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Rodrigo spills ‘GUTS’ in sophomore hit

Art Critic Emma Ehle says Olivia Rodrigo’s sophomore album “GUTS” is the perfect angsty older sister to debut “SOUR.”
Cover via Geffen Records

Art Critic Emma Ehle says Olivia Rodrigo’s sophomore album “GUTS” is the perfect angsty older sister to debut “SOUR.”

America’s favorite pop-punk princess is officially back and better than ever.

After teasing the release of her sophomore album, “GUTS” (2023) since late June, 19-year-old Olivia Rodrigo has finally “spilled her guts” all over the American music scene — and it’s just as gloriously messy as everyone hoped it would be.

“GUTS,” which was released by Rodrigo on Friday, Sept. 8, is the official predecessor of her smash hit debut album “SOUR” (2020), which had both tweens and 20-somethings alike crying themselves to sleep for weeks on end. While “SOUR” — which still exudes a considerable amount post-break-up teen angst — is primarily comprised of heart-shattering ballads, Rodrigo appears to have taken a more reckless rock n’ roll approach with her second album, harnessing “SOUR”’s same coming of age turmoil in a much more “angry older sister” fashion.

Sonically, the best way to describe “GUTS” is that it sounds like it was pulled straight out of an early-2000s flick (possibly one starring a grungy Lyndsey Lohan or furious Julia Stiles). Rodrigo, who was able to impressively capture an era of music that hit its peak before she even hit elementary school, employs the album’s dark pop-rock aesthetic as a channel for things like anxiety, self-deprecation and heartbreak, establishing a level of relatability that rivals most contemporary singer-songwriters.

In terms of standouts, “GUTS” produces quite a few, most of which enter the category of either “excruciatingly painful ballad” or “early 2000s pop-punk masterpiece.” “the grudge, “teenage dream” and “making the bed,” — all of which are part of the former — are equally gut-wrenching in their own right, exploring different elements of heartbreak and self-hatred through a lens of raw, unadulterated melancholia.

The album’s dramatically swelling outro, “teenage dream,” offers a particularly interesting take on Rodrigo’s teenage growing pains. Taking after the same somber ache of Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers’ “Nothing New” (2021), “teenage dream” is a true anthem for every 20-year-old teenage-minded girl who sees their value and shiny young allure slowly depreciating with age. While the song may feel like a wildly specific attack on your own deep-seated insecurities, it is also exceedingly interesting to consider in terms of Rodrigo’s existence as a young artist, seeing as both her personal branding and overall image are heavily dependent on her portrayal of the “angsty teenage girl.”

On the grittier side of “GUTS,” “ballad of a homeschool girl,” “love is embarrassing” and “get him back!” take Rodrigo’s teenage trepidation and sharpens it, melding pop, grunge and pure spunk into something absolutely electric. Poking fun at the singer’s own frustrations with her social skills, “ballad of a homeschool girl” is deliciously edgy and comically blunt, feeling like a page ripped straight from the diary of any socially anxious, disturbingly self-aware young person.

“get him back!,” which may strike listeners as a bit KIDZ BOP-ish on the first listen, is actually one of the strongest, catchiest tracks on the album. Utilizing a clever double entendre for both “getting back” and seeking revenge on an ex, the track is sharp, snappy and full of witty one-liners that sum up Rodrigo’s love-struck confusion. Some prime examples include, “I wanna break his heart, stitch it right back up, I wanna kiss his face with an uppercut,” and “but I am my father’s daughter, so maybe I could fix him,” which acts as a crafty reference to her father Ronald Rodrigo’s occupation as a therapist.

The music video for “get him back!,” which was released without prior announcement from Rodrigo on Sept. 12, is choppy, chaotic and completely turbulent in the best way possible, featuring multiple different Rodrigos running around and reeking havoc while accompanied by campy special effects and bizarre transitions. Interestingly, this video is the first of Rodrigo’s “GUTS” projects to not be directed by Canadian artist and director Petra Collins, who’s distinct style and “angsty yet definitively feminine” teen girl aesthetic has become a staple of Rodrigo’s image since the “SOUR” era.

Ultimately, this era of Olivia Rodrigo is the perfect follow-up to the devastating, pop-punk tease that was “SOUR.” It is sonically diverse, thematically cohesive and deliciously dramatic, perfectly showcasing a new ex-Disney star that did not just leave the nest, but burned down the entire tree in her take to the air.

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