Olivia Rodrigo’s trajectory into stardom deserves its own opportunity for study. From her bridge-belting, debut single ‘driver’s license’ to the release of SOUR (which broke the global Spotify record for the biggest opening week for any female artist in history), Rodrigo’s brand as the new face of Gen-Z pop was already being cemented. Her demand – beckoned on by ever-present TikTok trends and the tumultuous world of stan Twitter – left fans begging for her so-called “comeback” album just one year after SOUR’s release; despite pop music’s average two-year album cycle, Rodrigo’s short absence was more than noticeable. But now, she’s finally back with GUTS – more unhinged but still purple; less sad but definitely still bitter.
GUTS is a first-year coded, disposable camera photo of a middle finger pointed directly at adulthood
Without dipping into the Swiftie-Livie drama that we’re all far too familiar with, it was actually Swift herself who once pointed out that women in the industry feel a greater pressure to keep rebranding themselves before an album release. She’s right – it’s a destructive cruelty that female artists need to look new and exciting before they’re heard, as echoed in latest album tracks ‘lacy’ and ‘pretty isn’t pretty’. This was evident when Rodrigo announced GUTS with the same purple colour scheme and people found something to complain about – almost as if the colour of an album cover correlated to its own creative integrity. Nevertheless, Rodrigo has taken this on the chin and found a deeper, more mature version of herself between the transition from SOUR to GUTS. Where SOUR embodies diary-entry heartbreak and strawberry ice cream, GUTS is a first-year coded, disposable camera photo of a middle finger pointed directly at adulthood. Girlhood has become grungy with Rodrigo’s sophomore album, and it’s far from tame.
The album opens with ‘all american b*tch’, a confidently twanged pop-rock banger about the Americanised ideals of the music industry placed upon young women. She has to be “grateful all the f***ing time […] sexy and kind […] pretty when I cry” – otherwise, who’d listen to a thing she wants to say? This bitterness drips into ‘making the bed’, a softer ballad about her frustrations at fame, stardom and, ultimately, herself – “Every good thing has turned into something I dread. And I’m playing the victim so well in my head”. Her tragic self-awareness in this track culminates in a very specific image of a “recurring dream” she has at night, where “the brakes go out” and she can’t “stop at the red light”’. It’s an alarming allusion to anxiety and existential dread, while calling back the lines of a “red light, stop sign” in ‘driver’s license’. It appears her unease has only gotten worse since her beginning; almost as if the road ahead is nothing but drenched in halting red. In fact, this track has that first single written all over it – when she cries “but it’s me who’s making the bed” in the chorus, I almost slip into the bridge of ‘driver’s license’ once more.
It’s a big day for young adults going into their twenties, uni students in situationships, and Gen-Z kids who just don’t feel heard
But Rodrigo seems to find her real voice within the album’s feisty pop-rock tunes – the ones with a real kick, the ones dripping with teenage angst. It’s a big day for young adults going into their twenties, uni students in situationships, and Gen-Z kids who just don’t feel heard. ‘get him back!’ is a sassy, growly anthem with some of the album’s most unhinged lyrics (and there are a lot of them). She screams over heavy bass and a threatening guitar: “As I’m hitting “send”, I picture all the faces of my disappointed friends”, “I wanna kiss his face with an uppercut”, “But I am my father’s daughter, so maybe I could fix him”. The last of these is particularly hilarious when you realise her father is a therapist – there’s a reason this song is laced with such a giggly yet vengeful demeanour. Rodrigo’s playful nature is also evident in the way she’s designed the track to be subjectively interpreted – does she want to get him back (revenge), or get him back (because deep down, she misses him)?
With these pop-rock songs and their unhinged lyrics, ‘ballad of a homeschooled girl’ is also one to be watched. Over electrifying indie guitar riffs and screams, Rodrigo sings of “social suicide” before delving into a quick-fire rap list of everything that goes wrong on her drunken nights out – “I talked to this hot guy, swore I was his type, guess that he was making out with boys like the whole night”. ‘bad idea, right?’, while a single not quite as strong as ‘vampire’ (the perfect lead single for this album, might I add), adds to this grungey, Y2K aesthetic of rock anthems. Ever hooked up with someone you shouldn’t have? Well, it happens to the best of us apparently – even a pop star.
