On her sophomore album, the pop princess rocks out and reflects.
Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album SOUR was accompanied by one of the speediest, meteoric rises to pop superstardom in recent memory. Her breakup ballad “drivers license” blew up on arrival, debuting and remaining at #1 on the Hot 100 for eight consecutive weeks. She earned a second chart-topper with the pop-punk hit “good 4 u,” and would go on to win three Grammy awards for the album.
Her sophomore record GUTS takes cues from the winning formula on SOUR, bringing its style and writing to new heights. With an increased rock flair and equally captivating songs, GUTS is poised for as much success as its predecessor, if not more. The writing on GUTS shines as it successfully explores its overarching theme of relationships and breakups from different avenues, while also differing in tone from one track to another.
“bad idea right?” and “get him back!” are tongue-in-cheek tracks where the popstar contemplates getting back with her ex. On the latter, she playfully sings about wanting “to meet his mom, and tell her her son sucks,” playing off the song’s double meaning of revenge and reconciliation. “pretty isn’t pretty” is a standout that describes the incessant insecurity that results from chasing unrealistic beauty standards and the sinking feeling of realizing that they cannot be reached. “lacy” reads like a love-hate letter from the singer to a figurative woman where she blurs the line between complimenting and envying Lacy’s character.
Other tracks include select lyrics that perfectly capture their song’s essence. “It takes strength to forgive, but I don’t feel strong” is a poignant lyric on “the grudge” that perfectly embodies the exhaustion that results from manipulation in a relationship.
GUTS leans into the pop-rock and pop-punk sound far more than SOUR, and its tracks are all filled with driving, groovy basslines, and roaring electric guitars. The pop-punk groove, drums, and guitar licks on “bad idea right?” are addictive, and “ballad of a homeschooled girl” and “get him back!” are high-energy pop-rock jams.
On the other hand, less is more for some of the album’s ballads. Softer tracks like “lacy” and “logical” feature minimalist production consisting almost solely of soft guitars or somber pianos. The album also has great pacing, with songs like “all-american bitch” and “vampire” starting off slow and building towards explosive rock passages, including both styles within the same song—the latter even being a continuous crescendo across its nearly four-minute runtime.
Rodrigo’s vocal performances are commendable on the album. Her rock performances are shouted, energetic, and in-your-face, whereas her balladry is soft-spoken and passionate. “get him back!” features a standout, anthemic hook that is reminiscent of Joan Jett. The outro “teenage dream” also excels at both: Rodrigo’s falsetto repetitions of “it gets better” feel like a warm hug of reassurance, before the track collapses into a rock release as she cathartically ponders “what if it don’t?” She also often layers soft, angel-like vocal lines and “ahhh’s” behind her lyrics, harmonies that add lots of colour to the verses they lie beneath (as best done on “bad idea right?” and “vampire”).
This combination of varied writing, vocal performances and styles, and production is what makes GUTS such an enjoyable record. No matter how brazen or blissful the songs are, Rodrigo’s writing is raw and relatable, her performances are passionate, and the production is the perfect palette to soundtrack it all. GUTS is filled with energetic hits and captivating ballads, and many of its tracks showcase the potential to reach the same chart-topping heights that “vampire” already has.
Trial track: vampire