There was much anticipation for Rodrigo's sophomore album after the record-shattering success of her debut, SOURWalt Disney Television / Flickr

After the record-shattering success of Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album SOUR and a subsequent year of silence, the world was eagerly anticipating her next move and whether she could avoid a sophomore slump. On GUTS, Rodrigo reunites with producer Dan Nigro, returning stronger, more punchy and more defiant than ever. By embracing a rock-infused and feminine energy, she concisely encapsulates the plight of young women. In contrast to the sadness and desperation that permeated the lyrics of SOUR, GUTS finds Rodrigo grappling with anxiety and processing the self-loathing that has accompanied her meteoric rise to stardom.

“By embracing a rock-infused and feminine energy, she concisely encapsulates the plight of young women”

From the beginning, Rodrigo incorporates more rock elements, channelling Avril Lavigne in the opening track, ‘all-american bitch’. Boldly reintroducing herself, she pokes fun at the cognitive dissonance of existing as a young woman in American society, literally screaming out her frustrations in a blazing fury before tightly locking up those emotions.

Throughout the album, Rodrigo’s performance choices allow her vocals to radiate with personality. This edginess is most evident on ‘get him back!’ ⁠– a whip-smart play on the double entendre. Her willingness to embrace a talk-singing style gives more literal songs like ‘bad idea right?’ a raw quality while still providing a tasteful glimpse into her inner monologue.

While maintaining a youthful energy, the biting and harsh verses of GUTS show deeper introspection than the outward scorn on SOUR. From lightly poking fun at her own less than stellar decision-making in ‘bad idea right?’ to delivering fiery self-criticism in ‘love is embarrassing’, Rodrigo draws inspiration from 90s and 00s rock, utilising unique vocalisation to express feminine angst.

“The biting and harsh verses of GUTS show deeper introspection than the outward scorn on SOUR”

Never is this raw inward-facing anger more prominently expressed than in ‘ballad of a homeschooled girl’. Each syllable is drenched with self-loathing, showcasing Rodrigo’s total control over her voice. With increasing petulance, she screams: “I’m no fun, I know!” and questions: “Oh, God, what did I say?” There are moments of joy from the catharsis within these songs, even when she is over-analysing her flaws. Rodrigo is truly at her best when self-aware and delivering high-energy rock.

This reflection turns more solemn in ‘making the bed’, as she details the growing pains of her newfound fame. Rodrigo concedes that she is partially at fault for her own discontent, displaying self-awareness about occasionally “playing the victim”. Despite questioning the external forces at play, she says with disgust: “I just let it happen.” In ‘logical’, Rodrigo berates herself for staying in a toxic relationship, lamenting: “I know I could have stopped it all / God, why didn’t I stop it all?” Every song is tinged with self-doubt; even while maintaining a defiant grip on her anger in ‘the grudge’, she concedes: “We both drew blood,” and addresses her inability to forgive as a weakness.

Compared to the experimental and perfectly honed rock bangers, the ballads on GUTS feel like the lull after a high yet they remain sharp-witted and profound. Rodrigo’s songwriting has evidently evolved as she uses exact phrasing and hyper-specific details to pull the listener into a story. Even the softest song, ‘lacy’, still possesses a sharp bite.

While, with SOUR, almost any teenage girl who has ever felt slighted in romance could insert herself into Rodrgio’s lyrics, GUTS delves into the specifics of the harsh treatment she has endured, resulting in a less relatable but more poignant set of breakup ballads. The lead single, ‘vampire’, a rock-opera ballad, defies expectations as it builds, showcasing a medley of her strengths. With biting lyrics, she manages the pressure to live up to ‘driver’s licence’ while avoiding the pitfalls of copying it.


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Although addressing themes of insecurity is not groundbreaking, in ‘pretty isn’t pretty’, Rodrigo manages to put a fresh spin on each topic she touches. Similarly in ‘teenage dream’ (which hit a soft spot when released just days before my 20th birthday), she questions whether, even after all the emotional hardship, she will ever be able to live up to her early success. As the bridge builds, anxiety mounts to a breaking point with no resolution. The heart-wrenching closer encapsulates the anxieties associated with leaving behind your idealised teenage years.

On GUTS, Olivia Rodrigo seamlessly combines deep emotional reckoning and powerful vocals with witty and aggressive rock. By bringing these elements together, she expresses a deep anger directed partially towards others but primarily at herself as she enters adulthood. The record is consistently livid and furious – any brightness comes from a tendency towards self-deprecation. While she concludes the album by wondering if she has reached her peak, Rodrigo has shown that, by continuing to take risks and acting on her instincts, she can shine brighter than ever.