No GUTS No Glory: What can we get from Olivia Rodrigo’s Newest Album?

Singer-songwriter and actress Olivia Rodrigo dropped her second album “GUTS” earlier this month.

In May 2021 at age 18, Olivia Rodrigo released her debut album “SOUR” to great acclaim, earning three Grammy Awards that year and gaining huge fame. Naturally, such rapid success garnered attention and all eyes were on the release of Rodrigo’s second album “GUTS” which came out on Sept. 8 of this year. The initial response of fans and critics has been positive, but what can people find if they dig deeper into the album?
The album consists of 12 songs, though there are four bonus tracks which can be found by ordering physical vinyl copies of the album from Rodrigo’s website (four colors of vinyl are on sale, each with their own extra song). I am no music connoisseur (my earbuds have cords and my Spotify has ads) but I studied these 12 songs so I could give a picture of the album as a whole and the merits of the different tracks. In order to give practical advice to TU music fans, I tested the songs’ performances in different areas: listening to them on their own, listening while on the treadmill in Collins Fitness Center and listening while doing math homework. These are the notes.
Many of the songs have to do with Rodrigo’s experiences with breakups. Overall, the percentage of songs on “GUTS” about former relationships is much lower than in “SOUR.” Further, Rodrigo does not simply reiterate the common approach of her old breakup songs like “good 4 u” and “drivers license.” Her old songs focused mainly on the pain of the lost relationship and seeing the ex move on, while her newer breakup songs tend to be a lot more introspective — Rodrigo examines what she did wrong in the past and how she needs to improve. This evolution highlights professional and artistic growth and bodes well for the artist’s growing career. Her song “vampire” is the lead single and most well-known song of the album, and it appears to deal with Rodrigo looking back at a toxic, exploitative relationship. It’s popular for a reason; it’s a high quality song with a potent message and a great tune for many situations where you’ll turn on a playlist.
However, my personal favorite of the album is “the grudge” in which the singer tries to come to terms with her complex feelings about a former relationship. It tops the list in my book due to the many well-written powerful lyrics; half the song is lines I would want to quote here such as, “It takes strength to forgive, but I don’t feel strong” and, “we both drew blood, but, man, those cuts were never equal.” It is a great song to work out to if you can exercise with sad songs, but you might not want to play it while doing homework — the lyrics are so good that you will pay attention to the song over the assignment.
Other songs cover various themes besides past relationships. Songs like “making the bed” and “teenage dream” are about Rodrigo analyzing the current state of her life and her fears for the future. The songs “pretty isn’t pretty” and “all-american bitch” deliver important messages about pressure placed on women through impossible standards. When you move away from the standard, familiar tunes on the album you get into the more gutsy songs, where Rodrigo takes risks by doing something new.
A song definitely worth highlighting is “ballad of a homeschool girl” which addresses the anxieties created by social awkwardness in a humorous fashion. It readily displays Rodrigo’s rock inspirations more than anything else on the album and it is an excellent song for the exercise playlist; you cannot help but turn up the speed on the treadmill when it comes on.
Other new approaches on the album are hit or miss. I was not sold on “lacy” initially, but the mysterious, enigmatic lyrics and dreamy, ethereal tune won me over. If you listen to it and like it, then it’s a nice relaxing song to study to. But my least favorite from the album is the divisive “bad idea right?” If you love it the first time you listen to it, then good for you, but if you do not, then there’s a good chance you will strongly dislike it by the third or fourth listen.
So ultimately, did Rodrigo deliver a successful second album? It’s high quality in a lot of ways; the songs are well-written and executed, and a lot of them have potential to be catchy hits. But the shortcoming is that in a lot of ways the new album does not feel new. The breakup songs evolved on the formula from “SOUR” somewhat, but a few do not feel like they have much to offer. “GUTS” songs like “love is embarrassing” and “logical” will likely only find their niche as decent background music for most fans. And songs that hit on other messages did a decent job, but could do better. Her song “pretty isn’t pretty” confronts an important issue about beauty standards and self-image, and many listeners will relate to it and feel heard. However, it seems to simply repeat just one message with different words bundled up in a simple upbeat pop tune rather than taking a deeper dive into the issue.
These issues are why the songs that try something new are crucial for the album. Not everybody will like them, but the effort to make them unique is rewarded in that for the people who do like them, they can hold a special place.
This time around, Rodrigo got away with a well-executed follow-up to her previous work. In the future, she will be forced to lean further into new directions or risk fading into obscurity. But with her strong singing and songwriting talent, and her proven capability to try new things, she has the potential to go down many different routes in the future, and ultimately prove herself a musician worth remembering.

Post Author: Isaac McGill