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Just when I thought Olivia Rodrigo would not make my top-five listened to artists on Spotify this year, she dropped her newest album, GUTS. Rodrigo’s second album is a pop-rock, ballad-infused, thematically relatable thirty-nine minutes of pure fun. It’s the perfect album for a “teenage-girl-in-her-20s,” and it doesn’t attempt to hide it. Olivia Rodrigo brings a unique blend of her signature SOUR style while also re-inventing her sound through the ‘can’t get over her ex’ songs in GUTS.
A Gutsy Self-Exposé
While the songs in GUTS are catchy or great for flawlessly blending into the too-familiar ‘sad songs’ playlist, the real highlight of the album is the meanings behind the songs. Olivia Rodrigo states that GUTS is about “growing up and finding your footing in the world.” Rodrigo nails this sentiment from the beginning of the album, from "all-american b*tch's" passive aggressive frustration at never being enough, to track twelve’s, “teenage dream” bitter feelings towards the idealization of youth.
Throughout the songs in her sophomore album, Rodrigo continuously relays the idea that she hates herself for still loving her ex-boyfriend. While she admits how terrible he treated her in songs like "vampire” she also admits how much she wants him back in the songs “bad idea right?,” “logical,” and "get him back!” Other songs on the album portray her as hating herself, like "ballad of a homeschooled girl” and "pretty isn't pretty.”
Each song tells a piece of the story—whether it’s through talk-singing or perfectly placed high notes—the songs all build on top of each other to complete a narrative of Rodrigo’s relationship with her ex. She hates herself for still loving her ex, who all her friends told her was bad for her. On top of that, she never feels good enough and gets jealous of all the ‘perfect’ people she sees on the internet, magazines, and all around her. It’s a tale almost every woman can relate to, whether or not they’ve gone through a similar break-up before.
Gutted Like a Metaphor
Olivia Rodrigo uses carefully crafted lyrics to produce and enhance the themes on her album. There’s the hilariously fitting demonstration of struggling with the lyric, “Can’t think of a third line,” in “ballad of a homeschooled girl,” a song that discusses struggling with life and dealing with the consequences of your actions. There’s also the hard-hitting line, “I’m playing the victim so well in my head,” from "making the bed.” Rodrigo combines comedic lyricism with darkly realistic self-hatred through the words in her songs.
A key feature of GUTS is the fast, fun songs with surprisingly depressing lyrics. One of the best examples of this is the track “pretty isn’t pretty,” which portrays the message of never being good enough, feeling like you need to starve yourself, and always be wearing a face full of makeup. Some of the best lyrics in this song include “Everybody’s keeping it up, So you think it’s you,” and “I try to ignore it but it’s everything I see,” which both describe feeling insecure and worse than everyone else around you. These haunting lyrics are coupled with an upbeat song, juxtaposing the tune with the meaning.
Another song that makes fun of the pain with its differing meaning and melody is "love is embarrassing.” Rodrigo uses a modernized ‘80s tune with words that show her hatred for herself for loving her ex. The lyrics, “Just watch as I crucify myself,” are coupled with the upbeat of the chorus and the song as a whole. This contrasting vibe makes the album both a fun and miserable experience in the best way.
Another entertaining aspect of the lyrics in the album is the clever wordplay. The lead single, “vampire,” uses metaphors and symbolism to define the man that the song is about as a ‘bloodsucker’ who only used Rodrigo for her fame. The song switches from describing realistic scenarios to fantastical descriptions of the man.
“Get him back!” was the third single to be released on the album. The title has a double meaning, as Rodrigo wants to get her ex back, both with revenge and to be with him again. This is shown within the chorus, where she switches from wishing that he will feel bad to missing him and wanting to be with him again. The bridge is undeniably the best part of the song, as Rodrigo’s breathy voice sings about how she wants to “key his car” and “make his lunch.” This double-meaning of the song and the catchy melody made this song one of the best of the album.
A Gut Feeling
The album could have great meaning and lyrics, but it would be nothing without a good sound. Luckily, Rodrigo triumphs over this feat as well. The entire album is a mix of scream-in-your-car songs and sob-in-your-room tracks. The emotions evoked are all so enticing, and served to remind me why Olivia Rodrigo is still one of my favorite artists of all time.
Two songs on the album felt like something Taylor Swift would create if she was producing pop-rock when she was 20 (which makes sense, since Rodrigo is a huge Swiftie). These tracks are “love is embarrassing” and “pretty isn’t pretty.” All of the best aspects of Swift’s music are applied to these songs, while still maintaining the creativity of Rodrigo’s style.
Other songs felt like they belonged in a soundtrack for a popular comfort film. “Lacy,” in particular, reminded me of The Summer I Turned Pretty, a charming romance drama that holds a solid place on my comfort shows list. All the tracks in this album just felt so fitting and comfortable. Even the worst songs on the album, namely “making the bed” and “the grudge” fit the theme of the album perfectly and would still stand out within a sea of slow songs. This album is comforting, exciting, and somehow managed to completely exceed all my expectations.
Overall, GUTS is just a fun album. There’s deep meanings, beautiful and sometimes stupid lyrics, and songs that scream at the listener to replay them over and over. GUTS takes what it means to be a young woman and trying to find your place in the world and expands upon it to create one of the best albums of 2023.
Contact Riley Nower with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.