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Guts

This week we got our writers to review the hotly anticipated second studio album from Olivia Rodrigo. The creator of lockdown anthem driver’s license, Rodrigo took the charts by storm in 2021 and following the success of the second album’s lead single vampire we’re keen to find out if Guts can live up to the hype. According to Rodrigo, the album is a time capsule filled with "lots of confusion, mistakes, awkwardness & good old fashioned teen angst." But what did our writers think?


 A dark green background, with two lines of pink dots framing a photo of Olivia, posing leaning her head on a dining table style chair. She's wearing a light blue t shirt, and has her long dark hair down


Lois


Anyone who’s breathed air in the last two years will know Olivia Rodrigo as the latest of the modern Disney Princesses to turn songstress and dominate charts and award shows. I caught sight of her just as ‘drivers license’ became the favourite of every jilted young person of high school age and it sounded… actually really unhealthy for someone just of age to be going through. Let’s be realistic, between Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, there’s a market for this narrative: The young ingenue stumbling all Judy-Garlandesque through a cut-throat industry; bleeding out their hearts under a spotlight; somehow surviving into womanhood (which, in this context, seems to mean not-a-teenager) and taking a moment to reflect. Track one - ‘all-american bitch’, is exactly what I expected. It’s the oh-so-self-aware dig at the duality of the American Dream; the hidden dirt behind the white picket fences with its “coca-cola bottles” for hair curlers and “Class and integrity / Just like a god-damn Kennedy.” Personally, I prefer Taylor Swift’s “covert narcissism I disguise as altruism like some kind of congressman”. It feels like Olivia and/or her producer have taken the route of early 2000’s bands making music as a tribute to the 90’s - loads of stuff that came out of America started sounding sort of skater-ish. and then Linkin Park were formed and made a sort of metal 2.0, complete with endorsements from Jonathan Davis etc. We get this kind of late 90’s-ish pseudo rock-rap vibe from ‘bad Idea, right?’ and I’ll say this: 14 year old me would have been dancing around my best friend’s Grandma’s living room to this. Once we get to ‘vampire’, I can hear the old ‘drivers license’ lament but she’s moved on from being sad about it and driving past his house to picking apart his toxicity and learning not to blame herself. Having read various quotes in the press surrounding the writing of the new stuff and the impact of the old, I can only respond with: You go girl! I’m skipping over ‘lacy’ and ‘ballad of a homeschooled girl’. One sounds like the archetypal frenemy who is probably a crush if we felt able to be honest, the other seems to point to crippling social anxiety. It’s all very high-school-outcast. The trope of “every guy I like is gay” is so 90’s I thought I was actually back in school with all the teachers warning us against the evils of queer people. But on to ‘logical’. I know I’ve made out like she isn’t entirely my cup of tea but cynics can see beauty. This is beautiful, and I really hear her vocal capabilities here. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets some kind of classic orchestral rearrangement.

She knows when to switch out of being contemplative in G Major and go back to the pop/rock refrain with ‘get him back!’ And when I really stepped back and admitted that there’s no filler on this album. The cynical side of me is still left reeling nonetheless: Is the lot of every young female pop artist going to be analysing and navigating toxicity in relationships? I feel like we’ve been seeing this since pop music was invented. In ‘teenage dream’ she asks us “when am I gonna stop being great for my age and just start being good?” Did a 20-year-old just get that upset at being young? Has nobody told her that she’s good yet? Who is she speaking to, and what are they telling her? It's a great pop record. It does what it does very well. Doesn’t she know that? Just how big is this machine she’s in and to what extent does it rely on her being young and upset to sell records? Answers on a postcard I guess.



An image of Rodrigo looking directly at the camera in front of a white background.

Wayne


I like this album more than I should, not that Rodrigo’s label is worried about the nearly 50-year-old male market.


The pacing is chaotic. It blasts off in fifth gear, then shudders to a near stop, like a learner struggling to drive stick as our American cousins would say. The melodramatic theatrics feel tired. Rodrigo’s f-bombs come across like a cliched middle finger to the House of Mouse, and there’s no obvious sense of progression as a singer or songwriter.

It’s clear, particularly in the closing track ‘teenage dream’ (arguably the best song here), that she doesn’t know who she is. Which is the album’s real strength - because what 20-something does?


