On Friday, Sept. 8, Olivia Rodrigo released her long-anticipated sophomore album, GUTS, and it did not disappoint. Her debut album, SOUR, which was released in May 2021, mostly explored the trauma associated with a toxic breakup. It’s heartbreaking and depressing and I love it, but it’s mostly about a dysfunctional teenage relationship, and I was looking forward to seeing her growth on her new album.
Admittedly, GUTS does again address the idea of unhealthy romances, but it also explores new territory. Rodrigo sounds more mature, if a bit jaded, as she delves into recurring themes of regret and self-loathing. But more than that, GUTS is an expression of Rodrigo’s jumble of emotions surrounding growing up and becoming a woman.
But what was most impressive about GUTS, to me, was how stylistically complex its tracks are. It feels like Rodrigo grew up over the past two years, not just as a person but as an artist. Every chord, beat and sound feels meaningful. The songs are still catchy and feel like two-to-three-minute bursts of emotion, which is part of what made the songs on SOUR so successful, but more than that, they sound more polished and tightly bound together.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the first track on GUTS, “all-american bitch.” The track is unusually structured, alternating from breathy and almost acoustic at times to up-tempo and angry. It’s like two different songs are squeezed into one, as laid-back, melodic verses are interrupted by waves of shouty choruses that feel like repressed rage. These choices accentuate Rodrigo’s frustration with attempting to be and grow into the perfect woman, an “all-American girl,” which means bottling up what we feel until it bubbles over into resentment.
In “ballad of a homeschooled girl,” the increase in tempo and volume on the track work together to emulate the frantic internal noise of social anxiety. The chorus and bridge sound exactly like the internal scream that inevitably follows an embarrassing social mishap while the underlying beat pounds like a rushing heartbeat. Combined, these choices depict Rodrigo’s bursts of self-loathing as she berates herself for her own awkwardness.
Admittedly, “lacy” took me some time to like, but it too makes smart stylistic decisions. Upon subsequent listens, I came to appreciate how wistful and delicate it is, and the bridge is so angelic. It’s painfully pretty, expressing the downward emotional spiral of being so jealous of someone you hate them but then hating yourself for ever being jealous in the first place.
However, even as Rodrigo experiments with different arrangements and styles, GUTS more often feels like the older sister to SOUR than a separate creative entity. In “bad idea right?,” Rodrigo includes borderline spoken lyrics, á la “drivers license” and “good 4 u,” so that it feels vulnerably conversational as she alternates from addressing her ex to appealing to her listeners. She’s sarcastic and snarky but also defensive and self-deprecating as she opens herself up to the judgment she knows she’ll receive — and the regret she knows she’ll eventually feel — for reconnecting with her ex.
In “vampire,” Rodrigo includes a dramatic, sweeping chorus a bit like “traitor” or “drivers license,” but more biting. Where “traitor” is melancholy and heartbroken, “vampire” is bitter and regretful. Where “drivers license” expresses an almost loving longing for someone, “vampire” completely dehumanizes them, transforming them into a heartless monster. It is lyrically both beautiful and “brutal” (SOUR pun intended).
But while “vampire” is reminiscent of “drivers license,” “the grudge” feels almost like an extension or continuation of it. From the simple piano chords and the climbing pre-chorus to the escalation of the song from conversational to almost crying and the “oohs” in the bridge, the songs are very similar. As “the grudge” is about not being strong enough to let go of the past and forgive someone, it feels like a sequel to the ongoing heartbreak showcased in “drivers license.”
Overall, GUTS is the perfect second album for fans of SOUR. It’s honest and raw and feels authentic to Rodrigo’s experiences growing up from being a teenager to a young adult. I would say that female college students and young adults are probably the demographic this album would appeal to the most, but I also think there’s a little bit in it for everyone to enjoy (at the very least, the tracks make for some very catchy earworms).