Olivia Rodrigo

Guts review | The songwriting of Olivia Rodrigo continues to soar

★★★★☆ The eagerly awaited sophomore album from Olivia Rodrigo establishes her as a truly generational songwriter, writes Hannah Mylrea.


Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album Sour kicked off with the pop-punk belter ‘Brutal’. Over a hulking bass line and growling guitar riffs she seethed: “And I’m so sick of 17 / Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” later concluding: “God, it’s brutal out here.” With lashings of teenage attitude, the ferocious tune was a formidable way to open the fast-rising star’s first album, one that laid out the path of what would follow.

Rodrigo begins her Sour follow-up Guts with a similar statement-making tune. The searing ‘All-American Bitch’ sees her take down the pressure to be perfect. Opening with country-flecked guitars, Rodrigo sweetly delivers the mocking: “And I am built like a mother and a total machine / I feel for your every little issue.” It then takes a raucous left turn into a careening alt-rock chorus, where Rodrigo eyerolls: “I forgive and I forget / I know my age and I act like it.” It’s a blistering track, pit-opening riffs juxtaposed between the softer instrumentals, topped with Rodrigo taking aim at the standards she’s held to. Concluding with its sardonic outro of “I’m grateful all the time / I’m sexy and I’m kind / I’m pretty when I cry”, it’s another scorching opener, and one that immediately paints a picture of where Rodrigo is in her life, two years on from her debut.

After a first brush with celebrity as a child actor in several Disney television shows, in early 2021 Rodrigo released the soaring break-up ballad ‘Drivers License’. The pop anthem launched the then 17-year-old into the stratosphere, racking up Spotify records and topping the UK charts for nine weeks. Sour followed later that year, a collection that spun the young artist’s songwriting prowess over pop-punk ragers and poignant bedroom pop earworms. Since its release she’s won a mantelpiece of awards (including a trio of Grammys), toured the globe and smashed her debut Glastonbury performance out of the park.


“I feel like I grew 10 years between the ages of 18 and 20 – it’s such an intense period of awkwardness and change,” she explained in a statement when Guts was first announced. “I definitely made a lot of mistakes during that time, but that’s how I started to learn how to do things right. I think that’s all just a natural part of growth, and hopefully the album reflects that.”

Guts, she’s considered, is “about growing pains and trying to figure out who I am at this point in my life.” These experiences permeate the record. On the phenomenal alt-pop anthem ‘Love Is Embarrassing’ she dissects messy situationships (“I consoled you while you cried / Over your ex girlfriend’s new guy / My god, how could I be so stupid”) before resolving “God, love’s fucking embarrassing”.

Meanwhile the grungy, Wolf Alice-esque ‘Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl’ depicts uncomfortable social anxiety with tongue firmly in cheek (the song concludes: “Thought your mom was your wife/called you the wrong name twice/can’t think of a third line”). And then there’s the bouncing, hip-hop-flecked ‘Get Him Back!’, where she ripostes: “I wanna get him back / I wanna make him really jealous, wanna make him feel bad.”

While the sonics on ‘Guts’ are more rooted in growling alt-pop and rock than its predecessor, there are quieter moments too. The gorgeous closer ‘Teenage Dream’ is a triumph, the poignant track recalling Phoebe Bridgers or Billie Eilish. On it, Rodrigo’s honest fears of aging in this industry – and not always being “your teenage dream” – laid bare. “When am I going to stop being wise beyond my years / And just start being wise,” she whispers over subdued piano chords to start, the track slowly growing until it explodes into the cathartic final cries of: “They all say that it gets better / It gets better, but what if I don’t”.

And then there’s ‘Vampire’, the record’s lead single. Starting as a piano ballad before erupting into something more apt for a sweaty rock club. Her piercing lyrics outline a fractured relationship, spitting: “Bloodsucker, famefucker / Bleeding me dry like a goddamn vampire” and reflecting that: “I’ve made some real big mistakes / But you make the worst one look fine.” It might just be one of the best songs of 2023.

Yet whether it’s over roaring pop-rock scorchers or something more subdued, Rodrigo’s impressive songwriting shines throughout. Insurmountable feelings are put into words, and big and messy emotions laid bare and dissected. Ultimately, Guts is an album that further establishes Rodrigo as a generational songwriter. Creating a visceral portrait of early adulthood, she delivers stellar tunes with a turn of phrase that’s casual, intimate, and distinctively her.

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