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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Confessions of a teenage drama queen: A review of ‘GUTS’ by Olivia Rodrigo

A deep dive into Olivia Rodrigo’s long-awaited sophomore album
Confessions of a teenage drama queen: A review of ‘GUTS’ by Olivia Rodrigo

In the music industry, it’s often a bad omen to start your career off with a bang. Many have experienced the “sophomore slump,” where an artist’s second album or single drastically underperforms compared to their breakout. Even worse, they can fall victim to the “Best New Artist curse,” in which artists who win the Grammy for Best New Artist are “cursed” to lose their rising popularity. While artists like Alessia Cara, Chance the Rapper and Meghan Trainor were on their way to superstardom in the eyes of the Grammys after receiving the Best New Artist accolade, their follow-up albums failed to reach the heights that put themselves on the map.

Enter Olivia Rodrigo, who gained a following playing Paige on the Disney Channel’s “Bizaardvark” in 2016 and for her role as Nini in the Disney+ original series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” Her debut album “SOUR,” released in 2021, was among the most successful breakout albums of all time, smashing the record for most time spent in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart in the 21st century.

Rodrigo was awarded the now-infamous Grammy award for Best New Artist following “SOUR,” winning over other breakout stars including The Kid Laroi, Saweetie and Arlo Parks. All eyes were on Rodrigo as the world anticipated her next move.

Nearly two years post-“SOUR,” Rodrigo’s sophomore album “GUTS,” released Sept. 8, has defied the odds, proving to be a smashing success commercially. It debuted atop the Billboard 200 albums chart and sold over 300,000 copies in its first week alone, making it 2023’s fourth highest-selling album in terms of opening week sales.

The album begins with the defiant, coming-of-age anthem, “all-american b***h.” It’s a highly ambitious opener, taking its title from Joan Didion’s 1968 essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” in which an acid-tripping Grateful Dead fan uses the phrase to describe his mom.  The song is a chaotic mix of emotions and genres, blending Rodrigo’s signature indie sound with angsty pop-punk.

This mix of emotions lays the foundation of the album, setting the tone for what’s to come. The lyrics are laid out as a series of manifestations, like the first verse’s “I am light as a feather and as stiff as a board.” Rodrigo seems to need these manifestations, as her anger continues to build throughout the song, with her finally belting out a cathartic scream atop blaring electric guitars. Immediately after the scream, however, the production strips itself back, with Rodrigo suppressing her anger, singing sweetly over a choir of her own stacked vocals.

Several other tracks on “GUTS” feature a similar angsty pop-punk feeling, evoking images of early 2000s coming-of-age movies like “Freaky Friday” or “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.” Much like those films, Rodrigo turns otherwise unremarkable aspects of teenage life into a dramatic, over-the-top spectacle, not unlike a skater-girl-turned-prom-queen belting her heart out in a garage band.

Other former Disney Channel stars before Olivia Rodrigo, such as Demi Lovato or Miley Cyrus, have embraced the intersection of teenage drama with pop-punk production. Whereas Rodrigo’s predecessors were confined to Disney Channel’s standards of purity, Rodrigo has full reign of her creative expression, singing unapologetically about messy hookups with exes, the perils of fame and emotional turmoil with a past lover.

On the eighth track of the album “get him back!,” Rodrigo delivers one of the catchiest choruses in her entire discography, rivaling even that of smash hit “good 4 u.” The title phrase carries a double meaning, representing both her desire to reunite romantically with an ex, as well as to seek vengeance against him.

On “ballad of a homeschooled girl,” Rodrigo delivers an unapologetic and angsty look into her life growing up. There are many moments where Rodrigo doesn’t hold back in this song, including the now TikTok-viral lyrics, “Everything I do is tragic / every guy I like is gay.” There are more lyrics like this throughout the album, where Rodrigo is simply spilling her guts unfiltered. When these fun lyrics are placed in faster-paced, energetic songs, Rodrigo sells them through her playful, tongue-in-cheek delivery.

This style of lyrics falters slightly on some of the ballad tracks. Some lyrical choices come off as cringeworthy when placed in emotional songs that demand the audience to take them seriously. In particular, the lyrics, “You got me thinking two plus two equals five / and I’m the love of your life” in “logical” have taken listeners out of the song, considering the emotional weight of the track. On these ballads, Rodrigo’s lamenting vocal delivery conveys her romantic regrets better than the words she sings.

The album’s final track, “teenage dream,” sees Rodrigo reflecting on her teenage years as she turns 20. This isn’t the first time Rodrigo’s used the titular phrase, as on “brutal,” the opening track of her debut album “SOUR,” Rodrigo wails, “I’m so sick of 17 / where’s my f***ing teenage dream?”

Towards the end of the song, Rodrigo powerfully repeats the lines, “They all say that it gets better, it gets better the more you grow / They all say that it gets better, it gets better, but what if I don’t?” As she repeats the lines, her vocal delivery slowly grows angrier and louder until she fully lets loose over heavy electric guitars and rock drums. It’s an impactful closing track, closing her teenage years with a mature, retrospective look back. Rodrigo has grown up in the public eye, and while many on social media flock to her, telling her that her sadness may end as she grows, she simply ponders, what if it doesn’t?

With “GUTS,” Olivia Rodrigo soars to new heights, bringing her audience along for an emotionally-charged journey, making any listener nostalgic for their teenage years.

Nathan Legare can be reached at [email protected]

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