On ‘Guts’, Olivia Rodrigo goes to war for every young woman who has been unable to articulate why it is so belittling not to be taken seriously. In the orbit of her urgent and riotous second album, the 20-year-old turns her own vulnerabilities into a rallying cry: here, she’s a songwriter of control, diving headfirst into the collective female experience while also pursuing adventure, desire and relief. “I’m grateful all the time,” Rodrigo repeats on opener ‘All-American Bitch”, “I’m pretty when I cry.” She adopts a coo-like vocal as she continues to sing of how, in general, women are expected to moderate their emotions in the public eye. This record throws a sparkling firebomb at that grim, shared reality.
These 12 songs dissect embattled loves and revenge fantasies and highlight the near-impossibility of maintaining relationships when you’re at battle with the watchful eye of social media. There’s a feeling of being overburdened, too. Rodrigo shot to fame in 2021 with her record-breaking debut ‘Sour’, an album that spawned stratospheric hits (‘Drivers License’, ‘Good 4 U’) and put the former Disney star on a life-altering ascent, closing the year as the best-selling singles artist worldwide. This dominance not only coincided with the intensity of lockdown but gave her the reach to become one of the most influential pop writers of her generation; her sound – a mix of bratty, Avril-indebted pop and swooping balladry – can already be heard in a number of newer artists, including Lauren Spencer-Smith and Dylan.
This new chapter feels like an opportunity for Rodrigo to shake off that level of pressure or at least reshape it on her own terms. Lead single ‘Vampire’ bristles with fury towards a leeching older figure that took advantage of Rodrigo and her influence, exuding the same raw emotion that fuels Billie Eilish’s ‘Your Power’. “Six months of torture you sold as some forbidden paradise,” she sings, her voice building with urgency before letting rip into a red-hot screech. ‘The Grudge’ and ‘Making The Bed’ are more subdued, wistful songs of regret and burn-out.
Moments of elegant production are balanced with some compellingly unflattering lyrics about failed romantic pursuits – Rodrigo is equally capable of asserting her agency with humour. Backed by a cheerleader chant, she is needy, sly and covetous on the frenzied ‘Bad Idea Right’, while ‘Get Him Back!’ is uninhibited in the way it takes down an ex over a choppy melody. The barbs grow sharper and funnier – he lied about being 6ft tall! – before Rodrigo, the child of a family therapist, breaks into a knowing admission: “But I am my father’s daughter / So maybe I could fix him!”
- READ MORE: Olivia Rodrigo’s 10 best songs… ranked!
‘Guts’ doesn’t just feel transitional in a musical sense. It marks the end of Rodrigo’s teenage years, a moment that has gravity given that she recently said in a statement that she felt like she grew “10 years” between the ages of 18 and 20. Here, she offers blunt self-analysis while reflecting on wider cultural ideas of performance and swallowing anger in order to comply with the wants and needs of others. It works as a display of real power, range and versatility – all of which Rodrigo possesses in abundance.
- Release date: September 8
- Record label: Geffen/Interscope