Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘GUTS’ Review
By Charlotte Stone
Olivia Rodrigo outdoes herself with ‘GUTS’, not only a spiritual sequel to her successful debut ‘SOUR’ but a remarkable reckoning with her rise to stardom and a continuation of her particular brand of teenage angst. Rodrigo is at the perfect age of relatability – at twenty, she is still young enough to be vulnerable with her teenage turmoils but at a stage where her move into adulthood is raw and relatable. She has a lot to work with, and there is almost certainly more maturity to this project than Rodrigo’s previous album; her age bringing a more nuanced reflection on not just her relationships (and the failed ones that ‘SOUR’ was so obsessed with) but career and, most importantly, herself.
This peppy girl rock-pop album does not fail as a successor to ‘SOUR’, but makes its own statement too, something that I didn’t expect. When I approach pop albums (especially from someone with a rapid rise to fame like Rodrigo), I’m usually expecting the same generic formula. Rodrigo’s last album had a lot of soft, crooning relationship woes, akin to the likes of friend and fellow singer-songwriter Conan Gray’s earlier work, with laments like traitor and 1 step forward, 3 steps back being slow and emotional, mourning past loves and relationship troubles. ‘GUTS’ takes those three steps back, and then a huge leap forward – this witty exploration of fame, relationships, girlhood and the self is the pop formula and more, and I couldn’t be happier that it defied my expectations.
The standouts of ‘SOUR’ were to me certainly her louder ‘brutal’ and the ever-popular ‘good 4 u’, and to my immense relief ‘GUTS’ picks up where these songs leave off, giving more of the loud ‘scream and shout’ teenage angst that worked so well the first time. She’s not afraid to grit her teeth and get a bit rougher with her music now. Rodrigo picks up the pace with her more upbeat, grungy, punk-pop style in songs like ‘ballad of a homeschooled girl’, which is grainy, vicious and honest. This, I feel, is where Rodrigo shines, yelling and belting some punk-style pop and letting out some of her classic girlhood angst.
That isn’t to say that the gentler songs of this album, like ‘lacy’, ‘logical’ and ‘making the bed’ aren’t a letdown in the slightest. Rodrigo knows that her emotional yearning tends to hit hard – ‘SOUR’ is proof enough of that. Her relationship woes work well here, better than they did in her first album in my opinion. With maturity comes more complex lyricism, a melding of refined wit and snarky sass that makes both her boy-troubles relatable and her laments of fame all the more impactful. Her voice has always been incredibly talented – now, she gives it room to shine in a number of styles, from crooning along with a sorrowful piano to her shimmering, bold pop-rock ballads. All of it has me hooked; the only downside is that ‘GUTS’ is a rollercoaster of emotion that takes you to the floor, bounces you around the room and then takes you down again, a whirlwind that is hard to keep up with. Listening for the first time, I really didn’t know what to expect from each next song – after all, going from ‘bad idea right’ and ‘vampire’ to ‘lacy’ was an emotional hit I hadn’t been prepared to take.
Rodrigo has been in the spotlight since her start on the Disney show ‘Bizaardvark’ and later, ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’. Her 2021 debut was a huge success, shooting her into a world of Grammy wins, top 20s and general stardom. Her sense of exhaustion is real here – at twenty, it looks like she’s entering an era where she can look back on her career so far with a mature, critical eye; her worries about appearing ungrateful or “playing the victim” after getting more than she bargained for in making the bed are raw and honest, especially from a celebrity.
Rodrigo has struck a golden balance between teenage angst and adult yearning, and no doubt as she continues to mature reflections on the glimmering world of celebrities and fame are going to become even more personal and sensitive. I, for one, can’t wait to see where she goes next – with ‘GUTS’ being such a great step up from the incredibly popular success that ‘SOUR’ was, I can only hope that any music in the future is just as exciting (and is sure to be just as popular).