clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Olivia Rodrigo confidently excoriates the vortex of our expectations, fame, and love on ‘Guts’

Rodrigo’s sophomore album builds upon the heartbreak themes of “Sour,’ but deconstructs what it means to be perfect in the process.

Larissa Hofmann

Olivia Rodrigo’s sophomore album, Guts, is a confident, heart-bearing, intricately disorienting encapsulation of what it must feel like to be a young woman trying to sift through the world of unrealistic societal expectations, heartbreak, and artistic pressures. Sometimes, you want to wallow in a particular betrayal. Other times, you want to get with a group of friends and contemplate methods of revenge against said ex-significant other. You don’t have everything figured out yet, and that’s the beauty of this album (and artistry in general).

Guts exerts a gravitational pull because it feels like you’re reading diary entries that uniquely switch gears depending on the trains of thought. Rodrigo has an eye for unconventional verse structures that feel cinematic and conversational and musically draws inspiration from acts like Hole, Luscious Jackson, Green Day, and rap-rock of the '90s’ and 2000s. In the first few songs of Rodrigo’s debut, Sour, we get a birds-eye view of how Rodrigo saw stardom (‘Brutal), navigating all the ups and downs of losing a relationship and how those ghosts haunt you.

In ‘Brutal,’ Rodrigo contemplates if she could even make mistakes, “all american bitch” takes a mocking tone inside an acoustic and, later, punk rock outburst. “bad idea right?” continues the rock tempo with Rodrigo indulging in a spoken word cadence as she contemplated a rendezvous with a guy she knows is poisonous. Just then, Guts flips its ear with the power ballot, ‘Vampire.’ Where ‘Drivers License’ shows someone looking back at those streets and roads encapsulated in memories, ‘vampire’ sees Rodrigo eviscerating any traces of them (“Cause I’ve made some real big mistakes / But you make the worst one look fine”).

One of the most impressive things about Guts is how unconventional it is (much like Sour) in how it structures its album sequencing. You can go from a beautifully quiet song like ‘Lacy’ layered in harmonies speaking to impostor syndrome and then switch to an upbeat “Ballad of a Homeschool Girl” where Rodrigo ruminates on previous social missteps. These experiences might be unique to the singer, given her Disney stardom at a young age – but everything feels so damn relatable – if not formulated from a place where somebody on the outside can understand.

At some point in life, you try to fudge the numbers during an unhealthy union like “Logical” (‘Cause if rain don’t pour and sun don’t shine/ Then changing you is possible / No, love is never logical). But then there are times like “get him back,” where you are caught in a sing-a-long contemplating whether you want to rejoin with that certain someone or make them feel the pain you felt. It comes from an honest place where people may think fame can cure all life’s ailments. On the contrary, Rodrigo’s authenticity is a breath of fresh air against the nearly impossible pressures a follow-up album to a mega-hit could implore.

While Guts has its roots where the relationship fissures of Sour chronicled ever so well, the more personal insights of tracks like “making the bed,” “pretty isn’t pretty,’ and album finale, “teenage dream” are what elevate this album to another echolon. Rodrigo asks where her teenage dream is in “Brutal.’ With these three songs, she aptly finds out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be – well, in the distorted lens we view her. She lets us know she feels that pressure with “making the bed’ and ‘pretty isn’t pretty’ – the so-called spoils of stardom and the unrelenting pressure of appearance it comes with. The finale (and Guts in general) is rejecting that premise of needing to be perfect – seeing that even as you raise the bar, someone will always move it (“And when does wide-eyed affection and all good intentions start to not be enough?)

Rodrigo lays her imperfections bare with the musical inspirations that helped grow her artistic muscle to apply her path. Guts is fun, glib, melancholy, and totally rejects the pretty doll box of perfection no one can obtain.