With the release of “drivers license” in 2021, Olivia Rodrigo catapulted to record-breaking success. This, along with her debut album– Sour, earned her three Grammys– Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Pop Solo Performance and Best New Artist. Two years after her debut, Rodrigo has returned with her sophomore album, Guts, a record that meets and exceeds expectations.
Sour was a true heartbreak album — filled with the memories and wounds of falling for the wrong person. However, there were a few songs that broke the theme. For instance, the first song, “brutal” spoke of how growing up isn’t all it’s cooked out to be. “jealousy jealousy,” bore into feeling of falling short of beauty standards all other women seem to effortlessly live up to. As Rodrigo progress from Sour to Guts, she picks up these feelings she touched upon in her debut, and turns them into the canvas of her sophomore album. With this shift in theme, there is also a shift in tone. She’s as candid as ever, but with a playful, snarky twist.
The album opens on “all-american bitch,” a song that lulls you into ballad-like territory, then swerves into a punchy chorus. Just as you’re getting comfortable with the quickened pace, the song mellows out into the next verse. This back-and-forth jostle of mood and pace becomes a hallmark of Guts. Across the album, she coaxes you into gentle listening. Then you realize the softness was quicksand and you spiral down with her, getting roughed up just before you land on soft grass. And then it starts all over again. However many songs down you go, or whichever relisten it is, the album keeps you fresh and excited.
Sour was spinning at the centre of a whirlwind of pain. Guts has moved away from the centre just enough to observe what’s happening. Now it’s frustrated that it’s in the whirlwind at all — sometimes railing at it, sometimes swept up in it and sometimes playing along. It’s the latter that gives rise to songs like “bad idea right?” and “get him back.”
Both songs chronicle wanting to get back into a messy relationship despite knowing all the reasons you shouldn’t. She’s self-aware and playful, toying with the possibility and going after it, out of a sort of reckless urge. The lyrics, too, are truly quite funny– “And I told my friends I was asleep/But I never said where or in whose sheets” and “I wanna meet his mom/Just to tell her her son sucks.” These tracks float with such humor, you’d nearly forget that she’s seconds away from carrying out really bad ideas (right?).
Guts is filled with a variety of clearly distinct sounds. So, even on first listen, the songs are easy to tell apart from each other. This allows her to take up the same theme and make it sound radically different– like she does in “lacy” and “pretty isn’t pretty”. “lacy” is a delicate, mournful song about the admiration, longing and jealousy that brims up at the sight of someone perfectly beautiful– “And I despise my jealous eyes and how hard they fell for you/ Yeah, I despise my rotten mind and how much it worships you.” In “lacy” Rodrigo whispers in a reverent confessional tone, almost as if she is moved to be as soft as Lacy (but don’t miss the trembling as she sings “Smart, sexy Lacy, I’m losin’ it lately”!).
“Pretty isn’t pretty,” on the other hand, is resigned to the feeling of not being able to live up to beauty standards– “I could try every lipstick in every shade/But I’d always feel the same/’Cause pretty isn’t pretty enough anyway.” The song goes over endless efforts to be pretty enough, yet never getting rid of the stinging pain that everyone seems that much prettier than you. Rodrigo also sings it in an upbeat casual way, which makes the song even more heartrending.
Rodrigo often handles her pain with spirited playfulness. But she doesn’t shy away from diving into unflinching vulnerability, as she does in many of the remaining songs. “Vampire” and “grudge” talk about manipulation and betrayal in love, and dealing with its aftermath. My personal favorite, “making the bed,” explores being caught up in a pattern of doing things you doesn’t want to. So you’re stuck blaming yourself and yet not being able to escape. This feeling reaches its culmination in the final song, “teenage dream” where she spells out a terrifying thought: What if this is it? What if things never get better no matter how much older you get?
But of course, she’s going to change things up again. You’re not going to get to stay in the abyss either. In the last few seconds of the song, it’s like nothing ever happened. She’s laughing, there’s a child’s voice in the background, and Rodrigo’s checking if the song got recorded. And with this final twist, she lets you go. But you’re still a bit unsettled, rattled by the sudden veer into normalcy. And you first-hand experience a hint of the struggle the album was speaking of all along.
With Guts, Rodrigo has expertly accomplished what is a massive challenge for any artist. She has followed up a breakthrough debut with a sophomore album that picks up where she left off and takes it multiple notches higher. She has continued to prove herself as a formidable artist with a distinct yet versatile voice. Guts has been totally worth the wait after Sour.