now you got me thinkin’/Two plus two equals five/And I’m the love of your life/’Cause if rain don’t pour and sun don’t shine/Then changing you is possible.” Combined with an arpeggiating piano, the song is a beautiful and heartbreaking glimpse into the self-blame that can result from a relationship filled with deception.

Similarly, “the grudge” paints the picture of a young woman attempting to forgive and move on from a turbulent relationship. “My undying love, now, I hold it like a grudge/And I hear your voice every time that I think I’m not enough,” Rodrigo admits. How the singer perceives herself is a recurring motif within the album, and, like many of us, she draws much of her self-worth from her romantic relationships.

In “vampire,” a lead single to the album, Rodrigo describes a relationship that left her feeling used. The singer belts, “I used to think I was smart/But you made me look so naive/The way you sold me for parts/As you sunk your teeth into me.” Rodrigo utilizes this vampire metaphor to explore how her partner leeched off of her fame for their own benefit, while at the same time exploring the intricate power dynamics between the two.

The song that most clearly details the teenage girl experience is the penultimate track, “pretty isn’t pretty.” “I could change up my body and change up my face/I could try every lipstick in every shade/But I’d always feel the same/’Cause pretty isn’t pretty enough,” Rodrigo professes in the chorus. Rodrigo’s lyrics are painfully accurate to how teenage girls are taught to view themselves in today’s society. With the introduction of social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, it is extremely hard for girls to feel beautiful or good enough. There’s always a new beauty or fashion trend, and expectations of young girls are constantly revolving. It can seem impossible to fully accept who you are when you are constantly shown girls whom society deems as prettier, smarter, or funnier than yourself, as Rodrigo so expertly details in this song.

The closing track of the album, “teenage dream,” explores Rodrigo’s fears about growing up and disappointing those around her. The song also parallels the opening song of her previous album, “brutal,” where Rodrigo shouts, “where’s my f*cking teenage dream.” But now, just a few years later, the singer whispers, “Got your whole life ahead of you, you’re only 19/But I fear that they already got all the best parts of me/And I’m sorry that I couldn’t always be your teenage dream.” The song ends with Rodrigo looping the lyrics, “They all say that it gets better/It gets better the more you grow/Yeah, they all say that it gets better/It gets better, but what if I don’t?”

The one track that fell short for me was “making the bed.” Sonically, the melody was rather repetitive. Especially in the chorus, each line essentially has the same pattern of notes, leading to a rather monotonous sound. Lyrically, this song didn’t stand up to the rest of the album. The repeated line of “But it’s me who’s been makin’ the bed” felt rather overdone by the end of the song. I wish this metaphor had been expanded upon in the verses instead of simply thrown at the listener in the choruses and outro.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Olivia Rodrigo’s sophomore album and would highly recommend a listen for any non-teenage girl trying to understand the complicated mentality of our species or for any teenage girls trying to find something to cry and/or scream their hearts out to.


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