Since Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album “SOUR” took off in May 2021, the 20-year-old has grown from a Disney Channel regular to a household name in the world of pop music. Her rise to fame started with the release of “Driver’s License,” and she has only grown in popularity since.
Now, over two years later, Rodrigo has released her highly-anticipated sophomore album titled “GUTS.” The angsty and pop-like sounds and relatable topics like heartbreak, growing pains and jealousy are similar to “SOUR,” but it is elevated in basically every way.
While this new album certainly comes with some gut-wrenching ballads, “GUTS” stands apart from “SOUR” by mixing devastating lyrics with an upbeat tempo and melodies that stick in your head no matter how hard you try to get it out. While Rodrigo continues to discuss the difficulties of being hurt by someone you love, the album itself sounds more like a story of growing into adulthood and feeling crushed by the expectations of others.
Frankly, “GUTS” is an emotional rollercoaster. Instead of the slow-paced songs being clustered together like many albums are formatted, they’re sprinkled throughout the tracklist, dropping you from the high that the previous song brought you to.
A prime example of this is the transition from track five, “ballad of a homeschool girl,” to track six, “making the bed.” The first is a sardonic track that perfectly captures the experience of trying to fit in and failing miserably. The self-deprecating lyrics about the “social suicide” of attempting to flirt or appear cool to your peers when you’ve never learned how to are well-balanced with the increasingly fast verses, the catchy chorus and the dissonant bridge. Even if you painfully relate, it’s easy to sing (or scream) along in the car. After all, it’s fun when a celebrity is honest about being self critical. We’ve all been Olivia Rodrigo in this situation, cringing at something you said and beating yourself up about it later.
“making the bed” pulls the rug out from under listeners and are given no time to adjust as the upbeat sound turns to a low, slow, true ballad about self-hatred and taking responsibility, maybe too much, for the way she’s feeling. Rodrigo is able to take specific feelings about playing the victim and recurring dreams and turn them into something that anyone could relate to. And while these two songs give emotional whiplash while moving from one to the other, they’re not so different thematically–that’s why this album works so well. The genre blending makes it so every song sounds different, but in the end the album perfectly captures the experience of being a teenage girl.
Even with this new overall theme, “GUTS” isn’t lacking in breakup songs. While the songs on “SOUR” seemed to chronicle that fresh pain of a breakup, this new album brings a fresh perspective to the healing process. Olivia Rodrigo might be at the acceptance stage, having gone through those motions of grief in “SOUR,” but three songs in the album bring light to those ever-relatable feelings of not being able to let go.
“Vampire,” “logical” and “the grudge” all call back to this heartbreak and are perhaps the most reminiscent of the main theme of “SOUR,” but her discussion of heartbreak hasn’t grown old. The songs are far more contemplative and reflective, addressing the wrong-doings of both her partner at the time and her own part in the heartbreak.
From start to finish, “GUTS” takes you on that unforgettable journey of growing up. From her fast-paced opener “all-american b—h” acting as both an affirmation of her femininity and a criticism of how young women are expected to behave, to her closer “teenage dream,” slowing it down and describing the fears that you’ve already hit your peak at the edge of adulthood, Olivia Rodrigo proves that she’s here to stay. And as her lyrics continue to mature and her sound continues to diversify, she’s sure to prove that she will get better the more she grows, despite her fears.
Ari Frey can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Instagram @aria_lynne.