Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘GUTS’ shows signs of maturity amid many recurring tropes - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Olivia Rodrigo has returned with the follow up to her massive 2021 debut album SOUR. After two years of waiting, GUTS was released on September 8th through Geffen Records to heavy anticipation from fans. The album follows the two successful singles “vampire” and “bad idea right?,” both reaching the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the former debuting at #1.

Prior to Rodrigo’s debut single “drivers license,” she had been most commonly known for her roles in Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and Bizaardvark. Now at the age of 20, her young career has been wildly successful and publicized. Her first album captured the essence of high school drama and early relationships with potent, transparent lyricism and soundtrack-like arrangements. On GUTS, Rodrigo chose to run it back with SOUR producer Dan Nigro, a smart choice for the sake of recapturing their magic.

While SOUR provided Rodrigo with a seemingly-guaranteed launchpad to a lengthy career as a pop star, the worry of repetition going into GUTS was there. Could Rodrigo and Nigro create a different enough album to impress once again? With a more specific appeal than some pop artists, it could easily come off as SOUR Part 2. But as only her second album with so much time to grow in the future, does she even need to switch it up yet?

Olivia Rodrigo - making the bed

The answers here are yes, but also no. From the singles alone, it is clear that the fans will eat up GUTS for what it is, which is a slightly more mature extension of SOUR. Rodrigo has lived through years of fame now, and her experiences on “making the bed” reflect on social outings at the club (even though she is still under 21) and situations that feel more adult, albeit fairly young-adult. Despite a sense of growth in her lyrics, the production still hits “high school, coming of age movie soundtrack” on the nose at times. The vamping guitar chords that lead into “bad idea right?” instantly bring visuals of a large cafeteria with school spirit hanging from the walls. Similar imagery seems fitting for “ballad of a homeschooled girl,” but maybe this time it’s friends walking down the street instead of the halls, due to the title. The pumping synth bass on “love is embarrassing” fits this feeling as well.

One of the standout tracks is “lacy,” which begins with a horribly ill-fitting metaphor but manages to recover with eerily stunning chords and harmonies. The idea of flakey croissants and bakery treats makes “skin like puff pastry” sound worrisome and painful. The Alexander 23 co-produced “get him back!” also succeeds where other album tracks fall a bit flat, with Rodrigo’s rapping on the verses sounding confident and tight, with a laid-back flow oddly reminiscent of Del the Funky Homosapien’s verses on “Clint Eastwood” by Gorillaz. The chorus provides easily one of the most catchy, hit-worthy hooks on the album which also has Rodrigo choosing fun over sulking when trying to figure out how to get revenge on a boy. It seems like this was the right approach for her based on how much good energy this song has.

Olivia Rodrigo - get him back!

A few low points on the album are the second-half ballads “logical” and “the grudge.” Even though the former’s chorus has a solid concept, focusing on her ex-partner lying and manipulating, the basic production does not help build much interest in the song. “the grudge” finds hints of detail in some lyrics but overall, it doesn’t contain the standout moments that it needs to be a replayable track from the album. Rodrigo can undoubtedly deliver impressive and emotional vocal performances, but she sometimes struggles to make her dramatic ballads very interesting or memorable within her tracklists (see “enough for you” and “hope ur ok” from her debut as well).

The production on “pretty isn’t pretty” is a new taste within Rodrigo’s catalog, based around a driving bassline and drum beat with more hi-fi, Current Joys-esque guitar tones layered on top. The track’s lyrics deliver a relatable message that should be heard by her audience, and the second verse crescendos very nicely into the chorus, but the problem here lies in the anticlimactic hook. The opposite is found on “love is embarrassing,” where the interchangeable verses are blown away by a racing chorus where Rodrigo tries jumpy vocal inflections and the guitars create a sense of introspection that twinges an otherwise upbeat sound with a bit of melancholy.

Olvia Rodrigo - love is embarrasing

At just under 40 minutes, GUTS is well-paced and the progression of the album is not clunky. Subtle transitions between tracks often feel very fitting, and sometimes add emphasis and theatricality by simply extending a pause, adding a bit of staged noise, or continuing feedback from the song before. Sadly, the two singles from the album are not standouts when injected into the tracklist. “bad idea right?”is well-written and very cheeky, but is musically outdone by songs like “get him back!” and “love is embarrassing.” “vampire” is still over-dramatic and slightly jarring, despite having an enjoyable bridge and viral chorus.

The album’s opening and closing track both focus mainly on Rodrigo’s age and role in the public eye, which lands as the most interesting, compelling and fresh topic on the project. Despite sounding like it could’ve been co-written, co-produced and at times co-performed by Taylor Swift, “all american bitch” prepares the ears of the listener for the album very effectively. The song’s vulnerable outro hits a nerve of sadness after hearing Rodrigo own all the confidence displayed in the rest of the track, only to realize that it’s only what she is forced to be by destructive industry beauty standards. Beyond the obvious title reference, “teenage dream” is Rodrigo’s fearful look into the future. The topic along with some very touching opening lyrics make this ballad stand out, and the faint closing clip of Rodrigo speaking to Nigro’s baby through the microphone is fitting and very bittersweet.

