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Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Guts’: A Lament on Girlhood

In light of the immense success of her debut album Sour, Rodrigo’s latest project, Guts, emerges as a compelling narrative continuation. This sophomore release is a simultaneous confession of growth and weakness, venturing into the edgier realm of pop-rock and exploring the complex emotions surrounding moving forwards after a significant relationship. The album masterfully captures the challenges of this transitional phase of growing up, such as social incompetence, embarrasing levels of jealousy, and repressed feminine rage, making it a resonant musical journey for those experiencing the perils of girlhood. 

When the album cover for this new body of work was released, a simple image of Rodrigo against a purple background, many fans were skeptical. Her Instagram comments were flooded with people claiming that sticking to such a similar aesthetic to her previous album, which also featured the singer against a purple background, would lead to a boring piece of art. In light of its release, these comments have become startlingly ironic, as the album explores themes of perfectionism and the overwhelming pressure put on Rodrigo to continue improving and changing as she grows older. This sparks the question, do we put too much pressure on young artists to constantly reinvent themselves for our entertainment? Has art become more about consumption than self expression? 

It is unbelievably difficult to write about the experience of girlhood without being accused of being too cliché. Girlhood is often dismissed as uninteresting by those who haven’t lived it, and the quick dismissal of art about girlhood reveals an intriguing paradox: women frequently find resonance and enjoyment in songs written by men about men, while men seem to lack a similar inclination to connect with art centered around the female experience.

Guts dances between raw pain and playfulness with ease. The opening track all-american bitch establishes this dynamic from the get-go, with wistful verses weaved in-between a chorus reminiscent of Avril Lavigne’s classic alternative hits. Rodrigo sweetly sings ‘I’ve got sun in my motherfucking pocket’ to encapsulate the feeling that one must always be performing easygoingness in order to not be seen as rude or overly emotional by men. Contrast this with the bridge of the song being, in Rodrigo’s own words, ‘literally just me screaming’, and we have a complex exploration of the pent up anger that, as described by Margaret Atwood, being ‘a woman with a man inside watching a woman’ creates. 

The hit single vampire further revels in spite, with the use of mournful piano creating a sense of macabre dread that comes to a dramatic crescendo in the line ‘You can’t love anyone ‘cause that would mean you had a heart’. A similar spite curses through the holy trinity of this album: get him back!, love is embarrassing and the grudge. Three songs that showcase the best of Rodrigo’s writing talent by mixing witty lyrics, intense relatability and a revival of the 2000s pop genre.  

get him back! is a grungy pop song that reads like a scrawled journal entry, endearingly immature in a way that Rodrigo frequently crafts so well. love is embarrassing is another dance-worthy tune that uses specific occurrences from her own relationships with stars such as Joshua Bassett, Zack Bia and Adam Faze as stepping stones to communicate a common experience. the grudge takes Rodrigo back to her roots – a slow piano ballad about resentment and holding onto the past, simple yet powerful.

Rodrigo’s use of humour in this album is refreshing. Lines such as ‘And I told my friends I was asleep / But I never said where or in whose sheets’ from the hit single bad idea right? drip with the mischievous self-derision of a teenage girl convincing herself that she is behaving badly ‘for the plot’ rather than because of her attachment issues. Furthermore, hearing her audibly grin when she announces ‘maybe I could fix him’ certainly made me grin along with her.

One thing that would’ve really made this album shine is a collaboration. Conan Gray, Rodrigo’s close friend, is an obvious contender. Sharing a song such as making the bed with Gray could’ve been an incredible opportunity to make an understated song trapped in the middle of the album stand out, rather than simply being another sad, yet admittedly still catchy, ballad.

The final track, teenage dream, is nothing like its counterpart by Katy Perry. The simultaneously hopeful yet sorrowful lyric ‘Got your whole life ahead of you, you’re only nineteen’ is placed in our ears like a prayer, but is shortly followed by an apology for not enjoying what is supposed to be an age of simplicity and joy. This is certainly an anxiety-inducing ending, sure to make many nineteen year olds shed a tear. 

Overall, Guts is a fun album that successfully attempts to rekindle 2000s nostalgia whilst also being an exploration of intense pain. It will be interesting to see how Rodrigo’s career develops over time, after all this is only her second album, and her tasteful use of self aware sarcasm adds a modern flare to this genre reboot that puts her at the forefront of a new yet familiar wave of music. 

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