Olivia Rodrigo Spills Her GUTS
When Olivia Rodrigo released “drivers license” in January, 2021, people questioned if former Disney Channel stars could still successfully cross over to the music industry. By the time Rodrigo took her final bow of the Sour Tour in July, 2022, however, these former doubters instead wondered how she could possibly follow up such a dominant debut era. 2021 was Rodrigo’s year. Her debut album, SOUR , rose to number one on the Billboard 200 and featured two number-one singles, “drivers license” and “good 4 u.” At the Grammys, it was nominated for Album of the Year and won Best Pop Vocal Album, meanwhile Rodrigo herself won Best New Artist. The High School Musical: The Musical: The Series star had proven that Disney Channel was still a viable launching pad for a music career, just as it had been for previous acts like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez. After a year of speculation on her next move, Rodrigo answered with GUTS . In 12 songs with a runtime of 39 minutes total, the album displays her brash, heartbroken, insecure, vengeful, and triumphant multitudes. She leans into the pop-rock sound of “good 4 u” for her sophomore record, while still showcasing her prowess at piano ballads on tracks like “lacy,” “the grudge,” and “teenage dream.” On GUTS , Rodrigo shows the same vulnerability she did on SOUR , taking listeners from the highs of a risky rekindling of an old flame on “bad idea right?” to the lows of getting taken advantage of by an older man on “vampire.” At both ends of the emotional and sonic spectrum, Rodrigo’s lyrics never waver in their diaristic honesty, speaking truth to the experiences of the millions of young women who listen to her music. If 2021 was the year of Olivia Rodrigo, then 2023 is the year of the experience of womanhood. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie grossed a billion dollars at the box office (the most for any movie directed by a woman), thanks to the audience who donned their best pink clothes to see the story of a young woman trying to figure out her place in the world. Rodrigo explores that same journey on GUTS . In the verses of album-opener “all-american bitch,” she softly sings of all the ways she is the kind, gentle, ideal American woman over a lullaby-like melody: “I’m grateful all the time;” “I feel for your every little issue, I know just what you mean;” “I got class and integrity.” But when the guitars and drums kick in for the chorus, she lets loose. “I know my age and I act like it/Got what you can’t resist/I’m a perfect all-American bitch”: Rodrigo unapologetically shout-sings, defiantly ending the chorus with the declaration “I know my place and this is it.” Photo Credit: Music On The Rox She’s not the perfect girl-next-door, but she’s not totally a “femme fatale” either–she’s a little bit of both. She may appear docile on the outside, but on the inside, she is as chaotic as the chorus’ instrumentation suggests. Rodrigo starts her album by reassuring the young women of her fanbase that it is okay to be your messy, contradictory, three-dimensional self. This is the album’s anthem, and Rodrigo embraces every emotion and facet of herself on the following 11 songs. She’s confident, bold, and unapologetic on tracks “bad idea right?” and “get him back!” She knows that she shouldn’t get back with her ex, but if that’s what she wants to do, then she will do it. Rodrigo’s fearless, uninhibited self-expression on these songs is important for her young audience to hear-while society tells women to be gentle and polite, Rodrigo tells them to embrace their chaos. Most of the songs on GUTS , however, reveal Rodrigo’s battle scars and Achilles’ heel. Despite its up-tempo, pop-rock sound, “ballad of a homeschooled girl” is about Rodrigo’s belief that “each time I step outside, it’s social suicide.” “vampire,” “logical,” and “the grudge” allude to a relationship where Rodrigo was mistreated by an older man. On these songs, Rodrigo explores the heartbreaks unfortunately associated with becoming a young woman. Growing into adulthood means discovering the qualities that make you cringe. This heightened self-awareness, coupled with the pressure to have a thriving social life for your Instagram feed, then translates into constant fretting about making all the right moves, obsessing over what everyone else thinks of you. Making your first forays into the dating world often ends in tears brought on by someone who was never good enough for you. The album ends on a much more existential, somber note than it opens. “When am I gonna stop being great for my age and just start being good?” Rodrigo worries on GUTS ’ final song “teenage dream,” which is thematically reminiscent of “Nothing New” by Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers. Both songs dread getting older, a process that all too often results in women celebrities being forgotten in favor of the next generation of young ingénues. Rodrigo asks what are women to do, when youth is a trial-by-fire, but being ‘old’ means obsolescence? One of the album’s most endearing attributes is its honesty. Rodrigo tells such relatable stories–women’s lives are the bundle of contradictions she sings about on the album. Girlhood is feeling like you could conquer the world one minute and sobbing on your bedroom floor the next. It is ill-advised crushes and romantic exploits, the pressure to be the perfect all-American girl, constantly worrying if you said something wrong, and trying to figure out who you will be when you grow up. On GUTS , Rodrigo sings about the joys, concerns, regrets, and insecurities of her predominantly women fanbase as if she was ripping her lyrics straight from their diaries. She does not pretend to have it all figured out. Instead, she simply tells it like it is, in all of girlhood’s chaotic, convoluted, beautiful glory. RATING: INDY Grace Copps is a sophomore in the College planning to major in Government with minors in Journalism and Justice and Peace Studies. She is Co-Reviews Section Editor for The Indy .