GUTS by Olivia Rodrigo // Album Review

GUTS by Olivia Rodrigo HQ Album Photoshoot

GUTS is the highly anticipated sophomore release from Olivia Rodrigo, following up her massively successful debut album, SOUR, in 2021. To have the level of success she has had right out the gate with her first-ever single "driver's license" in early 2021 is so rare and she quickly became one of the most notable pop artists to debut this decade so far. There are a lot of songs that I have come to really enjoy on this album, some of which are among my favorites of the entire year so far. When comparing GUTSto SOUR*, they are alike in a lot of ways, both sonically and aesthetically. In my opinion, GUTS builds upon the foundation she and her producer/co-writer, Dan Nigro, set in place with SOUR really well.

Olivia is in such an interesting and unique position as an artist right now. The closest, or most recent, comparison I have to it is where Billie Eilish was at with her career a few years ago after her debut album. Both her and Olivia went from being virtually unknown as mainstream musicians to all of a sudden instantly becoming a household name with the biggest album and song in the world seemingly overnight. With Billie Eilish's sophomore album in 2021, she very much delved into the reality and honest truth behind the intensity and pressures that having that immense level of fame and attention is like as a young woman. Happier Than Ever delves into topics surrounding double standards, being manipulated and taken advantage of for her naïveté, as well as trying to be everything everyone wants you to be at all times. GUTS is very similar to that notion in a lot of ways and explores every facet of her life from where SOUR left off two years ago.  

"Writing the first album, it just felt so spontaneous. I was 17 years old just pouring my heart out. This time I was in a different place and I was having a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations placed on me. I really had to try to block out the noise and just focus on the craft of songwriting," she said in an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music 1. "A lot of this album is about the confusion that comes with becoming a young adult and figuring out your place in this world. Figuring out who you want to be and who you want to hang out with and all of that stuff," she continued. 

GUTS by Olivia Rodrigo HQ Album Cover Photoshoot

The album starts with a song called "all-american bitch". In a lot of ways, it embodies the concept that being a woman is a double-edged sword at times. It is so representative of the universal standards and pressures of perfection that we as women are expected to succumb to. "It's one of my favorite songs I've ever written," she told Zane Lowe. "I think it expresses something that I've been trying to express since I was 15 years old, this repressed anger and feeling of confusion or trying to be put into a box as a girl." She said the title of the song came from an essay by Joan Didion in The White Album*, which is one of my personal favorite books ever. "It comes from the essay that she wrote about hippies in San Francisco and running away from home," she explained. "One of the runaways was talking about his mom back home and said that she was an 'all-American bitch.' I was like, 'Wow, that’s so cool.' It’s such a provocative set of words. I sat down the next day at the piano and wrote 'all-american bitch.'... You never know the trajectory a song is going to take." 

The song has so many twists and turns, as the verses have such a sharp sonic contrast to the chorus. It reminds me of a mix between No Doubt's "Just A Girl" and Miley Cyrus' "Start All Over". It is the perfect opening track because it sets up so many of the recurring themes that the rest of GUTS has in such a clear and succinct way. She has said it is inspired by her favorite punk bands that she grew up listening to and shaped the rest of the album around this song. The verses all sound very sweet and gentle with lyrics like "I am built like a mother and a total machine, I feel for your every little issue, I know just what you mean" and "I got class and integrity, just like a goddamn Kennedy, I swear, with love to spare". The choruses in comparison have a lot of the same grit and angst that SOUR's opening song, "brutal" has, but perhaps even more-so. In the chorus she takes back her power as she sings, "Forgive, and I forget, I know my age, and I act like it, got what you can't resist, I'm a perfect all-American bitch, with perfect all-American lips, and perfect all-American hips, I know my place, and this is it". In an interview with The Guardian, Olivia delved deeper into the meaning behind "all-american bitch", "I've experienced a lot of emotional turmoil over having all these feelings of rage and dissatisfaction that I felt like I couldn’t express, especially in my job. I’ve always felt like: you can never admit it, be so grateful all the time, so many people want this position. And that causes a lot of repressed feelings. I’ve always struggled with wanting to be this perfect American girl and the reality of not feeling like that all the time." In the outro of this song, she reverts back to the sweetness of the opening verse, this time with a little hint of sarcasm in her voice she sings, "All the time, I'm grateful all the time, I'm sexy, and I'm kind, I'm pretty when I cry".

