It isn’t personal, it’s guttural.
Grammy winner Olivia Rodrigo’s second full length album GUTS packs an angsty punch with song titles like “all-american bitch” and “ballad of a homeschooled girl,” but do not let that fool you. Rodrigo has created an edgy aura of pop-punk-prestige immersed in swift lyricism and vocal performances sure to impress.
Rodrigo has the “sun in [her] mother-fucking pocket” in “all-american bitch.” In a very stately inaugural address, she opens her album with an errant declaration of what she is and is not. A burgeoning anthem – between sweetness and rage, Rodrigo alternates her harmonies effortlessly between acoustic and garage pop instrumentation “with love to spare, [she] forgive[s] and forget[s].”
“Vampire” is a piano piece steeped in a searingly sharp vocal performance that evolves into a synth laden dance pop ballad. Rodrigo utilizes her dynamic range with power and acuity, 45 seconds in she begins to scale through the octaves and crescendos into the penultimate chorus. By shattering the illusion of a one-sided romance; she is refusing to be a party to it anymore. The instrumentation and lyricism mirror the conceptual ideas of light and dark; “I used to think I was smart / but you made me look so naive / the way you sold me for parts / you sunk your teeth into me / bloodsucker, fame-fucker / bleeding me dry like a goddamn vampire.”
With lyrics like “smart sexy lacy / I’m losing it lately” and “lacy oh lacy / I just loathe you lately / and I despise my jealous eyes / and how hard they fell for you,” the aching romanticism of “lacy” is as apparent as it is relatable. In essence, it is a beautifully balanced ode to an object of painful longing. Between harmonies and finely finger-plucked acoustic riffs we enter into the hazy facets of rationalizing the difference between envy and desire. In an industry where artists toe the line between full transparency and maintaining personal privacy; sexuality and gender roles have become the muddled middle ground in the arena. Whoever the song is about, it is clear, there is a kind of love there but it doesn’t always have to mean more than that, because maybe it isn’t for us to know.
Coming to terms with her public persona and how that life merges into her personal reality, Rodrigo makes it clear in “making the bed.” With the lines “I’m so tired of being the girl that I am / every good thing has turned into something I dread / and I’m playing the victim so well in my head / but it’s me who’s been making the bed,” there is a revelation in personal accountability. With soft spoken, breathy vocals and cyclical echoing synths offset by a solid drum beat, she points the finger at herself and in turn takes back control of her narrative.
With this, breaking down the lucid daydream emotionally abusive love can often feel like, “logical” is vulnerability and spreads it bare. The lyrics themselves are black and white, presenting the gaslighting and manipulation in this relationship without any filter or forgiveness, except for maybe oneself.
In “pretty isn’t pretty” Rodrigo addresses the unrealistic perfectionism in beauty ideals and how it can lead to crippling insecurities. The hard-hitting reality of this song is set by the drum intro and ’80s guitar, ” you can win the battle / but you’ll never win the war / fix the things you hated / and you’d still feel so insecure.” In essence, Rodrigo calls out a standard that chews up youthful innocence and spews out insecure, damaged products. An astute message to her audience, she gives a voice to the young person staring into a reflection they struggle to recognize.
While the album as a whole does not shy away from prominent issues, “get him back!” is the revenge anthem sure to become a staple at a Rodrigo show. To be there, as the tension builds, the tempo steadily climbs and Rodrigo guides the crowd to the moment “I wanna get him back / I wanna make him really jealous, wanna make him feel bad” and 50 or 50,000 people unanimously scream the lyrics at the same time; well that’s what it is all about.
Closing out with a harrowing homage to the truth of time, “teenage dream” wrestles with the fear of the future and how that future is framed by the success of her past. The defining line of a generation, “they all say that it gets better / it gets better, but what if I don’t?”
If GUTS is any inclination to what that looks like, Rodrigo will be alright.