Album Review: "GUTS" - Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo's long-awaited sophomore album, "GUTS," is finally here! Her first release, "Sour," made history by being the fastest album to have all of its songs certified Platinum or higher by the Recording Industry Association of America. Olivia had seven Grammy nominations and took home three wins at the 2022 Grammys. Olivia certainly had a lot of pressure from "Sour" for her second record, and her fans waited patiently for over two years for an album announcement. "GUTS" as a whole is defined by tumultuous relationships, contrasting emotions, and anxiety surrounding growing up. In "Sour," it seems like Olivia was searching for her place in the world, but after all the events that have happened over the last two years, "GUTS" shows off her maturity and growth as a person and a musician.
Before releasing two albums, Olivia was a child actress. She booked her first role at 11 years old, when she played "Grace" in the 2015 American Girl Doll film, "Grace Stirs Up Success." From there, she transitioned to Disney in 2017 where she played "Paige" on the Disney Channel show, "Bizaardvark," and left the role in 2019. When Olivia got her big break, however, was on the Disney+ original show, "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series," She played Nini, and Olivia's first song, "All I Want," was featured in the show. The show and the song were massive hits, and the show went on for four seasons, although Olivia was only a main character for the first two seasons. After the massive success of "Sour," Olivia embarked on her "Sour Tour," which consisted of 49 shows from April to July of 2022.
Track 1: all-american b*tch
"all-american b*tch" is the album opener, which talks about feeling misplaced in America. The song reflects on the inherent contradictions that are littered throughout American culture: the culture places unattainable goals on women because of double standards. Because of this, Olivia doesn't believe she's the perfect all-american woman, she's the perfect all-american b*tch. The song starts off soft and sweetly, with a soothing acoustic guitar that accompanies Olivia's voice. But in the chorus, the whole vibe of the song switches to a vengeful pop-rock track. Vast changes in production are a common theme for the album since it personifies the up and down feelings of being a teenager. "all-american b*tch" is a perfect opener for the album since it covers the main themes as well as showcasing Olivia's talent to make vastly different styles of music.
Track 2: bad idea right?
"bad idea right?" was the second single released from "GUTS." It smoothly transitions from "all-american b*tch," as that track ends in footsteps, and "bad idea right? starts with knocking on a door. "bad idea right?" talks about the events of one night where Olivia lies to her friends to leave a party to see her ex-boyfriend. She knows it's a bad idea to go over to his place, but she wants to know if she can restart their relationship. The song has a prominent guitar melodic line throughout the entire track, which is simple, yet it adds to the song. Olivia speaks in the verses, which adds a unique and edgy vibe to compliment the pop-rock production. The lyrics are embarrassingly relatable, with my favorite line being "and I'm sure I've seen much hotter men/but I really can't remember when." The adlibs and harmonies in the refrain and chorus, however, are what completes the song, with the most memorable lines being "the biggest lie I've ever said" and "I just tripped and fell into his bed." Again this song has a timbre shift between the verses and the chorus, which is filled with heavy guitars and drums.
Track 3: vampire
"vampire" was the lead single for this long-awaited album that set the scene perfectly for Olivia's new era. "vampire" illustrates her growth as a writer and a singer, with her amazing belt for the hook. This was the perfect lead single because it shows that she is breaking out of her "Sour" shell. The song is all about being taken advantage of and being used, and how Olivia feels like her life is getting sucked out of her in a relationship. It's the first ballad on the album, which features great metaphors relating to a vampire. The song starts off with a sad, melancholic piano melody, but the production continuously amps up as the song goes on. This makes the bridge the peak moment of the song, where emotions are running high Because of the lyrics and the production during the bridge, it makes you feel like you're running from something, just like Olivia is in the music video.
Track 4: lacy
"lacy" started off as a poem for a college poetry class, Olivia shared in an interview with Wired. "lacy" is one of the most self-loathing songs on the album, where Olivia talks about a girl she's incredibly jealous of. She is envious of this other girl, to the point that it comes off as romantic and even obsessive. This song is a break from the intense emotions heard in the first three tracks, where Olivia uses a lighter and breathier vocal technique compared to what she usually does. The lyrics are masterfully written, as it ushers in an eerie feeling throughout the song. "lacy" starts off simple and innocent with the lyrics 'Lacy, oh Lacy, skin like puff pastry," but ends with "yeah I despise my rotten mind and how much it worships you."
Track 5: ballad of a homeschooled girl
"ballad of a homeschooled girl" is Olivia's tale of struggling with social interaction as an adolescent. Olivia, as the title suggests, was homeschooled because of her acting career, and plays into the stereotype that homeschooled kids are socially stunted. The song, whose title references Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," details her social fumbles, whether those be physical or metaphorical. Her lyric "each time I step outside/it's social suicide" references a line in Mean Girls where Regina George told Cady Heron that joining the Mathletes at school would be "social suicide." The track itself leans heavily into angsty feelings, with Olivia's voice sounding almost like a scream in the choruses. This garage band pop song is the truest form of rock on the album, and Olivia does it well. The melody line is fantastic, especially in the chorus, and the decrease in tempo in the bridge makes the speed up into the final chorus even more exciting.
Track 6: making the bed
"making the bed" is a perfectly melancholic track, discussing her self-deprecating thoughts and the general dissatisfaction in her life. In the face of massive fame, Olivia can't help but feel she only has herself to blame when things go wrong. She knows that she's incredibly lucky for all of the things she's done, but at what cost. The vocals on this song take a step back compared the most of the songs on the album; this song features Olivia's breathier voice compared to her belt that we all know and love, but the lyrics still shine through. "making the bed" has a good balance between organic and electronic instruments, with a smooth piano taking the foreground as a beating synth drives through the song. The chorus is built up with guitars and drums but still has that classic ballad feel.
