If you thought Olivia Rodrigo was going to be a one-hit wonder, you’d better buckle up because her sophomore album, GUTS, is about to take you for one hell of a ride. Rodrigo is older, angrier, and wiser, and she has every intention of letting you know that.
The so-called “sophomore slump” is a well-known issue in the music industry. Artists, coming off the high of a well-made debut album, sometimes fumble the next time around due to any number of factors, with pressure chief among them. And the pressure was certainly on for the then-17, now-20-year-old pop star. With her debut album, SOUR, Rodrigo broke several records, including Spotify’s record for most streams in a day for a non-holiday song with her debut single, “driver’s license,” and became the first artist in Billboard history to have her three debut singles in the top 10 of the hot 100. The three Grammys Rodrigo took home for SOUR definitely added to said pressure.
But Rodrigo must thrive under pressure because GUTS is loud and proud from the get-go. Opening with “all-american bitch,” a hot-and-cold, pop-punk bop about the expectations placed on girls, Rodrigo hints that GUTS is about to go places SOUR left (mostly) unexplored. Though this is following with tradition—SOUR opened with “brutal,” which was also a rocky, scream-it-in-your-hairbrush-while-jumping-on-the-bed, sort of song—“all-american bitch” flips back and forth between demure verses, and an angry, intense chorus, adding a new layer of maturity and depth that carries through to GUTS’ 11 other tracks.
In a return to form, Rodrigo isn’t stingy with her ballads—GUTS has its fair share, with half of the tracklist occupied by them—but there’s something more mature about them this time around. The lead single, “vampire,” isn’t afraid to amp up both the intensity and tempo toward the end of the song, as Rodrigo works herself up more and more about the so-called “fame-fucker” who sucked her dry, then spit her out. “making the bed” is a beautiful, classic ballad, reminiscent of Lorde’s early work, all about self-destructive tendencies. Yet, of all the ballads coloring GUTS’ tracklist, the best of them all has to be the album’s closer, “teenage dream.” While the track’s name might evoke Katy Perry’s 2010 single of the same name, Rodrigo’s teenage dream couldn’t be further from Perry’s bubblegum beach bop. For one thing, there’s a pretty conspicuous lack of Snoop Dogg. Though, I think “teenage dream” might be all the better for it.
“teenage dream” feels like a direct response to SOUR’s opener, “brutal,” with the lines “…and I’m so sick of seventeen / Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” likely being the inspiration for the response track’s title. Whereas “brutal” was all about intense, insecurity-fueled teen angst, “teenage dream” is a reflection on what it’s like to leave your teenage years behind. The song is—not to get too pithy—a perfect storm of Rodrigo’s brilliant songwriting and composing chops. In a beat drop reminiscent of Billie Eilish’s “happier than ever,” Rodrigo turns “teenage dream” into an anthem for all the 20-year-old teenage girls, as she asks one of the scariest questions about growing up: “they all say that it gets better…but what if I don’t?”
But the highlights of GUTS really are Rodrigo’s upbeat, punky tunes. Reminiscent of songs from the soundtracks of early 2000–2010s romantic comedies like “10 Things I Hate About You” or “She’s All That,” and peppered with Avril Lavigne-esque attitude, Rodrigo’s foray into the realm of pop-punk is what really dropkicks GUTS out of good and into great.
From “ballad of a homeschooled girl” to “love is embarrassing,” Rodrigo takes the typical, humiliating rites of passage every teenage girl goes through and turns them into anthems that’ll carry you through every late-night jam session (hairbrush mic mandatory) and ritual humiliation to come.
The best of Rodrigo’s high-octane songs, though, has to be “get him back!” a song that gives sleazy pop-punk at its finest. Starting with an interrupted count-in, “get him back!” doesn’t pull any punches. Like “all-american bitch,” we flip-flop with Rodrigo, who moves from wanting to key this guy’s car to wanting to make him lunch. “get him back!” is, coincidentally, probably the punkiest of all the tracks on GUTS; parts of the song would fit right in with any number of legendary 2000s pop-punk songs.
With all that said, let’s talk rankings.
My favorite track: “get him back!” Rodrigo takes a completely unexpected left turn with “get him back!” pulling from the long, storied history of pop-punk bops, many of which probably colored her childhood. This track also has an infectious beat to it, making it almost impossible to resist the urge to scream-sing it, no matter your location.
My least favorite track: “the grudge.” Picking a least favorite was harder, but “the grudge” feels really similar to a lot of Rodrigo’s other ballads—its chord progression is taken from the opening of “driver’s license,” and it lacks that breathtaking bridge that elevates “logical,” which exists in a similar space, above Rodrigo’s SOUR-era music.
TL;DR: GUTS is an insanely strong sophomore debut. Blowing past any and all expectations SOUR set up for Rodrigo’s next album, GUTS veers straight into the realm of 2000s sound, with punchy, pop-rock anthems that I have no doubt will be dominating the airwaves—and your Spotify/Apple Music account—for months to come. If you love 2010s romcoms, I promise, GUTS is the album for you.
Nicole Lee can be reached at email@example.com.