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“GUTS” Review: Olivia Rodrigo’s Vulnerability Sets Her Apart in an Age of Visibility

Brooks Coleman
Olivia Rodrigo has plenty of fans among La Salle’s student population, including seniors Ale Garcia, Andrew Keller, and Addie Moreland. “I just love the mix and the variety [she] always has,” Garcia said. “There’s a fun rock song, and then it transfers into a super sad song, but I just have this connection with all of them.”

Disclaimer: This article reviews an album with explicit content in it.

When Olivia Rodrigo broke through with her debut record “SOUR” in 2021, it came as a shock to the rest of the pop scene. For an 18-year-old that had never formally released any music before her captivating debut single “drivers license,” the former Disney Channel star already had a knack for songwriting and catchy hooks that was befitting of a pop veteran.

The success of “SOUR” essentially positioned Rodrigo to become pop’s next big thing. It put Rodrigo’s versatility on full display, seamlessly transitioning from tender and heartfelt piano ballads to head-banging rock numbers without missing a beat.

Rodrigo’s style is also extremely vulnerable. Her subject matter tends to revolve around stories from her own life, which are most often about failed relationships and personal anxieties and struggles. In a time where the lives of teenagers are more visible than ever, Rodrigo’s status as a popstar navigating teenage life all the same makes her a perfect candidate to connect with a younger demographic.

Rodrigo is unapologetically Gen-Z, but she doesn’t use it as a gimmick or a trend. Rather, it’s just a natural part of her personality, allowing her music to feel genuine. She expertly toes the line between charismatic and cringe in this sense, setting her apart from other up-and-coming pop stars born in the internet age.

After such an impressive debut, the world has been waiting on what Rodrigo would come up with next, and after two years, the wait is finally over: “GUTS” is here.

And, well…it sounds a lot like “SOUR!” “GUTS” is structured almost identically, down to their in-your-face openers (“brutal” and “all-american b***h”) and lead-single piano ballads (“drivers license” and “vampire”).

But that’s not a bad thing at all. For me, “GUTS” sounds like a new and improved version of “SOUR”. It’s no surprise that this album’s production is an improvement. With the financial success of “SOUR” and its subsequent sold-out world tour, Rodrigo and her team were able to beef up the instrumentals, which is especially evident on some of the record’s more experimental tracks.

The best parts of “GUTS” are when Rodrigo leans into more rock-influenced tracks, which were something that got teased on “SOUR” but never fully showcased. While Rodrigo doesn’t go full-on rockstar mode on “GUTS,” the rock tracks are definitely a little bit edgier and the choruses are harder-hitting.

These songs are an absolute blast, with one big highlight being “get him back!” Over a hard-nosed electronic instrumental, Rodrigo delivers a tongue-in-cheek first verse before transitioning into a grand, almost shouted chorus about wanting to win back an ex-boyfriend. Personality absolutely oozes out of this track, and it’s a welcome change of pace in the middle of the record.

Rodrigo also shows immense growth narratively on “GUTS.” The tracks on this record aren’t as much about her own anxieties and issues, but more so about issues in society and the world at large. Impressively, Rodrigo does this without sacrificing any of the relatability that makes her such a special talent in the first place.

Perhaps the best example of this duality is “ballad of a homeschooled girl.” Musical merit aside, Rodrigo draws on her own experience of being homeschooled to craft a vivid narrative of a girl transitioning from homeschool to high school. Despite the fact that Rodrigo went through this transition, the song doesn’t really feel like it’s specifically about her own experience — more so about homeschooled kids in general. It makes the song both accessible and unique to Rodrigo’s own life, which is a theme throughout the album.

Another obvious highlight is the opening track, “all-american b***h”. Rodrigo starts the song with a delicate falsetto, sarcastically playing into societal stereotypes about how women should act (“I am built like a mother and a total machine/ I feel for every little issue, I know just what you mean”).

Suddenly, she switches it up, cutting to a hard rock chorus that perfectly encapsulates the frustration that women everywhere feel about having to fit into the boxes society places them in. The hook’s energy is palpable, perfect for the subject matter at hand. Listening to it at home, I could imagine this song absolutely going off at her concerts.