The second track, "bad idea, right?", is such a fun and playful song and is definitely a contender for one of my top songs of the year. It may actually be my favorite song by Olivia yet, it's just so good and addictive to listen to. The lyrics are very tongue-and-cheek, written as if it's a conversation between friends, which in a way is what the song actually started as between her and her collaborator Dan Nigro. "Yes, I know that he's my ex, but can't two people reconnect? I only see him as a friend, the biggest lie I ever said, oh, yes, I know that he's my ex, but can't two people reconnect? I only see him as a friend, I just tripped and fell into his bed" she sings in the chorus. "I wrote it in New York. Me and my friend, Dan, were at Electric Lady Studios, and I was telling him about one of my fun escapades. I sent this guy a text: 'seeing you tonight, it's a bad idea, right?,' and I was, like, 'Ooh, that rhymes.'  And so I told Dan about it the next day..." she said in an interview with Rolling Stone. "The refrain started as a joke, he was just making fun of me, he was just going, 'My brain goes, 'Ah'.' And we were like, 'Wait, maybe we're onto something there, maybe there's something in there.' And so we wrote the song 'bad idea, right?,' and I really like it, I think it's kind of funny and tongue-and-cheek, and the music is fun and upbeat and makes me want to dance."

Another one of my favorites is "love is embarrassing", which is simply a great pop song about a rollercoaster of emotions. The production reminds me of something Jack Antonoff would make for a Bleachers song, which is an element that I love about it too. Olivia told Rolling Stone about the inspiration behind the song, "I think I was just having one of those days, where you think of one embarrassing thing that you've done and just, suddenly, it snowballs into every cringey thing that you've ever done in your entire life, and I was just, like, 'Oh my God, this is so bad,' just playing it back over and over in my head, and so I wrote this song." I love the lyricism too, it's so catchy. The line "you found a new version of me and I damn near started World War III" also gives me a little bit of deja vu too. 

Her up-tempo, pop-punk inspired tracks are absolutely where her talents shine the most throughout this album. The same goes for her debut album too, those are absolutely some of the best moments on SOUR. I would describe the sound as 1990's pop-rock and early 2000's pop-punk, which kind of creates a sound somewhere between Gwen Stefani and Avril Lavigne. Her delivery is top-tier and it is really obvious as the listener that she is having the most fun when making and performing songs like that. She has the perfect amount of attitude in her voice to be able to pull off so many of these funny and ironic one-liners. Some of the many highlights include; "And I'm sure I've seen much hotter men, but I really can't remember when" and "and I told my friends I was asleep, but I never said where or in whose sheets," on "bad idea, right?" - "Everything I do is tragic, every guy I like is gay", on "ballad of a homeschooled girl" - and "He said he's six-foot-two, and I'm like, 'Dude, nice try'" and "But I am my father's daughter, so maybe I could fix him" on "get him back!" to only name a few. The whole album is full of great lines that are so cleverly written!

The eighth track, "get him back!" is a really cute and upbeat song and I was happy to hear that it was going to be the next single off the album. It switches between having the intent of getting revenge on an ex-boyfriend, while also simultaneously wanting to get back together with him. The verses feel straight out of the 90's to me, with a delivery and attitude that reminds me so much of Gwen Stefani in her early No Doubt days, it's just so good. I hear that influence throughout the entire song, but especially in the way she sings the line, "He said I was the only girl, but that just wasn't the truth". The chorus also reminds me of "Girlfriend" by Avril Lavigne or "We Are Never Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift, which is a part of the song that I can imagine is going to be super fun when she performs it live too! She goes back and forth in the bridge between love and hate as she sings, "I wanna key his car, I wanna make him lunch, I wanna break his heart, then be the one to stitch it up, wanna kiss his face, with an uppercut, I wanna meet his mom, just to tell her her son sucks".

That same kind of lighthearted and campy lyricism reminds me of "ballad of a homeschooled girl", which details a number of funny and awkward situations she has been in. "Made it weird, then made it worse, each day that I'm alive, it's social suicide", she sings. The second verse is my favorite, again her delivery is just so good. She sings, "I laughed at the wrong time, sat with the wrong guy, sеarchin' 'how to start a conversation?' on a website, I talkеd to this hot guy, swore I was his type, guess that he was makin' out with boys the whole night, everythin' I do is tragic, every guy I like is gay, the morning after I panic, oh, God, what did I say?".