Olivia Rodrigo - all american bitch

Overall, GUTS is a bit of a retread of SOUR in terms of production and appeal. Both albums have creative peaks and dips, but upon first listen, GUTS lacks some of the instant memorability that SOUR had. Certain sounds show experimentation from Rodrigo and Nigro though, a needed dose of change production-wise. Lyrically, it’s less “crying over your sophomore year ex who broke up with you over text” and more “I’ve actually just been treated poorly by someone I trusted.”

As only her second album within her two and a half year popstar residency, Rodrigo does not need to change up her sound, appeal and image yet. Compare her to Ariana Grande, who was once in a similar position to Rodrigo. Dangerous Woman, Grande’s third project after three years of musical spotlight, was the first album to reinvent Grande’s sound and image. While Rodrigo may need to step out of her current mold for her next project, GUTS will likely be welcomed as another dose of teen pop drama for her fawning fanbase. Based on the brief glimpses into her thoughts of age on this album, healthy and uninfluenced growth is probably what she needs as well in order to stay sane within the music industry.

Listen to GUTS below; in related news, Rodrigo just announced a 2024 arena tour that brings her to Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Friday, July 19th with Pink Pantheress. Tickets become available via Ticketmaster Verified fan next week, and fans can register at this link between now and September 17th. Check out the full run of tour dates down below.

Fri Feb 23 – Palm Springs, CA – Acrisure Arena ~
Sat Feb 24 – Phoenix, AZ – Footprint Center ~
Tue Feb 27 – Houston, TX – Toyota Center ~
Wed Feb 28 – Austin, TX – Moody Center ~
Fri Mar 01 – Dallas, TX – American Airlines Center ~
Sat Mar 02 – New Orleans, LA – Smoothie King Center ~
Tue Mar 05 – Orlando, FL – Amway Center ~
Wed Mar 06 – Miami, FL – Kaseya Center ~
Fri Mar 08 – Charlotte, NC – Spectrum Center ~
Sat Mar 09 – Nashville, TN – Bridgestone Arena ~
Tue Mar 12 – St. Louis, MO – Enterprise Center ~
Wed Mar 13 – Omaha, NE – CHI Health Center ~
Fri Mar 15 – St. Paul, MN – Xcel Energy Center ~
Sat Mar 16 – Milwaukee, WI – Fiserv Forum ~
Tue Mar 19 – Chicago, IL – United Center ~
Fri Mar 22 – Columbus, OH – Nationwide Arena ~
Sat Mar 23 – Detroit, MI – Little Caesars Arena ~
Tue Mar 26 – Montreal, QC – Bell Centre ~
Fri Mar 29 – Toronto, ON – Scotiabank Arena ~
Mon Apr 01 – Boston, MA – TD Garden ~
Fri Apr 05 – New York, NY – Madison Square Garden +
Sat Apr 06 – New York, NY – Madison Square Garden +
Tue Apr 30 – Dublin, Ireland – 3Arena =
Fri May 03 – Manchester, UK – Co-op Live =
Tue May 07 – Glasgow, Scotland – OVO Hydro =
Fri May 10 – Birmingham, UK – Utilita Arena =
Tue May 14 – London, UK – The O2 =
Wed May 15 – London, UK – The O2 =
Wed May 22 – Antwerp, Belgium – Sportpaleis =
Fri May 24 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Ziggo Dome =
Tue May 28 – Oslo, Norway – Spektrum =
Thu May 30 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Royal Arena =
Sat Jun 01 – Berlin, Germany – Mercedes-Benz Arena =
Tue Jun 04 – Hamburg, Germany – Barclays Arena =
Wed Jun 05 – Frankfurt, Germany – Festhalle =
Fri Jun 07 – Munich, Germany – Olympiahalle =
Sun Jun 09 – Bologna, Italy – Unipol Arena =
Tue Jun 11 – Zurich, Switzerland – Hallenstadion =
Wed Jun 12 – Cologne, Germany – Lanxess Arena =
Fri Jun 14 – Paris, France – Accor Arena =
Tue Jun 18 – Barcelona, Spain – Palau Sant Jordi =
Thu Jun 20 – Madrid, Spain – WizInk Center =
Sat Jun 22 – Lisbon, Portugal – Altice Arena =
Fri Jul 19 – Philadelphia, PA – Wells Fargo Center ^
Sat Jul 20 – Washington, DC – Capital One Arena ^
Tue Jul 23 – Atlanta, GA – State Farm Arena ^
Wed Jul 24 – Lexington, KY – Rupp Arena ^
Fri Jul 26 – Kansas City, MO – T-Mobile Center ^
Sat Jul 27 – Oklahoma City, OK – Paycom Center ^
Tue Jul 30 – Denver, CO – Ball Arena ^
Wed Jul 31 – Salt Lake City, UT – Delta Center ^
Fri Aug 02 – San Francisco, CA – Chase Center ^
Tue Aug 06 – Seattle, WA – Climate Pledge Arena ^
Fri Aug 09 – Vancouver, BC – Rogers Arena ^
Sat Aug 10 – Portland, OR – Moda Center ^
Tue Aug 13 – Los Angeles, CA – Kia Forum +
Wed Aug 14 – Los Angeles, CA – Kia Forum +

Support Key
+ The Breeders
^ PinkPantheress
~ Chappell Roan
= Remi Wolf

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