However, my favorite part of the album by far comes on its penultimate track, “pretty isn’t pretty.” Rodrigo hops on an indie-inspired guitar instrumental, which is something that I didn’t know she had in her bag. Even though she hasn’t really done songs in the indie space before, Rodrigo absolutely nails it, laying an unbelievably catchy chorus over an excellent drum line and a dreamy atmosphere. The song is a brilliant critique of the unrealistic beauty standards that society places on women (“What do you do when pretty isn’t pretty enough?/And everybody’s keeping it up?). I hope Rodrigo experiments more with an indie-inspired sound in the future, because she killed it here.

Despite these moments of genius, “GUTS” is by no means a perfect record. My biggest issue with “GUTS” is that it leans a little bit too heavily into stripped-back piano ballads. It makes a lot of sense for Rodrigo to go in this direction commercially. “drivers license” and “happier” were two songs in this lane that helped put Rodrigo on the map as an artist. Most of the more emotionally heartfelt vocal exhibitions on “SOUR” ended up being massive commercial successes. So from a sales standpoint, of course Rodrigo would give the fans more songs in that style.

Simply put, there are just too many songs that sound like “drivers license” on “GUTS.” While I don’t dislike songs in this style, it’s also hard to keep them from sounding repetitive. There are at least three or four tracks on here that become difficult to differentiate from each other. Most of these come near the middle of the record, which makes it feel a little bit longer than it needs to be.

Hopefully in the future, Rodrigo can limit herself to two or three of the best ballads that come up during the recording process. For “GUTS,” I would have chosen “vampire” and “logical”, which were the two best-executed ballads for me. While it could come at the expense of some sales numbers, her records’ sequencing would improve and maintain more energy and momentum.

I also can’t go without mentioning “lacy”, which is easily the low point on the album. The track has an excellent concept about obsessive envy towards people who live lives and have things that you desire. However, Rodrigo completely compromises this track’s promise by choosing a nasally, hushed vocal delivery.

It sounds like Rodrigo is whispering in my ear, making the atmosphere so uncomfortable that it had me looking around my room trying to find an escape route — even though all I had to do was simply take my AirPods out. This song had so much potential to be a highlight, so it makes it all the more frustrating that Rodrigo uncharacteristically botched the execution like this. It’s an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise excellent project.

But overall, “GUTS” is about as good of a sophomore album as we could have expected from Olivia Rodrigo. She didn’t stray too far outside of the style that made her an overnight success, but she also pushed the envelope and experimented a little bit more than she did on her debut. She showed growth and maturity in her songwriting while also retaining the youthful and carefree attitude that makes her unique.

It’s so easy for young pop stars to mail it in after hitting it big, but Rodrigo showed an immense amount of care and attention to detail on “GUTS”. She’s a generational talent in pop music, and so far, she’s delivered on the hype. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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About the Contributor
Brooks Coleman
Brooks Coleman, Assistant Editor
Brooks Coleman is a senior at La Salle. He has lived in the Sellwood-Moreland area of Portland his entire life. Prior to attending La Salle, Brooks attended St. Agatha Catholic School from preschool through eighth grade. La Salle had always been near the top of Brooks’ list of potential high schools, but he cemented his choice after an amazing shadow day during his eighth grade year. Brooks lives and breathes sports and entertainment. He has been an Oregon State fan since he came out of the womb, and loves his hometown Blazers, Seahawks, and Mariners. His favorite sports to watch are baseball and college football. Music is another thing that Brooks is extremely passionate about. His favorite artists are Mac Miller, Dominic Fike, and Vince Staples. Brooks also loves watching movies and television, and his overall enjoyment of the arts inspired him to take the position of Entertainment Editor. Outside of school, Brooks loves being in the student section for Falcons sporting events, playing hacky sack with his friends, and hiking at national parks. His favorite national parks are Arches and Bryce Canyon, and he highly recommends hiking the Delicate Arch trail at sunset. Although Brooks loves Portland and everything it has to offer, he will most likely go out of state for college. He is strongly considering colleges in Texas, Michigan, and Washington. While still somewhat unsure on what his future career path is going to be, Brooks is most likely going to major in biology or sports journalism.

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