Upon first hearing that the album would be called GUTS, to be honest, I honestly thought it was one of the worst titles I have ever heard for a record. But hearing Olivia talk in several interviews about the ambiguous meaning the word "guts" has made me appreciate the title of it more in the way it connects to the themes of the album. It represents phrases such as "spill your guts" or "hate your guts", but also with having the guts and confidence to bare all of your deepest thoughts for the world to hear. She really does put herself out there and is so honest as a songwriter on this album, which takes a lot of guts to do!

GUTS by Olivia Rodrigo HQ Album Photoshoot

The more I listened to GUTS, the more I have come to appreciate the slower, more intimate moments as well. The first of those ballads is the album's lead single, "vampire". It does follow a similar formula that "driver's license" did in a lot of ways, with the way it starts off as a whispery piano ballad and keeps building and building to a big chorus and an even bigger bridge. There are a lot of highs and lows throughout the song, it is very dynamic in that way. On "vampire", she is kind of having her own "Dear John" moment, with her calling out an older man that took advantage of her for her age and fame. "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, bloodsucker, fame fucker, bleedin' me dry like a goddamn vampire", she sings in the powerful chorus. 

"I was upset about a certain situation and went to the studio alone and sat down at the grand piano, and the chords and melody and lyrics just poured out of me - almost like an out-of-body experience," Olivia told DORK. "It’s a song about feeling confused and hurt, and at first I thought it was meant to be a piano ballad. But when Dan and I started working on it, we juxtaposed the lyrics with these big drums and crazy tempo changes. So now it’s like a heartbreak song you can dance to." It is such an emotional and powerful song with lyrics like, "And every girl I ever talked to told me you were bad, bad news, you called them crazy, God, I hate the way I called 'em crazy too" and the most poignant, "Went for me and not her, 'cause girls your age know better". It is always so sad hearing young girls go through that, you can really hear all of the pain and regret in her voice as she sings those lyrics. "vampire", as well as track seven "logical", share a lot of similarities thematically to "Selfish" by Madison Beer too, in more ways than one. "logical" resembles "vampire" in a lot of ways, especially with the vivid metaphors used in the lyricism. The bridge is my favorite part of the song because Olivia really doesn't hold anything back as she sings, "Argument you held over my head, brought up the girls you could have instead, said I was too young, I was too soft, can't take a joke, can't get you off, oh, why do I do this?"

Toward the end of the album, she tries to find closure for the distress she faced during this manipulative relationship that is at the center of so many of these songs on "the grudge". "But you know I can't let it go, I've tried, I've tried, I've tried for so long, it takes strength to forgive, but I don't feel strong", she sings. The song is left open-ended in the final line, which feels like a metaphor for the ongoing conflicting emotions of wanting to forgive, but still holding a grudge against this person for what he put her through.

Other moments on the album also delve into a similar situation she was dealing with that inspired "vampire", namely a song called "making the bed". Instead of placing the blame on another, she is now looking introspectively at herself as the problem. It is a very melancholic and self-deprecating song, involving all of the ways her life has changed over the last few years. "I was 19 and had all this zest for life but also was in this industry for the first time, and that can be kind of alluring: Ooh, there's all these exciting people and exciting things, all these fancy, shiny new toys...or getting caught up in artificial interpretations of yourself," she told The Guardian. "I say all this about separating person from persona, but it's a strange thing when you become successful and get noticed for songs that are super raw and intimate, so on a certain level you feel like people really know you - and they do, but not in the way that your friends or family would know you. It's a little bit of a tricky situation." With the good inevitably comes the bad, which is very honest and sincere for her to be so open about. She sings, "I'm so tired of bein' the girl that I am, every good thing has turned into somethin' I dread and I'm playin' the victim so well in my head, but it's me who's been makin' the bed". In many ways her music and her career has become so much bigger than the singular person she is behind it all, which is what this song is acknowledging. "And every night, I wake up from this one recurring dream, where I'm driving through the city and the brakes go out on me, I can't stop at the red light, I can't swerve off the road, I read somewhere it's 'cause my life feels so out of control and I tell someone I love them just as a distraction, they tell me that they love me like I'm some tourist attraction".  