Rodrigo understood the assignment for her sophomore outing. Yes, the newly anointed poster girl for revenge music continues to put those who have wronged her over her lyrical knee. The curb is littered with recently kicked fools tonight. I imagine Instagram and TikTok’s servers are close to exploding as armies of the recently dumped upload montages of them and their exes as ‘vampire’ or ‘get him back!’ plays. She needs to be more like Elsa and let sh*t go.

The guitar riff rich, best played loud, poppy numbers are a lot of fun. Rodrigo’s got a great voice, and she knows how to turn a phrase. But there aren’t any ‘driver’s license’ like anthems among them, instead they’re rather forgettable froth. Less Taylor Swift, more Avril Lavigne (I love you Avril, but ‘Girlfriend’ was a slippery slope).


Guts’ magic lies in the slower tempo, simpler tracks. Those are the songs I’ll return to. There’s a wonderful, visual, storytelling texture to them too. I can imagine several of them – particularly ‘pretty isn’t pretty’ – would have landed well in John Hughes’ movies. They’re about growing pains. Feeling alone and being okay or not okay with that. Not knowing what you want. Accepting you’ve made mistakes and owning them. There’s a glimmer of maturity and awareness that marks Rodrigo as a continuing force to be reckoned with.


Ending on ‘teenage dream’ was genius. It would’ve been so easy to bow out hard with an end-of-the-night, crowd pleasing shot. Instead we get the hangover. The song has a strong “I’m done with this”, driving off into the sunset, fade to black vibe which was kinda ballsy.


I imagine the success of debut album Sour casts a long shadow. Rodrigo being constantly compared to Swift, while flattering, isn’t doing her any favours. Wisdom begins in wonder. It’s said your 20s are your selfish years. Try sh*t. Love lots and little. Do what you want, not what others want you to do. Set your own expectations or, even better, set none. Rodrigo needs to take some risky detours and see where the road takes her because staying in cruise control is only going to steer her into the middle of the road musically. I mean, different isn’t necessarily bad.



The album cover of Sour, with Rodrigo standing with her arms crossed in front of a purple background. Her face is covered in stickers and her tough is out, with the word 'sour' stuck on it
Rodrigo's debut album Sour


Jayne


Before listening to Guts I had only heard approximately 3 of Olivia Rodrigo's songs, and those were the few that had managed to go viral on TikTok. Which feels apt for an artist like Rodrigo, who to me is a representation of Gen Z and the culture that was born from the boom of TikTok and its content.


Guts gives a similar and yet slightly different vibe to what I expected, in that the entire album feels a lot like a soundtrack to a teen movie that I'd have watched in my highschool years. Expected for the age group Rodrigo falls into and largely appeals to, but also shocking in that it had a distinctly retro feel to it.


Songs such as ‘bad idea, right?’ and ‘get him back’ were the kind of angry girl rock songs that my teenage self would have loved screaming at the top of their lungs. I could perfectly imagine the lead of a coming of age movie going through a rebellious phase, perhaps a cooky montage of some highschool ‘shenanigans’. It felt like an ode to those complicated, if in hindsight a little inconsequential feelings of your mid to late teens right before all the real adulting happens and the biggest worry you have is who fancies who and if your crush noticed you that day. It's light, it's playful, but it's not making an impression that will last beyond the fleeting enjoyment I get from one or two listens.


On the flip side to that coin are the ballads that are peppered throughout. These come with more melancholy flavour, and in this structure of storytelling I think the album is going for, they're the narrative struggles. The heartbreak, the betrayal, the battles with jealousy and self-image.


I personally find the ballads a lot more palatable. They feel like complete pieces where the more upbeat tracks don't. The lyrics of ‘vampire’ and ‘teenage dream’ feel developed with a clear message behind them; and while the message may be semi-apparent in other tracks, the lyrics aren't as well thought out. ‘love is embarrassing’ is an example, in which Rodrigo relies very heavily on the instrumentals to make the song what it is– something to jump around and sing along to– and the words are basic and unimaginative.


There are some tracks that have potential to be very good, but again, for me, fall flat on their structure. ‘lacy’ has a theme that appeals to me, with a delightful melody to match, but aside from one or two lines that stood out the lyrics feel clunky. The metaphors are too mixed to the point it's a little jarring, and the whisper-esque singing style feels a little out of left field for what I expect from this artist.


Overall the album isn't bad, and there are a handful of songs that have made it onto my personal playlists already, but it hasn't blown me away as much as I hoped it would. A lot like the movies I used to watch as a teen, I may revisit it every now and then, but only if I'm in the very particular mood to do so.



Edited by Harriet.


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