New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘GUTS’ embodies the teenage girl experience

The pop star’s latest project is a mix of repetitive-yet-fiery anthems and powerful bedroom ballads.
(Courtesy photo by Nick Walker)

Olivia Rodrigo is back and more confident than ever on her second album “GUTS.” A little over two years after the release of her critically acclaimed debut album “SOUR” and subsequent rise in fame, Rodrigo has returned with a new project of earnest pop hits.

Rodrigo is at her best when she leans into the theme of a woman coming of age. She’s aware of this on her newest project, and expands on it by asking bigger questions about life and displaying a wider array of emotions. “GUTS” furthers the ideas she already introduced us to on “SOUR”: heartbreak, teenage angst and jealousy.

“It’s not a complete reinvention of the first album, but it’s new and fresh,” Rodrigo said in a recent Rolling Stone cover story. “We didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel.”

It’s a solid second album, but by no means groundbreaking pop. Many of the lyrics on “GUTS” lack depth — like the line “And now you got me thinkin’ / Two plus two equals five” on “logical” — though there are a few hidden gems that are hard to forget.

A standout is “I am built like a mother and a total machine,” in the punchy opening track “all-american bitch.” The anthem has the strongest writing on the record, satirizing the many expectations that women face, such as the line “I’m sexy, and I’m kind / I’m pretty when I cry” — a reference to Lana Del Rey’s “Pretty When You Cry.” Rodrigo’s writing is witty, sharp and endearingly strange, with moments of dry, dark humor. The beginning and ending notes are calm and tranquil, but the chorus is heavy and quick. The juxtaposition within the song sets high expectations that, unfortunately, not every track on the rest of the album lives up to.

Rodrigo’s hypnotizing vocals shine on the ethereal songs “lacy” and “making the bed,” but some of the pop-rock tracks leave listeners wanting more. There are multiple tracks featuring repeated vocal fry, loud drums and heady basslines, which become overwhelming. Individually, the songs are all effective, but “all-american bitch,” “ballad of a homeschooled girl,” “bad idea right?” and “get him back!” each fulfill essentially the same purpose of an angsty rock anthem. They lose some of their shine when placed on the same project together.

The production of the album was most disappointing, however. Half of the album replicates an all-too-familiar sound from early 2000s pop, while the rest reiterates the bedroom-pop approach to slower songs on “SOUR.” Dan Nigro’s production on both albums creates a defined style for Rodrigo, but “GUTS” is missing the growth that is expected from breakthrough artists’ sophomore albums. It is a more confident version of the style that Rodrigo experimented with on her debut album, but it does nothing to push the songs to a more powerful place.

Both of Rodrigo’s albums reflect a young woman’s internal chaos and melodrama as she comes of age, but “GUTS” explores this chaos with sarcasm rather than devastation. She’s handling the trenches of womanhood with more cynicism this time around.

That’s not to say that “GUTS” is all fun and games, or that “SOUR” was all sadness. The final track “teenage dream” offers up the harrowing confession of insecurity: “They all say that it gets better / It gets better, but what if I don’t?” She offers no false positivity or potential advice, just the honest truth of terrifying self-doubt — an important theme in pop culture. This refrain points to the expectation that Rodrigo needs to beat her last record as a musician, but it’s also a feeling that almost every young adult experiences as they transition into independence.

While this album could’ve been pushed further both sonically and lyrically, Rodrigo is having fun and acting her age on this album. She is archiving her youth in all of its overused cliches, oddities and dramatics. Her earnesty is admirable. “GUTS” is dramatic, loud and it doesn’t care if you like it or not.

Contact Eliana Brown at [email protected].

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