GUTS by Olivia Rodrigo HQ Album Photoshoot

The pressures of trying to appease society's expectations of you is another theme of GUTS that is so evocative. In some way, I think every woman can relate to the message of a song like "pretty isn't pretty". It's about the way that trying to conform to trends and beauty standards is a never-ending cycle of insecurity, and none of it really matters anyway. "You could win the battle, but you will never win the war", is such a perfect way of putting that feeling into words. It is such an important message, one that can benefit girls of any age, but especially considering she has a young audience that looks up to her. "When pretty isn't pretty enough, what do you do?" she wonders, "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". In the bridge she sings, "And I bought all the clothes that they told me to buy, I chased some dumb ideal my whole fucking life and none of it matters, and none of it ends, you just feel like shit over and over again". It reminds me so much of "jealousy, jealousy", which is one of my favorite songs from SOUR for all of these same reasons. "All I see is what I should be, happier, prettier, it's jealousy, jealousy".

The fourth track, "lacy" also feels connected in some way to the message of "jealousy, jealousy", too. It is unclear what the relationship between Olivia and the character of Lacy is, but it is clear that she has her up on the highest pedestal of both worship and envy - to the point of obsession. "I see you everywhere, the sweetest torture one could bear," she sings. "lacy" has such a different vibe from the rest of the album, it is very understated and simple, with gorgeous vocals. It started as a poem she wrote for a college class she was taking that eventually turned into this song. She views Lacy as having the one thing that she wants, describing her as the epitome of perfection as she sings, "I try to rationalize, people are people, but it's like you're made of angel dust". She also calls her a "dazzling starlet, Bardot reincarnate," while wondering, "well aren't you the greatest thing to ever exist?"

The final song on the album is called "teenage dream", which is quite a sad, but very real note to end on. I view it as her coming to terms with the fact that all that she has, in terms of her level of success in the music industry right now, could very well be temporary. She is also dealing with the notion that in a couple of years, she could out-grow the music she is making now, and/or the audience could out-grow her. She started her first album with the question of "where's my fucking teenage dream?", to now finishing her second album almost apologizing for not being able to be that anymore. "I'll blow out the candles, happy birthday to me, got your whole life ahead of you, you're only nineteen, 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," she sings. 

It reminds me of "Nothing New" by Taylor Swift featuring Phoebe Bridgers, which is a song that Taylor originally wrote around the same age Olivia is now. They ponder the same question, "Will you still want me when I'm nothing new?" For any artist, it is very difficult to sustain a long-term music career, especially in the music industry that is run by ever-changing trends and algorithms. As Taylor says in "Nothing New", "People love an ingénue" - so what happens when she isn't that anymore? What happens when she isn't the cool, angsty teenager singing about getting her driver's license last week and have it sound genuine? I hate that the music industry does treat so many artists, especially young female artists, as if they are disposable - but it really is a tale as old as time at this point with how Hollywood treats women. The cycle will unfortunately continue and it's a sad truth for many. It also is a fear that rings true outside of the context of her music career too, but just as a young woman growing up and entering a new stage of life in her twenties. This song is her grappling with growing up in a very relatable way, a lyric that makes me very emotional is "Will I spend all the rest of my years wishing I could go back?" As Lorde would say in "Ribs", "It feels so scary getting old" - and it does! 

Taylor singing "Lord, what will become of me once I've lost my novelty?" reminds me of Olivia singing the final lines of "teenage dream". The album ends with Olivia repeating, "They all say that it gets better, it gets better the more you grow, they all say that it gets better, it gets better, but what if I don't?"

At it's core, GUTS feels so representative of every facet of a young woman's life. Even if the truth may be messy at times, Olivia is so honest in sharing her highs and lows. It is so evident when listening to this album that she is sharing her genuine, inner-most feelings, which makes this music feel so authentic - even in it's flaws. It is a celebration of girlhood in all of it's beauty and pain.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of GUTS*, I would really appreciate if you did so through my affiliate link, which I may earn a commission from. ♡ Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! 


Photo Credit: Oliva Rodrigo, Geffen Records


*affiliate links are featured throughout this post. I may earn a commission from qualifying purchases. -- Melissa Kacar is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com



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