Track 7: logical
"logical" is the seventh track on "GUTS," which talks about all the irrationalities of love. Olivia tells the story of a tumultuous relationship, defined by manipulation, deception, and a dangerous power dynamic. She has to deal with vulnerability, and she hates to bear the fact that she is partially responsible for all of the relationship's problems. This song focuses on another main theme of the album: trying to fix someone. Olivia says, "cause if rain don't pour and sun don't shine/then changing you is possible." The song starts out with an interesting piano melody and Olivia's beautiful voice. Emotions are running high pouring out through the song lyrics and her vocals. Although the vast majority of the song has an acoustic production, the bridge just has Olivia's vocals with a driving bass synth behind her. The outro lyrics are echoing and repeating placing emphasis on the fact that love is never logical.
Track 8: get him back!
"get him back!" is the third single from "GUTS," and Olivia just debuted a music video for the song on September 12th. This song is a vibrant and upbeat pop-rock track talking about all the conflicting feelings regarding an ex. The title "get him back" has a double meaning: she wants to "get him back" with revenge for all the bad things he did, but she also wants to "get him back" as a boyfriend. This double meaning is especially shown off in the bridge, where Olivia sings, "wanna kiss his face/with an uppercut/I wanna meet his mom/just to tell her her son sucks." "get him back!" is also incredibly relatable for anyone who's had a difficult relationship with a guy, especially with the lyrics "he had an ego and a temper and a wandering eye/he said he's six-foot-two, and I'm like 'dude nice try.'" This is a perfect pick-me-up from "logical" with the immaculate vibes this song projects. What makes this song is the backing vocals for sure. With the group of people singing along to the chorus, or when Olivia sings, "but then I, I want to get him back." Olivia ends the song with a spoken outro, where she says, "I'm gonna get him so good, he's not even gonna know what hit him/he's gonna love me and hate me at the same time."
Track 9: love is embarrassing
"love is embarrassing" is a pretty self-explanatory song, where Olivia humorously talks about all the embarrassing aspects of a relationship. Whether that be waiting by the phone after your boyfriend kisses a girl from high school, or crucifying yourself for a "second string loser," Olivia talks about it. She thinks it's embarrassing that she put in all this work into a relationship that didn't work out. Olivia steps away from pop-rock and makes an 80s-inspired pop song, with a bass synth dominating the track. She once again shows off her vocal flexibility with her vocal fry on the low notes, stretching her vocal range to over two octaves. Although this song isn't as angsty as some of the other pop-rock tracks, it certainly packs a punch.
Track 10: the grudge
"the grudge" paints a clear picture of a hectic and stormy relationship with manipulation at its core. It's a slow, melancholic piano ballad that has remnants of "drivers license," the hit song off her album "Sour." Even after the relationship has ended, it's clear that her ex still holds a lot of power and control over her self-worth. Olivia sings, "and I doubt you ever think about the damage that you did/but I hold onto every detail like my life depends on it," showing that her ex is reckless while she is still reliving all the damage he caused. She knows that they were both in the wrong in the relationship, but she says, "we both drew blood, but, man those cuts were never equal." One of the best parts of the backing track of "the grudge" is the orchestra. It really adds complexity and depth to the song you never knew you needed.
Track 11: pretty isn't pretty
"pretty isn't pretty" touches on the unattainable standards of beauty for women. Although Olivia is beautiful, she can't help but feel like she will never be able to be pretty enough for social norms. Constant fashion and makeup trends are cycling in and out, and no matter what she does to make herself prettier, it just won't work. One day this body type will be in style and the next it won't be, and Olivia feels she can't keep up. The song does feature electric guitars and drums, but has a more mellow feel compared to other songs on "GUTS" like "ballad of a homeschooled girl" and "all-american b*tch." There's a solid 90s soft rock vibe throughout the song, which is something different than she's done before. Once again, her vocal fry on her low notes is to die for, and they add richness to the song.
Track 12: teenage dream
"teenage dream" is the twelfth and final track on "GUTS" and it perfectly sums up all the themes of the album. Olivia makes a call back to her song "brutal," where she sings "I'm so sick of 17/where's my f*cking teenage dream?" She talks about the immense pressure on her to try and always outdo herself on each new project she puts out, and she fears she'll lose the best parts of herself as she grows up. Keeping up the theme where she switches up intensity mid-song, the outro continues to get louder and louder while Olivia and a chorus people behind her keep repeating "they all say that it gets better/it gets better the more you grow/yeah, they all say that it gets better/it gets better, but what if I don't?" I think the last line of the album being a question covers one of the main themes of the album: are all the things Olivia thinks, feels, and does going to get better when she grows up? The orchestra throughout the track beautifully compliments Olivia's voice as well as the piano. I personally think that this is one of the best songs Olivia has ever written, and I think she picked the perfect song to close up "GUTS."
After listening to this album on repeat over the past week, it's safe to say I love "GUTS." It perfectly encapsulates all of the teenage experiences, feelings, doubts, questions, and overall thoughts that teens are faced with. I would encourage anyone hesitant to listen to this album to give it a try. Olivia showed the world she was a brilliant songwriter with "Sour," but I feel she outdid herself with the writing on "GUTS." The production, which was done by "Sour" producer Dan Nigro, is immaculate and compliments the lyrics and Olivia's vocals perfectly. I would love to rank the songs, but I love them all too much to ever assign a number to them. Olivia Rodrigo proved to the world again that she is a force to be reckoned with, and will continue to assert herself to be one of the most talented artists this generation has ever seen.
Written By Lauren DiGiovanni
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