This album will be kept safely under lock and key by Gen-Z; GUTS is a time capsule in its own bitter right
And it’s this Gen-Z relatability that makes GUTS shine. Ex-CEO of Ticketmaster and podcast host Nathan Hubbard once explained that GUTS is the type of album that won’t be shared by mothers to their daughters for many years to come (the way Swift’s albums might). No, this album will be kept safely under lock and key by Gen-Z; GUTS is a time capsule in its own bitter right. From this relatability, we get gems like ‘pretty isn’t pretty’ and ‘love is embarrassing’, two personal favourites of mine. However, the latter is certainly sassier than the first with catchy, sing-song cries of “I give up, I give up everything! I’m planning out my wedding with some guy I’m never marrying” and “I consoled you when you cried over your ex-girlfriend’s new guy”. We are left face-palming at just how stupidly naive the whole situation is, almost as if the idea of a pop star pop-stare stupidly naive decisions is unheard of. Of course they aren’t – Rodrigo is quick to remind us that she’s no different than every other lovesick teen on this planet. Sadly though, this is reflected further in ‘pretty isn’t pretty’. This cute, boppy, indie song, almost reminiscent of Clairo or Wallows, is warm enough to draw you in and make you smile until you too start lamenting Rodrigo’s insecurities and struggles with body image. It’s a saddening reality for many young women, but like she sings over a deceivingly cheerful instrumental, it’s “all around, all the time”.
Rodrigo has spilled her guts and filled ours with every delicate detail of her personal life, all served up on a pop-punk, purple-covered platter
Despite the undeniable dominance of pop-rock anthems here, GUTS still exhibits the same softer, diary-entry songs that SOUR initially showcased. ‘lacy’ is a gently plucked acoustic guitar tune that delves into jealousy and desire – almost reminiscent of ‘Girl Crush’, originally by Little Big Town, and famously covered by Harry Styles. Then, we have ‘the grudge’ – perhaps one of the most memorable highlights of the album. Drawing similarities from SOUR’s ‘favourite crime’ (my favourite one from the album), Rodrigo outlines her most heart-wrenching lyrics in this track – “And we both drew blood, but, man, those cuts were never equal”, “but even after all this, you’re still everything to me”. This piano ballad is a breath of fresh air amid all the angsty, unserious ferocity. We hear it in her voice (present in ‘lacy’ too) that her aches are truly at the forefront of these songs. It drips from her honeyed vocals, as if she were on the brink of tears, and seeps straight into our ears.
Just under 40 minutes long, this album closes with the orchestral outro in ‘teenage dream’ – an ethereal culmination of existential dread as she repeats the lines “they all say that it gets better, the more you grow” over a crescendo of piano and drums. Then, fade to quiet – we’re left with an intimate voice note that brings us back from the clouds and straight into her studio. And that’s where we leave it – Rodrigo has spilt her guts and filled ours with every delicate detail of her personal life, all served up on a pop-punk, purple-covered platter.
However, despite its vivacious personality, GUTS doesn’t necessarily share the same iconic impact as SOUR. In fact, it lacks her debut’s longevity – I feel as if I know all the tracks just two listens in, with no actual room for them to grow on me. And that’s always part of the fun – where GUTS is a YA novel (easy to digest but heart-wrenching and unserious all the same), sometimes I want a Dickensian classic instead. But Rodrigo’s legacy has certainly cemented itself here. While certainly maturing in her themes, she’s grown with her audience – she’s still ever-present with her sass, kicks, and screams. Gen-Z doesn’t always have it easy, but becoming the face of Gen-Z pop could never be used as an insult. It’s very much needed. The world isn’t getting any younger, and neither is Rodrigo – don’t you forget it!
Recommended listening: ‘the grudge’, ‘love is embarrassing’, ‘pretty isn’t pretty’